Fans rejoice as Athletic celebrate Copa win with boat party

Hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets of Bilbao on Thursday to celebrate Athletic Club‘s Copa del Rey triumph, with the players crossing the city by river boat.

Athletic beat Mallorca on penalties on Saturday in the Copa del Rey final in Seville — after the match had finished 1-1 after extra time — to lift the club’s first major trophy in 40 years.

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The LaLiga club traditionally celebrate trophy wins on their barge, ‘La Gabarra,’ by sailing down the Nervion river, which passes through the centre of Bilbao.

The river route began in the port of Getxo, around 7.5 miles from the centre of Bilbao, at 4 p.m. local time and ended at the city’s Town Hall 2 1/2 hours later.

The players’ barge was followed by a flotilla of over 150 smaller boats chartered by fans, who had paid between €250 ($266) and €3000 ($3201) to join the event.

One of the boats was skippered by former Athletic defender Iñigo Martinez. The Barcelona defender, who left Athletic in 2023 to join the Catalan club, made sure to not miss the opportunity to partake in the celebrations.

The players disembarked at the Town Hall for more festivities, before boarding an open top bus to take to the streets.

“This is the most fascinating club in the world, that’s for sure,” coach Ernesto Valverde said. “And in terms of celebrations, it’s the best.”

Schools in the city shut early, while fans had lined the river banks since midday, waiting for hours to ensure a good view of Athletic’s biggest celebrations in four decades.

“It’s an incredible day which we’ll never forget,” club captain Iker Muniain said.

The Basque club’s last major trophies came in 1984, when they won a league and cup double, the last time ‘La Gabarra‘ took to the water.

The current squad wore red-and-white shirts on Thursday which were replicas of those worn by the players 40 years ago.

“This is for everyone. For those of us who are here, for those who have left us, and for those who have played for Athletic and didn’t achieve this,” forward Iñaki Williams said.

Local authorities said over 1,200 people had been involved in providing security for the celebrations, including 700 police officers.

Some estimates suggested that in total, a million people had attended the celebrations.