To say that football is one of the most integral elements of Spanish culture would not be an exaggeration. For its people, it is more than a sport; it is a movement that is deeply intertwined with the country’s traditions, social values and customs. The Spanish are one of the top football fanatics in Europe. The love of football prompts the locals to play and watch it more than any other sport in the country.
Spain is also one of the most prominent European countries when it comes to football. The country’s national team is not only one of the best, but its clubs are also some of the most competent and powerful in the world.
This article offers a brief insight into the history and evolution of football in Spain and how it became such an integral part of Spanish culture.
History of Football in Spain
The introduction of football in Spain can be attributed to British sailors, immigrant workers and local students who had travelled to Britain for education. In the late 1800, British workers would form an informal group to play football and teach it to the locals. The first Spanish football teams, Exiles FC and Rio Tinto FC, were formed in 1876 and 1878; however, their status remained informal.
The first legal football club was established in 1879 by the name Cricket and Football Club of Madrid, along with Exiles and Rio Tinto led to the expansion of football across the country. This was followed by the formation of more teams in other parts of Spain. The first official football game occurred in Spain in 1890 in Seville between Recreativo de Huelva and Seville FC.
The first national championship, the Copa Del Rey, was held in Spain in 1903. It remained the national championship of the country until the introduction of the League Championship in 1928. The Spanish Federation of Football Clubs was established in 1909 as the official governing body of the sport in Spain.
However, there were conflicts with some of the member clubs, which led to the formation of a separate entity, the Royal Spanish Union of Clubs of Football. Finally, the two bodies reached an agreement, and the RFEF, Royal Spanish Football Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol), was officially founded in September 1913. The RFEF became a member of FIFA in 1914 and UEFA in 1954.
Spanish National Football Team
The Spanish national football team was formed in 1920. The team won a silver medal at the Olympics and caused a nationwide stir leading to a massive growth in football’s popularity. Spain has participated in 16 of 22 FIFA World Cups and is one of the 8 teams to win the championship. The team has been qualifying for the World Cup consistently since 1978.
The national team has also participated in 11 UEFA European Championships. The team is currently a part of the UEFA Nations League, League A and to date; its best achievement was reaching the finals in 2021, where it lost to France.
Besides being one of the most competitive teams, the Spanish national football team is also the only team that has won three major titles consecutively. These include the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where it became the first European team to win the World Cup tournament held outside Europe.
Spain is second only to Brazil as the team holding the title of FIFA team of the year from 2008 to 2013. It also ranks second to Brazil in terms of holding a record for most consecutive undefeated matches. Spain is currently in 6th place in the FIFA rankings and is undoubtedly one of the world’s most successful teams of all time.
Unlike men, women’s football is still considered a minor sport in Spain, but in recent years, there has been a growing interest. The Royal Spanish Football Federation did not recognise football for women until 1980, although it had been active for many years.
Domestic football competition in Spain
The Primera Division, known as La Liga in English-speaking regions, is the top professional football league for men in Spain. The league was established in 1929, and the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional is its official organising body.
La Liga comprises 20 teams and follows a promotion and relegation system with the Segunda Division, the second-highest professional football division for men in the country. The Segunda Division was also formed in 1929 and comprises 22 teams presently.
The current champion of La Liga is Real Madrid, who has won 35 titles to date and holds the record for most wins. The top domestic competitions include the Copa Del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana. The Copa Del Rey serves as a qualifier for the UEFA Europe League and the Supercopa de Espana.
For women, the Primera Division or the Liga F is the country’s highest level of football competition. The league was formed in 1988. Presently, it comprises 16 teams, with Barcelona as the current champion and seven times winners.