Friday, May 27, 2016

Behind Spanish Football

Football is an old, old game but before October 1863, and the formation of the Football Association in a London pub, nobody had ever managed to produce a set of rules that people were willing to follow. The FA. did and so invented Association Football, the basis of the football we know today.

This new form of football was introduced to Spain in the late 19th century by British immigrant workers and Spanish students returning from British universities. The first, constituted, football club in Spain was Gimnàstic de Tarragona (1886), but they didn't play till 1914 so that two Andalucian clubs - Recreativo de Huelva, originally the Huelva Recreation Club (1889) and Sevilla FC (1990), originally Club de Football de Sevilla (1890), can claim to be the oldest Spanish football teams. Meanwhile in Bilbao, in the Basque Country, two teams, Bilbao Football Club, formed by British shipyard workers and the Athletic Club, formed by students, sprang up at the turn of the 20th Century. The two clubs soon fused to form one team keeping the Athletic Club name.

The first football game played in Spain, under Association Rules, took place in Seville in 1890 when Sevilla FC beat Huelva Recreation Club by 2-0. With the exception of two Spanish players on each team all the players on both sides were British. The Huelva club was formed almost wholly of British mine workers employed by the Rio Tinto Zinc company.

Nowadays, football in Spain is governed by The Royal Spanish Football Association (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) founded in 1913.  The RFEF organises the various ligas or leagues, the Copa del Rey, The Kings Cup and the female equivalent, the Queen's Cup. It also recruits the Spanish national football teams, or selections, for both men and women in various age groups.

There are men's leagues and women's leagues. The masculine leagues are the First Division or Primera División with twenty teams, Segunda División with twenty two teams, Segunda División B divided into four groups with twenty teams in each and the Tercera División with eighteen groups of twenty teams in each one. There are also regional divisions. For the women it's sixteen teams in the First Division and seven groups of fourteen teams in the Second Division with another set of regional divisions.

A First Division (male) season has thirty eight games played between late August or early September and the end of May or early June using the usual home and away game format.

The Copa del Rey is the inter-divisional competition whose roots are in the Coronation Cup played in 1902 by the two aforementioned Bilbao teams to celebrate King Alfonso XIII reaching adulthood. Nowadays eighty four teams take part in the competition: all the First and Second Division teams plus the first five teams from each of the Second Division B leagues plus the champions of the Third Division with the numbers being made up by Second Division B teams.

The first round is played between the non professional clubs with the the Second Division teams joining in for the second and third rounds all played on a knockout basis. First Division teams join in at the fourth round at which point the games become home and away two leg ties with the final played on neutral ground.

The Copa de la Reina is played between the four top women's teams from the First Division.

And the Spaniards seem to have taken rather well to football; their first division being ranked, by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, as the second strongest European league of the last ten years bettered only by the English Premier League.

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