What grace!

¡Vaya Gracia!

Written by: Rob Conlon
Artwork by: Eamonn Dalton
Javi Gracia playing for Real Sociedad in the 1990s. He looks exactly the same as he does now

Fiercely contested on the pitch, for a long time the Basque derby between Athletic Bilbao and San Sebastián’s Real Sociedad prided itself on being a show of solidarity. After the death of Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the flag of the Basque Country, the Ikurriña, remained banned. Being caught in possession of the flag was punishable by prison sentence. When the two teams walked out of the tunnel for the derby on December 5th, 1976, both captains were holding an Ikurriña that had been sewn by the sister of Sociedad midfielder Josean de la Hoz Uranga. Together, they placed it in the centre circle.

The gesture became a symbol of support for legalisation of the flag. Uranga’s car had been searched by police on his way into the stadium, but they never checked the kit bag the flag was stashed in. When it was unveiled inside the ground, the authorities stood back and refused to interfere. When the Ikurriña was legalised just over a year later, the flag was officially raised for the first time since the Civil War began at the town hall of Pamplona, the city where then six year old Javi Gracia was growing up.

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