And the League Came To Andalusia (1946)
After the Spanish Civil War, football resumed in Spain in 1939 and Sevilla FC won the 37th Copa del Rey on June 25, 1939 beating Racing Ferrol in the final at the Montjuïc Stadium in Barcelona. They were one of the stronger teams in Spain in that era but struggled to win the Primera División or La Liga title until the 1945-46 season. This is the story of our Spanish Black Swan’s only league title till date and the path thereafter, presented to you by Indranath Mukherjee at Goalden Times.
Before the Spanish national team created history by successfully defending the Henri Delaunay trophy in 2012 and earlier winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to become the first European nation to win it outside European soil, they were known as the perennial under-achievers. This was essentially due to the fact that the football clubs from Spain have always been a dominant force in the European club football scene. While Real Madrid had won the first five European Champion Clubs’ Cup competitions from 1956 to 1960 and remains the record twelve times holders of the coveted trophy, Barcelona football club has emerged as one of the finest teams ever to dominate the football scene in the last decade or so. Similarly, Sevilla FC has been one of the strongest teams in the second tier of European club football championship. They have won the competition, now known as UEFA Europa League, five times in the last 10 years including three years in succession from 2013-14 to 2015-16 and earlier in two consecutive seasons 2005-06 and 2006-07. In fact, in the 2006-07 season they won three trophies – the UEFA Cup (earlier name of the UEFA Europa League), the UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey.
Brief history of the oldest football club in Spain
The game of football was introduced in the city of Sevilla, the capital of the Andalusia region in southern Spain in 19th century by the large British expatriate population composed of owners or managers of manufacturing companies based in the city. Sevilla Fútbol Club was formally formed on 25 January 1890 and was Spain’s oldest club solely devoted to football. Real Club Recreativo de Huelva was established a year before on 23 December 1889 but was a multi-sport club. Although, on later days Sevilla FC has fielded teams in a variety of other sports including basketball, rugby, rowing, athletics, and halterofilia or petanca. The club’s first president was a Scot named Mr. Edward Farquharson Johnston who was the British vice-consul in Seville and co-proprietor of the shipping firm MacAndrews & Co2. The club’s first captain was another Scot named Hugh Maccoll, a marine engineer who used to work as the technical manager of Portilla White foundry. Isaias White junior, one of Maccoll’s partners in the firm was the club’s first secretary and it was he who had invited Recreativo de Huelva to play a football match in Seville to celebrate the foundation of Sevilla FC. This resulted in the first official football match played in Spain on 8 March, 1890 and Sevilla FC won the historic tie 2-03. Both Sevilla FC’s formation and the first match report were published in the Dundee Courier. Two of the Sevilla Football Club founding members D. Thomson and Robert Thomson, were probably related to DC Thomson, founders of the Dundee Courier. Also, a huge amount of oranges was being imported from Seville to Dundee through steamships for mass productions of orange marmalade. Given the fact that the club was formed by the British with some of the local Spanish players, Sevilla DC traditionally enjoyed strong financial foundations and most of its members came from the relatively well to do sections of the city.
On October 14, 1905, the club’s articles of association were registered in the Civil Government of Seville under the presidency of the Jerez-born José Luis Gallegos Arnosa. The working class in the city also got inspired and started playing football and on September 12, 1907, Real Betis Balompié was founded comprising mostly of locals. In the inaugural season of the Spanish league in 1929, the city derby between Sevilla and Betis took place due to a fluke in the fixture1. The party at Sevilla’s old stadium was spoilt as the visitors won the match 2-1. Thirty years later, Sevilla FC actually managed to manipulate the fixture to invite Betis to their new stadium Sanchez Pizjuan but Betis again emerged as the winner in the 4-2 goal riot. However, Sevilla FC was the most successful football club of the region in the early days. Out of the nineteen Championships of Andalusia played during the period from 1916 to 1940, Sevilla won seventeen and were runners-up in the remaining two10. They had also won two Copas del Rey in that era in 1935 and 1939. Readers will perhaps remember that there was no football in Spain between late 1936 and 1939 due to Spanish Civil War. Seville was among the first cities to fall under the forces of the dictator Francisco Franco but later he received ample support from some of the wealthy men in the city including the then Sevilla FC president Sanchez Pizjuan. Franco was perhaps happy to see Sevilla win the Copa del Rey, (known as the King’s Cup then) in 1939 after the resumption of football post-civil war, in spite of them beating Franco’s home-town club Racing de Ferrol 6-2 in the final. They also finished second in the league that season.
