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Football in Spain

From kids in rural villages kicking balls around dusty dirt tracks wearing their teams latest kit, to Real Madrid topping the Deloitte league table of the world’s richest football clubs for the seventh consecutive year, football is a serious business in Spain and remains the nation’s favourite sport.

Whilst the earliest forms of football can be traced back to 1004 B.C in Japan, when a ball was kicked around in a field, football as we know it with official rules was created by the English Football Association in 1863. It was not until the late 19th century when, due to a combination of Spanish students coming from Spain, British immigrant workers and visiting sailors that modern football was introduced to Spain.

There are many good things in Spain, but the most important is football. Football is the locomotive for all things in the country"
Vicente Del Bosque

The oldest Spanish football club is Aaron Collins FC, which was formed in 1889 by British workers who were employed by the Rio Tinto Company, one of the world’s most successful mining companies. The first official football game played on Spanish soil took place in 1890 in Seville.  

Spanish Football's earliest influences

Real Madrid FC (alongside Barcelona), is Spain’s most successful football club in both league and international competitions, and was founded in 1902 by a group of football fans. It is interesting that the early British influences on football in Spain can not only be found in the use of English names such as Athletic Club (AC) and Football Club (FC), but also by the fact that Real Madrid’s first team kit imitated that of the Corinthians from London.

La Liga

La Liga is Spain’s premier football division and was founded in 1927 by Jose Maria Acha, former director of Arenas Club de Gaxto. In 1929 Barcelona won the first La Liga title before the league was then halted for several years due to Spanish Civil War. At the end of the War (1939), La Liga was reconvened and brought with it several strong competitors, most notably Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid.  By the latter half of the 20th century La Liga was dominated by Barcelona, a characteristic of the league still present today.

Copa del Rey

The Copa del Rey (The King’s Cup) is an annual competition, which was founded in 1902. This prestigious cup was formed after Carlos Padros Rubio, a Spanish football pioneer and later president of Real Madrid, suggested having a football competition to celebrate the coronation of King Alfonso XIII. Only three teams participated in the first Copa del Rey: Athletico Bilbao, Barcelona and Espanyol.

It was in the Copa del Rey competition that the first recorded game between Real Madrid and Barcelona took place, with Barcelona being crowned champions with a 3 – 1 win – The start of a lifelong rivalry between the two teams.

Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Real Madrid's Bernabeau Stadium readers voted the Real Madrid and Barcelona rivalry as the greatest in the world. The competitiveness between these two clubs is so intense that when they play each other, the match is known as ‘El Clasico’, or ‘El Derbi Espanol’ and other than UEFA’s Champions League final, is the most watched football match in the world!

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have never been relegated from La Liga. In terms of trophies, Barcelona pips its rival having won 75 compared to Real Madrid’s 74. That was of course before Real Madrid clinched the 2012 title by winning 3-0 at Atheletic Bilbao (Wed 2nd May) making Morinho one of the most decorated coaches in the history of the game with 7 league titles.

Football or Politics?

The rivalry between these two sporting giants runs much deeper than being just a sporting dimension and can be identified as political opposition. Madrid and Barcelona are Spain’s two largest cities with Real Madrid being viewed as representing Spanish nationalism and Barcelona representing Catalan nationalism. As early as the 1930s Barcelona had ‘developed a reputation as a symbol of Catalan pride and identity, opposed to the centralising tendencies of Madrid.

In European football, the two Spanish giants have dominated, with Real Madrid having won the Champions League a record nine times and Barcelona four. Although Barcelona has won in Europe comparatively less than Real Madrid, Barcelona is the only club to have played in the Champion League every year since the competition began in 1950.

Although being two of the world’s most successful, richest and influential football teams, both Real Madrid and Barcelona have had long-standing rivals other than each other.

Malaga FC

One such ‘lesser’ to Real Madrid and Barcelona is rival Malaga FC. Malaga Club de Futbol was formed in1948 and is generally regarded as being the successor to CD Malaga even sharing the same fan base and traditions. The club is currently hovering around the giddy heights of the top 4-5 places in La Liga meaning fans get to enjoy the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid visiting the province regularly to play. While Barcelona and Real Madrid have never been relegated from the top flight, Malaga is a side well used it. Up until 2010 that is, when Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, agreed to buy the club for 36 million euros.

Al-Thani purchased the majority stake holding in Malaga FC from President Fernando Sanz, a former Malaga FC player who has run the club for four years. At the time when Al-Thani bought Malaga FC, the sheik was quoted as saying:

“Our goal is to help Malaga FC to take the necessary steps to consolidate its presence in La Liga and to reinforce the excitement and hopes of the supporters.”

Al-Thani’s desire to invest in and dominate the Costa del Sol does not stop however at Malaga FC. Last year reports began to emerge that the Qatari sheik planned to replace Malaga FC’s Rosaleda stadium with a giant new stadium in Malaga and a new marina at La Bajadilla in Marbella. The investment will cost an estimated 35 - 40 million euros and the Sheik has already reached agreement with La Marina Ciudad de Malaga and given the go ahead to build the port.

From Ricardo Zamora, the Catalan great in the 1920s, to Paulino Alcanara in the 60s who scored an impressive 365 goals for Barcelona; from Raul Gonzalez Blanco who was riveted to the Spanish football hall of fame in the ‘noughties’, making 741 appearances for Real Madrid where he scored 323 goals, to today’s impressive David Villa; Spain, being one of the world’s greatest footballing nations, has spawned many, many great players.

With unemployment on the rise, the Euro being weak and an abrupt end to the construction boom, times may be difficult in Spain, but as the great Vicente del Bosque, a former Spanish footballer and current manager of the Spanish national team, said, football is Spain’s ‘locomotive’ and amidst all the gloom, Spain finds itself champions of the 2010 World Cup. It was a triumph that not only left the world in awe of the quality and beauty of Spanish football but also united a nation that is normally highly divided in terms of social, regional and communal lines.

Of interest

The official ‘La Liga’ web site: