El Centrocampista

A very British beginning – The birth of football in Spain

Huelva has a very special place in the history of Spanish Football. For this dusty industrial port close to the south west border with Portugal, saw the birth of the modern game in a country that now dominates the world at club and international level.

Huelva may not have been the first location to experience ex-patriot muddied oafs kicking the bejesus out of a pig’s bladder, but it is where Huelva Recreation Club was founded in 1889. Thus making its direct descendants, Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, El Abuelo del Fútbol Español, or the Grandfather of Spanish Football.

To find the very beginning of football in Spain, we need to travel back to 1873 and the arrival of the Rio Tinto Mining Company in the hills some forty miles to the north west of Huelva. Phil Ball in his excellent book Morbo, describes how British troops fighting in the Carlist War, played a match in September 1874 against navvies working on the railway link from the mines to Huelva.

Rio Tinto formed a club for the workers in the town that had sprung up around the mines and Club Inglés or Rio Tinto FC, as they were to be known would go through various phases and mergers before folding during the Civil War. The rail link reached Huelva in late 1874 and almost immediately, a community of British ex-patriots sprang up in the city. The barrio de los ingles was built to house the great and the good of the mining company and one of them, Dr William Alexander Mackay set up a sports and social club practising in the very English sports of Cricket, Lawn Tennis and Football.

The Recreation Club, as it became known, would participate in matches against ships crews arriving in Huelva and against Club de Regatas de Sevilla. This was a similar club that had been set up in the Andalucian capital by German-Spanish businessman Wilhem Sundheim de la Cueva. Sundhiem, who had been central to attracting British investment in the mines, convened a meeting on 23 December 1889 that would see the formation of Huelva Recreation Club.

Initially a multi-recreational club, footballing activity grew quickly and on 8 March 1890, workers from the Rio Tinto mining company, under the name of Sevilla Foot-ball, played Huelva Recreacion Club. This is the first recorded instance of two clubs playing each other on Spanish soil. Huelva Recreacion Club used fields owned by the local gas company, one in the centre of town, where the current Guardia Civil is located and another near the mouth of the Rio Tinto, very close to the site of their current Estadio Nuevo Colombino.

In December 1890, the Rio Tinto company purchased land just to the south of the city and Huelva Recreation Club set about developing the site. It took 18 months for the ground to be properly developed, but finally on 20 August 1892 the Estadio del Velódromo opened for business. As the name suggests, the Velódromo was also suitable for cycling and other sports and on occasion, the footballing arm played matches back on the fields owned by the gas company.

By the turn of the twentieth, football began to dominate club activity and the club took up permanent residence at the Estadio del Velódromo. A pavilion was added to the site in 1903 and in 1906 the club accepted an invite from Madrid FC to play in a tournament in the Spanish Capital.

The club sought and received royal patronage in 1909 and became known as Real Club Recreativo de Huelva. The Andalucian championship was won on three occasions between 1903 and 1917, but with the rise of professionalism, the club faded in prominence, so much so that when the national leagues were formed in 1928, Recreativo did not receive an invite.

In the years that have followed, Recreativo’s role has been limited to a series of bit-parts, such as the occasional and all to brief visits to La Primera and their appearance in the final of 2003 Copa del Rey. Recreativo now plies it trade in the second division and its home is among the most modern in Spain, but it is a club that takes great pride in its heritage and is only too keen to remind everybody that Huelva is the birthplace of football in Spain.

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