Football in Spain

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Football in Spain
Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s Stadium.
Country Spain
Governing body RFEF
National team Spain
First played 1920
Registered players 874,093
Clubs 21,649
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Association football is the most popular sport, and a widespread passion in Spain.[1] Football is the sport with the most registered players (a total of 874,093 of which 829,220 are men and 44,873 women), and most registered clubs (a total of 21,649) among all Spanish sport federations according to data issued by the sports administration of Spain’s government in 2014.[2]

In a survey of sports habits of the Spanish population made in 2010, football was the second most popular recreational sport practised by the population (17.9%). A total of 75.9% of people said they had ever bought tickets to attend a football match. In addition, a total of 67.3% of the people said that they saw all, almost all, many, or some of the football matches broadcast on television.[3] In another survey made in 2014, the practice of football decreased to 14% of the population, being overtaken by other sports, such as running, cycling and swimming for recreation. However, in this survey football was still the sport that interests the majority of Spain’s people (48%). A total of 67% of the population said they were fans or had sympathy for a particular club. In addition, 74.9% said they watched, whenever possible, the matches broadcast on television regarding their favorite teams; and 42.4% had, flags, badges or objects of their favorite teams.[4] Data of this survey confirmed the widespread impression that most of Spain’s people are supporters of Real Madrid (37.9%) or FC Barcelona (25.4%), and the other teams have fewer supporters nationwide, as Atlético de Madrid (6.1%), Valencia CF (3.5%), Athletic Bilbao (3.3.) or Real Betis (3.2%).[4]

A relationship between football, politics, identity and attitudes towards regionalism in Spain has also been reported.[1][5][6][7][8]

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (Spanish: Real Federación Española de Fútbol) is the national governing body, and it organises two Cup competitions (the Copa del Rey, and the Supercopa de España), and the Spain national football team. The Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) (English: Professional Football League), integrated by a total of 42 football clubs, forms part of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) but has autonomy in its organisation and functioning. It is responsible for the organisation of state football leagues, in coordination with RFEF.[9]

The Spanish national football team have won the FIFA World Cup once, and has also been successful in the UEFA European Championship and the Olympic tournament. The biggest success achieved by the Spain national football team was the historic treble winning three tournaments in a row: UEFA European Championship in 2008, FIFA World Cup in 2010, and UEFA European Championship in 2012.[10][11][12][13] The men's national teams of Spain, in all categories, have won a total of 26 titles in FIFA, UEFA, and Olympic tournaments.[14][15]

The First Division of the Liga de Fútbol Profesional, commonly known in the English-speaking world as La Liga, is one of the strongest football league in Europe and the world.[16][17][18] At club level, the Spanish football clubs have won a total of 63 international tournaments. [19][20][21][22] They are the most successful in different current European competitions, such as UEFA Champions League,[23] UEFA Super Cup,[24] and UEFA Europa League (shared record with Italian teams);[25] and they also were the most successful in the extinct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.[22]

The characteristic football style of play developed by FC Barcelona, and the Spanish national football team is Tiki-taka. This football style is characterised by possessing the ball for large portions of the game, moving the ball quickly from one player to the next, with short and quick passes, keeping the ball away from your opponent, and then to deliver that killer pass to score goal.[26][27]

Professional football in Spain is a sociocultural event that make a significant contribution to the Spanish economy in terms of both demand and supply. In economic terms, during 2013 professional football generated more than €7.6 bilion including direct, indirect and induced effects, representing 0.75% of Spanish GPD.[28] Moreover, as a result of financial crisis in the last years, many Spanish football clubs in the top two divisions have been facing serious economic troubles due to pay the bank debts. In addition, the European Union authorities have warned to Spanish authorities in order to halt public funding of debt-ridden clubs.[29]

Spain national futsal team is one of the strongest teams in the world, being six times champion in the UEFA Futsal Championship, and two times champion in the FIFA Futsal World Championship.[15]


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.[30][31][32]

