A look at the history of football in Spain

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HISTORY BOYS: Recreativo de Huelva, Spain’s oldest team, photographed in 1930.

FOOTBALL is the most popular sport in Spain – that’s a fact!

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) is the national governing body and it organises La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the country’s national team, which won the European Championship twice, in 2008 and 2012, and the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

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Football as we know it today was introduced to Spain in the late 19th century by a combination of mostly British immigrant workers, visiting sailors and Spanish students who had travelled over from the UK.

The oldest football club in Spain is Recreativo de Huelva which was formed on December 23, 1889, by Dr William Alexander Mackay and a group of British workers employed by the Rio Tinto Company.

Although records show that Gimnàstic de Tarragona was formed in 1886 and Sevilla FC four years later, these two clubs did not form an actual team until 1914 and 1905 respectively.


The first officially organised football match to be played in Spain took place in Sevilla on March 8, 1890, at the Tablada Hippodrome when the aforementioned Recreativo de Huelva played a mixed team of workers from the Sevilla Water Works.

With the exception of two Spaniards, both on the Huelva team, the other 20 players were all British-born, and consequently this is the main reason why Sevilla FC is so named and not Sevilla CF (‘club de fútbol’ in Spanish).


The selected Sevilla team won that first-ever game by 2-0 in front of 1,000 or so interested spectators.

In the Basque Country during the early 1890s, a group of British shipyard workers and coalminers formed the Bilbao Football Club, and soon afterwards, in 1898, a number of Basque students, returning from Britain, decided to form the Athletic Club.

This early British influence was reflected in the use of English names such as Recreation Club, Athletic Club and Football Club.

Real Madrid is the most successful Spanish and indeed European football club, in both the national League (La Liga) and continental competitions.

The ‘Whites’ have so far won 10 European Cups/Champions League titles, including the first finals: 1956-60 inclusive, and have finished runners-up on three occasions.

Real (Los Blancos/Los Merengues) have also won a record 32 Spanish League titles (La Liga), lifted the Copa del Rey 19 times, the UEFA Cup twice, the Supercopa on nine occasions, the Copa Liga once, the Inter-continental Cup thrice and the World Club Cup also once (2014).

CF Barcelona are (to the majority) regarded as the second most successful club in Spain in terms of La Liga victories (just 22) although they have won the Copa del Rey more times than their El Clasico rivals (26).

Barcá are also well down the pecking order when it comes to European triumphs, only four successes in the Champions League, plus four European Cup-winner’s Cup wins and three Inter Cities Fairs Cup victories.

In La Liga’s 83-year history – excluding the three seasons when the competition was suspended due to the Spanish Civil War -Real and Barcelona have won 54 titles between them.

Chasing the big two for prizes are Athletic Bilbao (31, including 23 La Liga wins), Atletico Madrid (20), Valencia (14), Sevilla (10, including one Europa League and two UEFA Cup final victories), Real Zaragoza (6) and Espanyol (4).

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (although Argentinian) has scored more La Liga goals than any other player (258 and counting).

Raul amassed a record 771 appearances in League and Cup competitions for Real Madrid; David Villa holds the scoring record for Spain at international level with 59 goals, while Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Castillas is his country’s most decorated player with 160 caps to his name.

The biggest stadium in Spain is the Barcelona’s Camp Nou with a capacity of 99,354. Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid, has a capacity of 81,044, followed by Sevilla’s La Cartuja (60,000), Barcelona’s second team ground (55,926), Valencia’s Mestalla, (55,000), Vicente Calderón, home to Atletico Madrid (54,907) and San Mamés, Athletic Bilbao’s ground (53,289).

Will Spain double up in Europe this season with a La Liga team winning the Champions League and Europa League?

There’s a strong chance this will happen.

Tony Matthews is on holiday




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