The voiceless voice of sports journalism

When Sara Estévez Urquijo (Bilbao, 96 years old) started working at Radio Juventud in 1952, sports journalism was a man’s thing. In the newsrooms of newspapers and radio stations there were few women, and the Sports sections only had signatures and male voices. Until that year, when Radio Juventud de Bilbao began to broadcast, someone asked if there was anyone among the station’s editors who liked football. Sara raised her hand. He went to San Mamés every Sunday to see Athletic. They awarded him the job. She had just become the first sports journalist in Spain, although no one knew, until many years later, that the person who directed that successful program called Stádium, and which was hiding under the pseudonym of Marathon, was a woman.

His world was Bilbao, where he was born. He did not complete higher studies because the Civil War prevented him from taking advantage of the scholarship he had obtained to study at the schools of Viuda de Epalza. Fifteen days after it was awarded, the contest began. “I learned everything on the street. I am a child of the war and of the postwar period ”, she says now. As a child, she attended the schools on Calle Cortes, in times of the Republic. His sister, a teacher, had taught him to read and write at home. I was happy. “Although they wouldn’t let us go down to the street because the tram could run you over,” he recalls.

When Franco entered Bilbao, in addition to having to take part in a gymnastic exhibition in San Mamés in honor of the dictator, the first time he stepped on that lawn, at school they were sent to nearby houses where prostitution was practiced to ask for money to buy crucifixes. As a teenager, Sara studied shorthand, typing and accounting and went to work at the chemical company Unquinesa, in Lamiako, very close to the first Athletic soccer field. With the first extra pay, called then July 18, the Bilbao club was paid, which still did not allow access for members. That was another story: the subscribers could watch games, but, unlike the members, they had no voice or vote in the club’s decisions.

In 1972, when Sara Estévez’s program was at its highest, another pioneer appeared, Miren Edurne Salsamendi, who caused a huge stir after publishing a letter in the press in which she demanded that women have the same rights as men in the club. According to the statutes, they did not have the option of being members, only paid members, and they also paid a higher fee. Not only that: Salsamendi asked for adequate representation on the board of directors. The claim brought a tail. Even the Francoist mayor of Bilbao, Pilar Careaga, joined, but only in April 1979 did the assembly of members, chaired by Beti Duñabeitia, approved the equality of the sexes. Currently, there are 7,000 women among Athletic’s 44,000 members.

Sara Estévez started with the radio in 1952. “An advertisement came out from the Radio Art Academy of the Youth Front, calling for a course. I went to accompany a girl on my ladder who had the faculties to interpret. I had a knack for writing, and I kept writing. When Radio Juventud was inaugurated on Calle Irala 7, I joined the staff, ”Sara explains today. With a meager salary, which forced her to continue working at Unquinesa, she began as an editor; it was not until 20 years later that he was put before a microphone.

“I entered Sports by chance and from day one. Everyone in the academy had a fondness for the theater. The comedian Simón Cabido was there, for example. They earned one peseta a minute. One day they asked: ‘Who goes to football from here?’, And it was only me, who was an Athletic subscriber ”. While at the academy, he wrote dozens of chronicles that were never broadcast. With the broadcast on Radio Juventud, she became director of sports programs.

Marathon, Sarita Estévez, was the voiceless voice of Radio Juventud for years. “Paco Blanco read my chronicles and neither the players nor the managers knew that I wrote them in my town in the field, on the corner of Capuchinos, almost secretly, with the notebook on my knees, out of shame because people could think that I was crazy, and also very few women went to football, “explains Sara. They were very different times, even for radio journalists: “Then the radio was banned by the written press. ‘What are the radio guys doing here?’ They said. “This is a press conference,” they argued. “

The program Stadium it became the most listened to on sports radio in Bizkaia. He was talking about Athletic, but also about other sports. And there were spaces, such as rural sports, that were done in Basque. Yes, Sarita put Basque into a program on the Movement network, which ended its broadcasts with the Face to sun. And he also invented radio talk shows. “The program overwhelmed us, I did not have time to write the chronicles, so we began to do it as a gathering plan,” he revives. They spoke about Athletic, in the voices of herself, Francisco Blanco, Jesús Morales and Julio Garro. And they polemicized in times of unique thought. “Athletic vetoed us for a year and a half from entering San Mamés, Radio Juventud and the entire network. The company defended us until the end because the club asked for Paco Blanco’s head and mine, ”says Sara. Those were the times of English Ronnie Allen as coach. They read the letters of the listeners, and one ended: “Here, as always, the Neguri oligarchy prevails.” The thing got to the extreme that Athletic denied them any access to information: “To get the news on the national chain, we had to listen to the SER and repeat what they said.”

The most serious conflict was with the mayor of Bilbao, Javier de Ibarra. At the elite Neguri golf course in La Galea, they refused to give up their land for a popular race. Marathon wrote a comment: “But Paco Blanco got very hot reading it. I said something about the grass and he lengthened the end: ‘Let the grass take advantage of you!’ Ibarra, who belonged to the Neguri golf club, said they had been called donkeys and protested to the Civil Governor, Genaro Riestra, one of the most feared men in Bizkaia for his relentless repressive work. “But in the end nothing happened, thank goodness,” says the pioneer.

The program directed by Sara Estévez was also the first to do telephone interviews with the protagonists of the sport: “Thanks to a very handy technician, who managed to do impossible things that in theory could not be done,” explains Sara. In 1983 his program disappeared after a restructuring of Radio Juventud, which was integrated into Radio Nacional, and the marimorena was armed. “Jordi García Candau, who was the general manager of the chain, had to come to Bilbao to calm things down,” he says. The Basque newspapers wrote editorials, the other stations expressed solidarity. Sara Estévez continued to belong to the station’s staff, but it was no longer the same. “When I went to Radio Nacional they killed my soul after 28 years. Each piece of news that I wrote was worth a capital. I did two textitos a day after years of not even stopping to eat, ”he laments now.

Sara retired at 65, but she continued to be active, closely following the Athletic news. Until he was 94 he regularly wrote an opinion column in The mail. He no longer went to San Mamés, but he did not miss a game on television. His comment appeared alongside the one dictated by one of the players who were his weakness since youth, Txetxu Rojo, and he has always been a reliable source to rely on, to ask for advice.

She says that she now lives quietly, waiting for the pandemic to pass. Only Athletic is concerned: “I am very excited about the two Cup finals,” he says goodbye.

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