The Primera División football in Spain also resumed in 1939-40 after the Spanish Civil War and Sevilla FC was one of the three strong contenders of the championship then, the other two being Atlético Aviación (now Atlético Madrid) and Valencia. Atlético actually participated in 1939–40 season as a replacement for Real Oviedo, whose ground had been damaged during the war. They ended up winning their first Liga title that season which they successfully retained in 1941. Most of the other clubs in the county lost players to exile, execution, and as casualties of the war, the Atlético team was reinforced by a merger. The young, pre-war squad of Valencia had also remained intact and in the post-war years matured into champions, winning three Liga titles in 1942, 1944, and 1947. They were also runners-up in 1948 and 1949. Sevilla also enjoyed sort of a golden era, finishing as runners-up in 1940 and 1942 before winning their only league title till date in 1946. By the latter part of the decade, FC Barcelona began to emerge as a strong force to win the league in 1945, 1948 and 1949.
La Liga 1945-46 season
It was the fifteenth season since the establishment of Primera División or La Liga. FC Barcelona was the reigning champion. Sevilla had finished the earlier season rather poorly in tenth position in the league table out of 14 teams, 17 points behind the champions and only three points away from being relegated. But Sevilla had a great squad in that era and almost did the domestic double in the first season after the Spanish civil war in 1939-40. After winning the King’s Cup in 1940, they lost the league to Atlético on the last day after drawing 3–3 against Hércules. In spite of promise shown by Sevilla, it seemed that they lacked the strength to finish at the top of the table. Also till 1945, the La Liga championship trophy had travelled only once to the south of Spain, in 1935 when Betis won the league.
Sevilla’s key strength in that era was their star forward line comprising Jose Lopez, Guillermo Campanal, Rafael Berrocal, Payan Jose Diaz (popularly known as Pepillo) and Raimundo Blanco. They scored 216 goals over four seasons from 1941-42 to 1954-46 and earned the nickname los stukas after the German bomber plane. Encinas focused on the defence as well and his tactic of playing Guillamón in the right full-back position worked wonders. He also dispensed with four players, Mundi, Suárez, Soto and Perelló, who he thought were not working hard enough for the team. The manager’s player rotation policy kept the players fresh throughout the season. Only goalkeeper José María Busto and defender Alcalareño Joaquín played in all the 26 league games. Among the new signings, Juan Acedo Ponce from Granada did not work out too well. But probably the most decisive factor for success was the return of forward Juan Araujo from a forced exile when he was sent to Xerez F. C on loan. Araujo played in 20 games in the season scoring 11 goals and was the third highest scorer for the team behind Juan Arza (14 goals) and the top scorer José Campos Rodríguez (15 goals).
The Sevilla squad of Ramón Encinas Dios in 1945-46 consisted of Busto and Paquillo as goalkeepers, Joaquin, Berridi, Lucas, Bonache, Villalonga and Antúnez in defense, Herrera, Alconero, Iturbe, Ovidio, Mateo, Eguiluz, Felix and Clemente in the midfield and Acedo, Araujo, Arza, Belmonte, Campanal I, Campos, Lopez and Guillamón upfront7. As per old time sevillistas the season started in a promising way after a disappointing league season in 1944-45. They attribute this to the return of Ramón Encinas Dios in July 1945 as their manager. Encinas had earlier managed Sevilla in the pre-Civil War era from 1933 to 19365. Sevilla started their 1945-46 league campaign away from home against Hércules and had a comfortable 2-1 win. The second game of the season was a 3-3 draw at home against Celta de Vigo which was followed by another 2-2 draw against Castellón away from home. A 2-1 win at home against Real Madrid in the fourth matchday put them at the top of the league table for the first time that season. The positive momentum continued with another convincing home win against Sporting de Gijón. After remaining unbeaten for nine games in the league they lost against Valencia by a solitary goal. But they bounced back immediately in the next game against Real Murcia winning 3-1 at home. In the thirteenth game week, Sevilla faced the defending champions Barcelona at home. Sevilla took an early lead through López Martínez but Barcelona came back strongly and scored three times in the second half to take a 3-1 lead. Arza scored in 86th minute to reduce the lead but Sevilla lost 3-2. In the following week, they got back to winning ways at home against Hércules but suffered the worst defeat in the fifteenth game week against Celta Vigo conceding two goals in each half. They again came back to winning ways next week at home with a 3-2 win against Castellón. After a 1-1 away draw against Real Madrid on 27 January, Sevilla had a dream February, winning all four games. First, they beat Sporting de Gijón 2-1 away, and then Espanyol 1-0 at home and Alcoyano 2-1 away before finishing the month in style with a 3-0 win at home against Athletic Aviación. However, March did not start too well for Sevilla. On March 3, 1946, they conceded four goals away from home against Athletic Bilbao and lost the game 4-3 in the high scoring drama. The following week’s fixture was probably character-defining for Sevilla in the season. They were hosting Valencia who had earlier broken their unbeaten run in the league. An inspiring performance and a brace from López Martínez made sure that Sevilla won the game 3-0. Araujo scored the other goal.
