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Iribar: more than just an Athletic Club Icon

Jose Ángel Iribar, the great Athletic Club legend, has celebrated his 80th birthday. He has done it with a beautiful, and well deserved, recognition by all La Liga goalkeepers, who wore a black shirt in his honour. He was also surrounded by the affection of the red & white fans. A great affection for someone who is more than just an Athletic Club icon. He is a legend of world football.

Jose Angel Iribar, ‘The Txopo’

Who would have thought that this man from Zarautz when he was born on the 1st March 1943, would become one of the best goalkeepers in history, as well as a reference point for Athletic Club in recent decades, just like for example Pichichi was before him.

A team, the red & white team, of which Iribar is still the player who has played the most games in their shirt.

His first professional steps in the goal area were taken in the 1961-1962 season, defending the colours of Basconia, who were then playing in the 2nd Division. A year later he made the leap to Athletic Club, although during that season he only played 3 league games and 3 cup games.

The records he broke, and in what a way, in the 1963-64 season, where he accumulated 26 league games.

It was the beginning of an impressive career as a red & white goalkeeper, which lasted until the 1979-1980 season. Over three decades in which he could lift the Cups from 1968-1969 and 1972-1973, he won the Zamora award for the 1969-1970 season, and was runner-up in the UEFA Cup in 1977.

18 years defending the goal for Los Leones

Iribar accumulated a total of 18 seasons as Athletic Club’s goalkeeper, making 614 appearances. Of these, 466 were in La Liga, 93 in the Cup, 49 in the UEFA Europa League and 6 in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

In addition, the lion with the most games ever played in Athletic Club’s history is the only goalkeeper who has won a major tournament at international level. ‘Txopo’ won the 1964 European Championship with the Spanish national team, under the orders of Jose Villalonga. He made his debut that same year and competed in 49 matches.

Not forgetting that the man from Zarautz coached Athletic’s first team during the 1986-1987 season in 54 official matches, 44 of them in La Liga, 6 in the Cup and 4 in the UEFA Europa League. He also coached the Basque national team for two decades.

A sculpture in his honour

No birthday present could ever begin to repay Iribar for all that he has given to Athletic Club. He is an example of what it means to be a Lion, and an idol for the Athletic fans, who for six decades have professed their affection for him with the chant “Iribar, Iribar, Iribar is great, there’s no one like Iribar”.

But, undoubtedly, this display of the affection that the red & white fans and the institution feel for the player from Zarautz could not take better shape than in the sculpture that is going to be erected in his honour next to San Mames in an action presented a few days ago by the Bilbao City Council and Athletic Club.

His was a long career as a red & white player, and the AC Museoa, the Athletic Club Museum, treasures dozens of items that accompanied him as a member of the Athletic Club, some as important as his gloves.

In order that his name and all his dedication to our colours is never forgotten, the footballers’ residence in Lezama has been named after Jose Ángel Iribar. So that the red & white past, present and future will always remain united.

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