Homing pigeons San Mames

Homing pigeons San Mames
The famous San Mamés homing pigeons that kept the patients of the Santa Marina Hospital informed of the Athletic Club result (@AthleticTxistu)

The old San Mames is one of those mythical Spanish stadiums that ceased to exist a few years ago. In practically the same place the new temple of the Athletic Club. Today we will remember a curious and beautiful tradition that took place in 'Cathedral’ for a few years.

Tuberculosis was a terrible disease that devastated Spain well after the first half of the 20th century. In Bilbao, the beds in the Basurto hospital stayed, at the end of the 19th century, short to care for the sick who suffered from this ailment, even though the tuberculosis ward was the largest in the aforementioned center. That made, in 1927, thanks to the philanthropist Luis Brinas, a hospital will be built, that bore his name, to attend exclusively to tuberculosis patients, very especially to children. Even so, demand was still much higher than existing beds.

From 1930 the extensions of the aforementioned hospital followed, what, later, would be renamed Santa Marina. Between 1941 Y 1942 the hospital doubled its capacity, arriving at 650 Beds, with children's section included (after the Civil War there was also another medical center for the treatment of minors suffering from the terrible disease, the Górliz Maritime Sanatorium, but with less capacity than Santa Marina).

Nurse, How is athletic?

With the resumption of the league championship, many of the patients were football fans and were eager to know how the result of the team followed by most of them was going: the Athletic Bilbao. As in the referred sanatorium there were only a couple of radios and the vast majority of those admitted there had to stay in their rooms and not in the common rooms where the devices were located., the patients literally “made the nurses dizzy” by consulting how the matches that the Bilbao team played mainly in San Mames.


So, in 1946, to father Alberto Álvarez, chaplain then of the health center, it occurred to him to contact an acquaintance of his, Remigio Lopez, pigeon racing expert, great trainer of pigeons and habitual in San Mames, since his condition as a rojiblanco follower was joined by that of an itinerant lottery vendor and the mythical Biscayan stadium was, as well, your place of business.

At that time, street lottery sales were very popular throughout Spain, even today it is still done in some areas, as in the province of Cádiz or in the bullfighting bars of Madrid. The seller, charged a small surcharge ("tip") and offered tickets from a specific lottery house for the places he frequented: bares, bullrings or soccer fields. A) Yes, Remigio Lopez, known as "El Morito", because of his dark complexion and short stature, He was a neighbor of Indautxu who sold Ormaechea lottery, well-known and historic state gambling establishment that is still operating and is located in its original location in the Indautxu square, very close to where "El Morito" had his residence.


The priest and the traveling lottery agreed as follows: "El Morito" would train his homing pigeons and take them in a cage to each match of Saint Mames. When Athletic scored a goal, one of his white doves would fly from the historic stadium to the sanitarium, I would go around it twice, so it could be seen by patients, and he would return to his loft in Indautxu; if, on the contrary, it was the rival team who scored, it would be a dark-colored pigeon that would perform the same operation.

Such information system of the results of the Basque ensemble was maintained for a quarter of a century, perfecting the same, to the point that, with the years, the pigeons did not go around the sanatorium, but directly and regardless of its color, they carried on their paws a message with the team that had scored the goal, the author of the same and the provisional result of the meeting, as much as radios and televisions already existed.

A tradition that “el Morito” kept alive since the season 1946-47 and for almost twenty five years, present every Sunday in San Mames, with its lottery and its handmade wooden cages, always decorated in red and white, the colors of the club of his loves.

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