España 82 – Bilbao – San Mamés

It might seem unthinkable now, but for a time there was a doubt about whether the 1982 World Cup could be hosted in the Basque Country. ETA, the Basque Separatist Organisation was at its most deadly in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and the staging of the World Cup was seen by many as an ideal opportunity to elevate awareness of its views to a world audience. There was also the significant logistical issue of finding a venue. Both Athletic Club & Real Sociedad owned ageing stadiums, so whoever was chosen as host would experience a significant degree of upheaval. In the end the Spanish Government, RFEF and Athletic Club joined forces to deliver a remarkable upgrade to an already iconic stadium.

Bilbao140205 1989
The stadium was chosen to host three group games in the 1982 World Cup and the redevelopment would see the main stand link up with two new double-decker stands at either end. Athletic was adamant that the arch should remain, but since it was held up by the huge corner blocks, another way of supporting the arch had to be found, before the blocks and their balconies could be demolished. The conundrum was resolved with a brilliant piece of engineering. First, cantilevered brackets were inserted into the back of the stand underneath each end of the arch. Then, as massive cranes took the whole weight of the arch and the roof, the corner blocks were demolished. The new brackets were then edged into position to accept the weight of the arch and its roof. When the process was finally complete and the arch was resting on its new supports, it was found that the whole structure had shifted only 5mm. An incredible feat. Whilst the main stand was undergoing major surgery, work continued on the north and south stands. These were basically cantilevered versions of the earlier structures, but with more seating. Both were clad with moulded white roofs and were illuminated from the rear by windows that ran from the main stand to the east side. The east stand got a new roof and seating was installed in the lower tier. The new San Mamés had a raised capacity of 46,000, of which 36,000 were seated and cost 1,100 million pesetas. You can read more about San Mamés and the history of Athletic Club here.

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ENGLAND vs FRANCE – GAME 1 GROUP IV
This was England’s first game at the World Cup Finals since 1970 and they could not have gotten off to a better start when Bryan Robson scored after 27 seconds. Soler equalised for France on 25 minutes with an excellent cross shot past Shilton. Robson restored England’s lead when he met Trevor Francis’ cross with a powerful header in the 66th minute, and Paul Mariner sealed the victory when he drilled home Trésor’s sliced clearance.

ENGLAND vs CZECHOSLOVAKIA – GAME 3 GROUP IV
England squandered a multitude of first half chances against an ageing and lacklustre Czechoslovak side. Francis eventually scored after 63 minutes, pouncing on an error by the keeper, who dropped Wilkins corner. England went two up three minutes later when Mariner’s low cross was turned into his own net by Barmos.

ENGLAND vs KUWAIT – GAME 6 GROUP IV
England rested a number of players for their final match in Bilbao, giving World Cup debuts to Phil Neal and Steve Foster. Having already qualified for the second stage, England eased off and was wasteful in front of goal. The only goal came on 27 minutes, when Francis latched on to a Mariner flick and drove the ball past the Kuwaiti keeper from just inside the box.

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