Athletic Club savour the week of their lives after historic Copa del Rey win | Sid Lowe

Even a VAR-inflicted 1-1 draw against Villarreal did not spoil the Basque club’s celebrations after a first major trophy in 40 years

They had been down to Seville 907km away, 100,000 of them, and come back with their first major honour in 40 years, finally won well after midnight. They had made a victory parade of the traffic jam home, the Roman road known as the Silver Route turned red and white. And they had taken the trophy to the tree of Gernika, symbol of their people. There was the impromptu street party, a police fine imposed for the mobile disco heading through the old town, the whole band playing, and the gabarra, which is only a barge but is everything: a river cruise they had longed for. Then there were the six-hour queues to see the Copa del Rey, if only to check this was real.

For seven days they had celebrated. And on the eighth day there was just one thing left for Athletic Club to do, the perfect close to the week of their lives: bring everyone back to San Mamés, bring the Copa del Rey too, and beat Villarreal. After 40 years waiting, six final defeats – 1985, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2020, 2021 – it was just right. Even the man supposed to mess it up for them said so. Marcelino García Toral, the visiting coach on Sunday night and Athletic’s manager when they lost the last two of those finals, thanked “destiny” for the chance to be there. “I know what this means,” he said.

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