The oldest football clubs in Spain are Recreativo de Huelva and Sevilla FC.[33][34][35][36] Although Gimnàstic de Tarragona was formed in 1886, the club did not form an actual football team until 1914. The first official football game played in Spain took place in Seville on March 8, 1890 at the Tablada Hippodrome. Sevilla FC played against Huelva Recreation. With the exception of two Spanish players on the Huelva team and another two players on the Seville team, all the players on both sides were British. Sevilla FC won 2-0 that first official match in Spain.[31]

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.[31][32] This early British influence was reflected in the use of English names such as Recreation Club, Athletic Club and Football Club.[32]

In Catalonia, which had the most developed industry in Spain, there was an important British colony. The first games played by Britishmen and Catalan people who had studied in the United Kingdom were documented in 1982 in Barcelona.[31] However, the first official and registered football club was Palamós FC (Costa Brava, North of Catalonia) in 1898.[31] The Swiss Hans Gamper founded FC Barcelona in November 29, 1899.[31] Other clubs were founded in 1900 like Sant Andreu, Hispania FC, and the Sociedad Española de Foot-ball (1 year later the founders changed their name for Real Club Deportivo Español).[31] The Catalan Football Federation (Catalan: Federació Catalana de Futbol), responsible for administering football in Catalonia, was the first football association founded in Spain. It was formed on November 11, 1900 as the Football Association of Catalonia (Catalan: Football Associació de Catalunya).[31] The Catalan Football Federation organised the Catalan football championship (Catalan: Campionat de Catalunya) that was the first football competition in Spain.[31]

In Madrid the first games were promoted by Institución Libre de Enseñanza (ILE) (English: Free Educational Institution), an educational and cultural center. The first club of Madrid was Football Club Sky, founded in 1897, but the club separated into two new clubs in 1890. Then, several clubs also emerged in Madrid, most notably Madrid Football Club, founded in 1902 by Catalan brothers Juan and Carlos Padrós.[31]

The Copa del Rey (English: King’s Cup) competition was founded in 1903, one year after a previous football tournament named Coronation Cup. It was Spain's football national Championship from 1903 until the establishment of the League Championship in 1928.[37]

The Spanish Federation of Football Clubs was formed in 1909, but there were discrepancies between the member clubs years later, and some of the clubs formed other association called Royal Spanish Union of Clubs of Foot-ball.[38] Finally, the two associations reached an agreement and the Royal Spanish Football Federation was founded in 1913, which allowed the Spanish football to enter in FIFA.[39] In these years, Athletic was the most dominant club in the country, and the first idols in Spain began to appear, like Pichichi and Paulino Alcántara.[39][40][41]

The Spanish national football team was created in 1920 on the occasion of the dispute of the Olympic Games in Antwerp.[32][41] The importance of the success of the Spanish national team in the Olympic games, which won the silver medal, was huge in the development of football as mass social event in Spain.[41] The interest on football grew, more people attended to the stadiums, more informations about football appeared in the newspapers, and football was used as element of national prestige and political propaganda.[42]

After the Olympic triumph, football was more popular among Spanish fans, the attendances to the stadiums increased, and the pressure of professionalism grew.[43] Spanish football turned professional in 1925.[44] An agreement between several clubs was made on November 23, 1928 which officially established Spain's national football division, and the birth of the Spanish League. The first league championship began in 1929.[32][45]

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) brought disruption to the national competitions. Although Spanish League was suspended the Catalan and Valencian clubs continued contesting in the Mediterranean League in early 1937. FC Barcelona later toured Mexico and the USA raising support for the Spanish Republic.[32]

The Spanish League and the Cup were restored in the 1939/40 season after Civil War had ended. Franco’s regime, a fascist political system, began to use football as a propaganda tool for the new regime.[46] In 1941, as part of his policy of eradicating regional identities, the Franco’s regime banned the use of non-Castilian names. As a result, many clubs that had chosen English prefixes previously, such as Athletic or Football club, had to amend their initial names, for other Castilian (as Atlético, or Club de Fútbol). The Catalan Championship was banned and the Catalan shield taken from FC Barcelona’s badge. Spanish football began to rebuild slowly after the War, but Spain’s isolated international position meant they did not properly re-enter International football until 1950.[32] Later, Franco’s regime was able to use the football, based on the European triumphs of Real Madrid in the 1950s, for political purposes. In this manner, Real Madrid was used as a Spanish brand of success, to promote Spain’s image abroad, as well as the pride of being Spanish in the country itself.[7][47]

Spain was selected as host of the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

Until the 1984/85 season the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) was responsible for organizing the league tournament. Since then, the competition was organized by the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP)(English: Professional Football League), an independent body which was formed at the initiative of the clubs themselves after disagreements with the RFEF regarding the management professionalization and economic division of the League benefits.

Since the entry into force of Spanish Law 10/1990, almost all of the clubs competing professionally in Spain are actually companies under the legal status of sports companies, whose ownership is in the hands of its shareholders. Only three professional clubs (Athletic Club, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid) kept its original structure, such as sports clubs directly controlled by their members.

After the appearance of private television in Spain, football clubs hugely increased its income thanks to the lucrative contracts to broadcast matches on television. This allowed them to hire many of the best players in the world, but most of the clubs also increased vastly their spending. In the last years La Liga is living in a big financial turmoil. Although the two big powerful clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are at the top in Forbes’ football rich list, the rest of Spanish clubs are weighing down by a colossal debt around €4.1bn. For this reason, most of the clubs had to cut their budgets drastically.[48]

Spanish national football team (La selección)[edit]

Within Spain, regional teams, most notably, the football team of Catalonia, the football team of Basque Country, and even the football team of Galicia began to compete against each other from 1915 onwards. Despite not being officially recognised by FIFA, these regional teams still occasionally play friendly games with some national team players playing for both teams. Some autonomous governments and social sectors in the historical communities (especially in Catalonia and Basque Country) prefer to call their regional teams as national team, while claiming to participate in international tournaments.[49]

The Spain national football team, commonly referred to as La selección (English: The selection) o La Roja (English: The Red one), made their international debut at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium and came away with the silver medal.[32][41] Since then the Spanish national team has participated in a total of fourteen of twenty FIFA World Cup and nine of fourteen UEFA European Championship. Historically, the Spanish national team did not achieve important results, in terms of trophies or develop an attractive playing style. Surprisingly, this fact contrasted with the huge success obtained by the main Spanish football clubs at the European level. Nevertheless, the triumphs of Spanish national team in 2008 and 2012 European Championship, and in 2010 FIFA World Cup, with an attractive playing style, marked a point of inflection that divided the history of Spanish national football team in two parts.

The Spanish national football team has been the winner of FIFA Team of Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as the winner of Laureus World Sports Award for Team of the Year in 2011.

The Spanish national football team have won 4 trophies in FIFA and UEFA tournaments: 1 FIFA World Cup in 2010, and 3 UEFA European Championship in 1964, 2008 and 2014. In addition, it was runner-up in the UEFA European Championship in 1984, and in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013.

The Spain national under-23 football team won the gold medal in 1992 Olympic tournament, and the silver medal in 2000.

The Spain national football team won the gold medal at the Mediterranean Games in 2005 and 2007, the silver medal in 1955, and the bronze medal in 1963 and 1967.

In addition, the honours list includes numerous titles at junior level teams:

UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 1986, 1998, 2011, and 2013.

FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999.

UEFA European Under-19 Championship (formerly Under-18) in 1995, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011 2012 and 2015.

UEFA European Under-17 Championship (formerly Under-16) in 1986, 1988, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008.

Meridian Cup in 1999.

Spain have won the Maurice Burlaz Trophy, the prize awarded to the national association that has achieved the best results in UEFA's men's youth competitions (UEFA European Under-19 Championship and UEFA European Under-17 championship) over the previous two seasons, in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2011.[50]

A short list of some of the best Spanish football players (grouped by playing positions and era), which have ever played for the Spanish national team, is:

Golkeepers: Ricardo Zamora (1920s/30s), Antoni Ramallets (1940s/60s), José Ángel Iribar (1960s/80s), Luis Arconada (1970s/80s), Andoni Zubizarreta (1970s/90s), Iker Casillas (1990s/-), Victor Valdés (2000s/-), David De Gea (2010s/-)

Defenders: Jacinto Quincoces (1920s/30s), José Santamaría (1950s/60s), José Antonio Camacho (1970s/80s), Rafael Gordillo (1970s/90s), Miguel Ángel Nadal (1990s/2000s), Fernando Hierro (1980s/2000s), Carles Puyol (1990s/2010s), Sergio Ramos (2000s/-), Gerard Piqué (2000s/-)

Midfielders: Josep Samitier (1920s/30s), Alfredo Di Stéfano (1950s/60s), Luis Suárez Miramontes (1960s/70s), José Martínez Sánchez "Pirri" (1960s/70s), Luis del Sol (1960s/70s), Luis Aragonés (1960s/70s), Jesús María Zamora (1970s/80s), José Miguel González "Michel" (1980s/90s), Pep Guardiola (1990s/2000s), Luis Enrique (1990s/2000s), Xavier Hernández "Xavi" (1990s/-), Andrés Iniesta (2000s/-), Cesc Fàbregas (2000s/-), Xabi Alonso (2000s/-), David Silva (2000s/-), Juan Mata (2000s/-), Sergio Busquets (2000s/-)

Forwards: Rafael Moreno Aranzadi "Pichichi") (1910s/20s), Paulino Alcántara (1910s/1920s), César Rodríguez Álvarez (1940s/50s), Telmo Zarra (1940s/50s), Estanislau Basora (1940s/50s), Ferenc Puskás (1940s/50s), Héctor Rial (1940s/50s), László Kubala (1950s/60s), Francisco Gento (1950s/70s), Amancio Amaro (1960s/70s), Enrique Castro "Quini" (1970s/80s), Emilio Butragueño (1980s/90s), Raúl (1990s/2000s), Fernando Morientes (1990s/2000s), David Villa (2000s/-), Fernando Torres (2000s/-), Pedro Rodríguez (2000s/-)

Football Club Competitions[edit]

Currently, the three most important competitions between clubs in Spain are La Liga (English: League), the Copa del Rey (English: King's Cup) and the Supercopa de España (English: Spanish Supercup). However, several other national cups are targeted at clubs at different levels.

League (La Liga)[edit]

Main article: La Liga

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. FC Barcelona was the first winner of the competition. Only three of the founding clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, have never been relegated from the Primera Division; six other clubs have never been below the top two tiers: Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Sporting Gijón, Valencia, Espanyol, and Atlético Madrid.

Historically, some of the best football players in the world have played in the Spanish football League, such as Ricardo Zamora, Josep Samitier, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ladislav Kubala, Ferenc Puskás, Raymond Kopa, Héctor Rial, Telmo Zarra, Francisco Gento, Luis Suárez, Johan Cruyff, Diego Armando Maradona, Bernd Schuster, Andoni Zubizarreta, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Romário, Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Raúl, Ronaldinho, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, among others.

La Liga de Fútbol Profesional is the association responsible for administering the two professional football leagues in Spain. Professional Spanish football is divided into: Primera División (First Division) and Segunda División (Second Division). The First Division is also known as Liga BBVA, for sponsorship reasons, while the Second Division is officially called Liga Adelante. The First Division consists of 20 professional teams and the Second Division has 22. There are also lower Spanish national football divisions. Every year, the three lowest ranked teams in the First Division pass to the Second Division and the top three ranked teams in the Second Division pass to the First Division.

The average stadium attendance was 21,000 people in the 2014-2015 season, with a range of average attendance from 4,780 people in the stadium with the lowest average attendance to 77,632 people in the stadium with highest average attendance.[51]

In La Liga's 84-year history (sans the 3 seasons that the league was suspended due to the civil war), FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have won 55 titles between them. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are two fierce rivals clubs, and the matches between both two clubs are named as El Clásico.[8] Those football matches are one of the most viewed sports events in the world.

