Football in Spain
Football is the most popular sport in Spain. 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 Spain national football team, current champion of the FIFA World Cup. Modern football was introduced to Spain in the late 19th century by a combination of mostly British immigrant workers, visiting sailors and Spanish students coming from Britain.
The oldest football club in Spain is Recreativo de Huelva, formed on December 23, 1889 by Dr. Aaron Mackay and British workers employed by the Rio Tinto Company. Although Gimnàstic de Tarragona was formed in 1886 and Sevilla FC in 1890, the clubs did not form an actual football team until 1914 and 1905, respectively. The first official football game played in Spain took place in Seville on March 8, 1890 at the Tablada Hippodrome. Recreativo de Huelva played against Sevilla FC, a team made up of workers from the Seville Water Works. With the exception of two Spanish players on the Huelva team, all the players on both teams were British. This is the reason why the team is called Sevilla FC (football club) and not Sevilla CF ('club de fútbol' in Spanish). The Seville team won 2-0.
In the Basque Country during the early 1890s, British shipyard workers and miners formed the Bilbao Football Club and Basque students returning from Britain founded the Athletic Club in 1898. This early British influence was reflected in the use of English names such as Recreation Club, Athletic Club and Football Club.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are the most successful Spanish clubs, in both the national league and continental competitions. They have won a combined 13 European Cups/Champions League titles and were runners-up 3 times each. Real Madrid is the most successful in Europe, having won it a record 9 times and the UEFA Cup twice, while FC Barcelona was the only team to achieve a Sextuple, in the year 2009. In La Liga's 80-year history (sans the 3 seasons that the league was suspended due to the civil war), Barça and Real Madrid have won 51 titles between them. Over the years, Spanish clubs have won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 7 times and UEFA Europa League 6 times.
Copa del Rey
Several clubs also emerged in Madrid, most notably Madrid Football Club, formed in 1902. In the same year, Carlos Padrós, later president of Madrid FC, suggested a foot competition to celebrate the coronation of Alfonso XIII. Four other teams entered the Copa del Ayuntamiento de Madrid, later to develop into the Copa del Rey. These included FC Barcelona, Club Español de Fútbol, Club Bizcaya and New Foot-Ball de Madrid. The competition featured the first recorded game between FC Barcelona and Madrid FC, with the former emerging 3-1 winners. Club Bizcaya, which consisted of players from both Basque teams, eventually beat FC Barcelona in the final. Alfonso XIII subsequently became the patron of many Spanish football clubs, granting them permission to use Real in their names. Among the many clubs to add the prefix to their name was Madrid FC, which subsequently became Real Madrid.
Within Spain, regional teams, most notably, the Catalan XI, the Euskadi XI, and even the Galician XI began to compete against each other from 1915 onwards. Despite not been officially recognised by FIFA, these teams continue to play today. The Spain national football team, commonly referred to as la selección made their international début at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium and came away with the silver medal. Spanish football turned professional in 1926.
Today, these regional teams still occasionally play friendly games with some national team players playing for both teams.
In April 1927 Alvaro Trejo, a director at Arenas Club de Getxo, first proposed the idea of a national league in Spain. After much debate about the size of the league and who would take part, the RFEF eventually agreed on the ten teams who would form the first Primera Division in 1928. FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Arenas Club de Getxo and Real Unión were all selected as previous winners of the Copa del Rey. Athletic Madrid, RCD Español and CE Europa qualified as Copa del Rey runners-up and Racing Santander qualified through a knock-out competition against Sevilla FC. Only three of the founding clubs, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, have never been relegated from the Primera Division; six other clubs have never been below the top two tiers: Sevilla FC, Real Sociedad, Sporting de Gijon, Valencia CF, RCD Espanyol, and Atlético Madrid.
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