Spain’s First Football Match

Spain’s First Football Match: Recreativo de Huelva v Sevilla
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One hundred and twenty years before Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup for Spain, the first ever football match took place on Spanish soil. That match set in train events that would lead the country to become a leading player in the global game.

After the formalisation of the Association football rules in 1863, there were two forms that the game spread from England around the world: Brits working abroad and bringing a ball with them, or visiting students returning to their own country with a rule book, a football and bags of enthusiasm.

In the case of Spain, it was the former. British expatriots working for the Rio Tinto mining company in Andalusia founded the team now known as Recreativo de Huelva in December 1889. The founding father was a doctor from Caithness, William Alexander Mackay.

Just one month later, and “after a deal of talk and a limited consumption of small beer”, according to the Dundee Courier, Sevilla Football Club was formed. As the anglicised name implies, it was a mixed project between Spaniards and Brits – principally Edward Johnson (president), Isaiah White (secretary) and club captain Hugo MacColl.

The team had started life with a five-a-side kick-about at the Racecourse Club by the banks of the river Guadalquivir on a Sunday morning. Unlike in Britain, where workers enjoyed Saturday afternoon off, which had proven to be a catalyst for the game in its home country, the same could not be said of Spain, but it appears the players managed to gain concessions from their employers to play..

The Dundee Courier was the first newspaper in Britain to report the match. The news likely came to the Dundee Courier via the ships that brought marmalade oranges from Seville to Dundee. The paper picks up the story:

There being a Recreation Club amongst our compatriots in Huelva, we wrote asking them if they could form an eleven and come to Seville and try their strength against us, and in a few days, we got a wire that they would meet us on Saturday, 8th March.

And that date – Saturday, 8 March, 1890 – marks the very first recorded competitive match between two established football clubs in Spain at the Tablada Hippodrome, Seville. The weather was chilly but “glorious” that day, and press and a small crowd of “twelve dozen” (around 100 people) had gathered to watch. Then the rain came down, but it didn’t deter them from a 4.45pm start.

There were two umpires – one from each club – and the British Vice Consul took on refereeing duties “to everyone’s satisfaction”.

Neither team had acquired a kit at this point, with the players presenting “a motley appearance, all kinds of costumes being in requisition”. Sevilla FC’s left winger had never been a part of a sports team and is reported to have donned a “fantastic patterned suit” of pyjamas, drawing the derision of the crowd and earning the title “Clown Yugles”.

Sevilla FC’s Ritson has the distinction of scoring the first competitive goal on Spanish soil, followed shortly by none other than the Clown Yugles. And that’s how it finished: Sevilla FC 2-0 Recreativo de Huelva.

The occasion that this was most probably the first football match in Spain was not lost on either party, and “covers for thirty were laid in the saloon of the Suizo Restaurant”. Sevilla FC’s president Edward Johnston toasted the British and Spanish monarchies, and the two clubs promised a rematch.

Huelva’s team featured two Spaniards – señores Duclós and Coto, while Sevilla’s was made up entirely of British expats who worked for Seville-based employers, such as Seville Water Works.

The Dundee Courier’s report finishes: “…and no doubt the inauguration of the game in this part of the country will be followed by organisations of a similar kind in all parts where a British colony exists in Spain.”

Recreativo can claim to be the first sports club to play football in Spain, while Sevilla FC can claim to be the first club formed exclusively to play the game. For their first decade, just Sevilla FC, Recre and a team from Riotinto team were active in Andalusia. Travel around Spain was not simple in those days.

Recreativo de Huelva has come close to collapse in recent years, but has now stabilised in Spain’s third division, Segunda B. Sevilla FC has filled the trophy cabinet in recent seasons, winning five Europa League titles between 2006 and 2016.

Chris Lee runs the football travel, history and culture blog Outside Write, you can follow him on Twitter – @CMRLee and @OutsideWrite.

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