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Iriondo, Venancio, Zarra, Panizo and Gaínza


We were watching Atleti when we heard: Iriondo had passed on. It hurt. I never saw him play, but the veneration shown wherever he went was arresting, and the recitals of the talent and feats of Bilbao's 'famous five' that I heard from my parents' generation meant that I held them in very high regard. Everyone did. Individually, and as a unit - quite something, as all my family were, as I am, staunch Real Madrid supporters. You didn't have to be from Bilbao to revere that five-man attack that they had, it was mythical. He was the only one left, recruited by Athletic shortly after the war when trials were held in the Garellano barracks, Bilbao. Before that, he had only played one real match in Gernika, as it is spelled in Basque.

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He was from Gernika, and survived the bombing upon which Picasso's painting 'Guernica' is based. Death spared him and he enjoyed a full life dedicated to football and his family. That front line was assembled by Iraragorri, 'El Chato de Iraragorri', who was part of the Basque country XI in exile and after the war, returned despite the climate of fear and doubt. He was let be, and still played in the attack comprised of Iriondo, Panizo, Zarra, Iraragorri and Gaínza. He went on to become manager of the side, brought Venancio into the team and changed Panizo to the opposite wing. Iraragorri's family run a beautiful little hotel in Galdácano, which serves as a shrine to closely-held memories.

Athletic Bilbao's mythical frontline of the 50's: (left to right) IRIONDO, VENANCIO, ZARRA, PANIZO, GAINZA.
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Athletic Bilbao's mythical frontline of the 50's: (left to right) IRIONDO, VENANCIO, ZARRA, PANIZO, GAINZA.DIARIO AS

They only played 55 games together, but their aura is still present. They brought moments of hope and happiness to a post-war country mired in pain and poverty; standing as an example of honour and nobility that was admired by all of Spain. They left us, one by one, and only Iriondo remained. He had success as a manager after his playing days, he won the Copa del Rey with his Athletic, and with Betis against his Athletic. The last time I saw him we had lunch looking out over Mundaka's renowned waves with Nika Cuenca who did an interview with AS. The only thing that worried him was seeing Athletic drop into the second division. Tranquilo maestro, Athletic are still in Primera, may they they stay there forever.