Basque Fact of the Week: La Gabarra, A Victory Parade Like No Other

On Saturday, April 6, 2024, after 40 years which saw the team make it to the finals 6 times – 3 in the last 10 years – only to lose, Athletic Club of Bilbao was once again on top of the Spanish soccer world, winning the Copa del Rey final against Mallorca. With a slogan “Unique in the World,” it is only fitting that the team and the people of Bilbo have their own unique way of celebrating their victory: la gabarra.

A view of la gabarra and the celebration of Athletic Bilbao’s Copa del Rey victory. Photo from Deia.
  • Literally, a gabarra is a barge – a flat bottomed boat used to ship heavy goods down rivers and canals. Athletic Club of Bilbao has used their barge, the Athleticen gabarra, to celebrate victories since 1983.
  • In 1983, Athletic unexpectedly won the league championship. An impromptu celebration was organized by the club, with the team floating down the Ría de Bilbao on the Gabarra. A million people lined the banks of the river, celebrating the team’s win as the gabarra floated down the river for over three hours.
  • The idea of floating the barge down the river to celebrate came from Cecilio Gerrikabeitia. He was reminded of an old song about the Acero club from Olabea which, in 1924, celebrated a victory in part by floating the river accompanied by fireworks. He and some other rechristened an existing barge Athletic and made history.
  • The club repeated la gabarra celebration in 1984 when they won the Copa del Rey and the league. Since that last victory, the boat had been used to haul goods along the river. In 2013, it was repaired but since then, the boat has sat silently in the port’s museum. Tests were made in 2021 to ensure it would still float. However, it wasn’t until this week, after Athletic won the Copa del Rey against Mallorca, that la gabarra again floated the river in celebration of victory.
  • La gabarra set “sail” once again on Thursday, April 11. Starting at Getxo, the barge and its accompanying fleet of boats filled with supporters meandered the thirteen kilometers to the Bilbo city hall. Every balcony along the route was crammed with fans. Again, about a million people lined the banks to celebrate. RTVE has a play-by-play of the entire celebration, including interviews with fans.

A full list of all of Buber’s Basque Facts of the Week can be found in the Archive.

Primary sources: Athleticen gabarra, Wikipedia; ‘La Gabarra’: Athletic Bilbao’s one-of-a-kind trophy celebration befits one of the world’s most unique football clubs,; La Gabarra: the river barge Athletic Club uses to celebrate winning titles, San Mames

One thought on “Basque Fact of the Week: La Gabarra, A Victory Parade Like No Other”

  1. That was awesome! Thank you for sharing that. I’m a big Futbol fan but have been busy of late, and didn’t know THE ATHLETIC CLUB won THE COPA DEL REY!!! FANTASTIC & the celebration with the barge. Basques always have some of the best footballers in España. Thank you again and keep it up!

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