Basque Fact of the Week: Iñaki Williams, Athletic Bilbao Striker

Athletic Bilbao is one of the most tradition-heavy soccer teams in the main Spanish league La Liga. Founded in 1898, they have won the league championship eight times, fourth most in league history, and won the Copa del Rey 23 times, second most behind only Barcelona. They are unique in their player philosophy, only hiring players either born or trained in the Basque Country. Today, one of their most dynamic players is Iñaki Williams Arthuer who became the first black player to ever score for Athletic Bilbao.

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  • Williams was born in Bilbao in 1994. His parents, Félix and Maria Williams, are from Ghana and had crossed the Melilla border fence in Morocco. Melilla is one of two Spanish cities in Africa and this fence separates Spain from the rest of Africa. His parents moved to Iruña/Pamplona for work, and survived through a series of jobs, including picking asparagus, providing cleaning services, working in airports and restaurants, and providing geriatric care. His father eventually had to move to London for work, and Williams rarely saw him growing up.
  • Williams made his debut on the first-team on December 6, 2014, becoming only the second player of African descent to play for Athletic Bilbao. He scored his first goal for the team on February 19, 2015, against the Italian club Torino F.C., the first black player to ever score for the club.
  • The first black player to ever play for Athletic Bilbao was Jonás Ramalho. Ramalho was born in Barakaldo. His father was from Angola. Ramalho debuted for Athletic on November 20, 2011. He now plays for the Second-Division team Girona FC.
  • Like much of the world, Bilbao and the Basque Country has become a global melting pot. In 1992, about 9,000 people immigrated from South America and Africa to the region. In 2016, that number had swelled to more than 41,000.
  • Williams has been embraced by the Athletic faithful. In the Amazon documentary Six Dreams, he says “For me it is a point of pride that black and African people feel proud of me. I want to open what people have in their heads: ‘A black man cannot play for Athletic’, ‘That black man is not Basque’, which is still happening today. You hear or read comments: ‘How can a black man play for Athletic?’ No, no, I’m black, but I’m also Basque, I was born here. I feel Basque and I want to open all the doors to all those people who want to fight and work and strive daily to play in Athletic.”

Primary sources: ESPN and Wikipedia.

One thought on “Basque Fact of the Week: Iñaki Williams, Athletic Bilbao Striker”

  1. Thank you, it is important to see how our Basque land embraces people. Bilbao is melting pot these days, still a long way to go in the welcoming part, but we are trying…

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