Nine clubs have won the title: Real Madrid (32), FC Barcelona (23), Atlético de Madrid (10), Athletic Bilbao (8), Valencia CF (6), Real Sociedad (2), Sevilla FC (1), Deportivo de La Coruña (1), and Real Betis (1).

King's Cup (Copa del Rey)[edit]

Main article: Copa del Rey

In 1902, Carlos Padrós, later president of Madrid FC, suggested a football 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 (King's Cup). 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 (meaning royal) in their names. Among the many clubs to add the prefix to their name was Madrid FC, which subsequently became Real Madrid.

Fourteen clubs have won the title: FC Barcelona (27), Athletic Bilbao (23), Real Madrid (19), Atlético de Madrid (10), Valencia CF (7), Real Zaragoza (6), Sevilla FC (5), RCD Espanyol (4), Real Union (4), Real Betis (2), Deportivo de La Coruña (2), Real Sociedad (2), Arenas Club de Getxo (1), and RCD Mallorca (1).

Spanish Supercup (Supercopa de España)[edit]

Main article: Supercopa de España

Spanish Super Cup (Spanish: Supercopa de España) is a championship organiseb by Royal Spanish Football Federation, and contested by the winners of La Liga and Copa del Rey. The competition was founded in 1982.

Ten clubs have won the title: FC Barcelona (11), Real Madrid (9), Deportivo de La Coruña (3), Atlético de Madrid (2), Athletic Bilbao (2), Valencia CF (1), Real Zaragoza (1), RCD Mallorca (1), Sevilla FC (1), and Real Sociedad (1).

Spanish clubs in international competitions[edit]

The Spanish football clubs are very successful in international competitions. They are the most successful in different current European competitions, such as UEFA Champions League,[23] UEFA Super Cup,[24] and UEFA Europa League (shared record with Italian teams);[25] and they also were the most successful in the extinct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.[22]

The most successful clubs in international competitions are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. In addition, other Spanish clubs have also won titles in international tournaments, such as Atlético de Madrid, Valencia CF, Sevilla FC, Real Zaragoza, Villarreal CF, Deportivo de La Coruña, Real Club Celta de Vigo, and Málaga CF.

Spanish football clubs hold different records in international competitions.

Real Madrid is the most successful club in the UEFA Champions League.[23][52] They have won a 10 European Cups/Champions League titles and were runners-up 3 times.

FC Barcelona boasts more international titles than any other European club.[53] In addition, FC Barcelona became the first football club to win six out of six competitions in a single year (2009) completing the sextuple, and the first European club in history to achieve the continental treble twice (2009 and 2015). FC Barcelona is the most successful club in the UEFA Super Cup (5 titles, shared record with AC Milan).

Sevilla FC is the most successful club in the UEFA Europa League (4 titles).

In total, the Spanish football clubs have won 63 international titles. Over the years, Spanish clubs have won the European Cups/Champions League 15 times, the UEFA Super Cup 12 times, the UEFA Europa League 9 times, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 7 times, the UEFA Intertoto Cup 7 times, and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 6 times. In addition, Spanish clubs have also won the FIFA Club World Cup 3 times, and the Intercontinental Cup 4 times.

Women's football[edit]

Women's football is a minor sport in Spain.[54][55] Unlike the men's football, women's football is an amateur sport in Spain. Currently there are two national competitions, the League and the Copa de la Reina (English: Queen's Cup), in the semi-professional clubs involved structure.

The first teams and the first informal women's football competitions in Spain emerged in the 1970s, although they were not officially recognized by the Royal Spanish Football Federation until 1980, with the founding of the National Women's Football Committee. The first official national competition was the Championships of Spain (Copa de la Reina), established in 1983. The women's national league began to dispute the 1988-89 season.

The Spain women's national football team has been qualified only once in the FIFA Women's World Cup, and twice in the UEFA Women's Championship. Its youth division have had success in recent times. The Spain women's national under-19 football team team won the UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship in 2004. The Spain women's national under-19 football team won the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship in 2010, 2011, and 2015, as well as their third-place at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]