The season was very open with six different clubs at the top of the league table at some point of time in the season12. With Valencia and Barcelona sharing the top spot in the first month, Real Oviedo took the honour by late October and by early November Sevilla was leading the tally. But after being beaten by Valencia and Barcelona, they got dropped to the fourth position by half way through to the season and Real Madrid appeared to be the new league leaders. With a margin of just three points separating the top seven clubs, Real Oviedo got back to top again before Athletico Bilbao took over. With just two games to go, Bilbao, Sevilla and Barcelona were tied at the top of the table with 33 points each. Bilbao, who had beaten Barcelona both home and away, and with a home win against Sevilla, were expected to win the league, with Sevilla and Barcelona yet to face each other. However, they lost to relegation threatened Alcoyano away in the penultimate game week and Sevilla won the league with a draw in the historic final match against Barcelona.
After an away 1-1 draw against Real Murcia, a solid 3-0 win at home against Real Oviedo meant that on the last day of the league on March 31, 1946, Sevilla travelled to Barcelona to meet the defending champion knowing that a draw will ensure their league triumph. Around 500 sevillistas were present to witness history at Camp de Les Corts, Barcelona’s home ground before Camp Nou. Spanish international striker Juan Arza scored in the seventh minute for the visitor and the home team could only manage the equalizer in the 63rd minute through José Bravo Domínguez. While Barca kept pushing for the championship winning goal, Sevilla players dropped back and defended like a cohesive unit. The match finished in a 1-1 draw and Sevilla won the league with 36 points, ahead of FC Barcelona in the second position with 35 points8.
Table 1. La Liga 1945-46 Final League Table9
Sevilla FC finished sixth in the league next season but continued to stay on the top flight. They finished as runners-up in 1950–51 behind Atletico Madrid, (then managed by the legendary Argentine tactician Helenio Herrera). To achieve something special again, they hired Helenio Herrera as their manager in 1953 and during his time in charge, the club regularly finished in the top five of the league table. Juan Arza, the club’s all-time leading goal scorer for Sevilla in La Liga, won the Pichichi Trophy as La Liga’s top scorer, with 29 goals in the 1954-55 season11. They also finished as runners-up in the Copa del Rey that season.
In the 1967-68, Sevilla got relegated to the Second Division for the first time in 35 years but were back in first division next season. They finished the league strongly in third position in the 1969-70 season. But the 1970’s was a difficult period for the club due to financial crisis resulting from the debts incurred during the construction of its new stadium. They had to sell part of the land adjacent to the stadium to a bank. They were also forced to sell some of their key players; Manuel Ruiz Sosa was sold to Atlético Madrid, Gallego to Barcelona and Juan Batista Agüero to Real Madrid. In 1973, Sevilla signed their first-ever black player, Gambian winger Biri Biri, from Danish club Boldklubben 19016. He remained at the club until 1978 and became a cult figure, with an ultra-group named after him, which exists till date.
Financial ups and downs continued till the beginning of the twenty-first century but the club settled well after that and managed to qualify for UEFA Europa Cup in both the 2003–04 and 2004–05 seasons before marking their centennial in late 2005. The following year saw Sevilla win their first ever European trophy by beating English club Middlesbrough 4–0 in the UEFA Cup Final at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven on May 10, 2006. That victory marked the beginning of the second golden era for the club so to say. In just two consecutive seasons, 2005-06 and 2006-07, Sevilla had won more trophies than in the entire history of the club!
Another financial crisis hit Sevilla around 2013 which forced them to sell some of their key players like Álvaro Negredo and Jesús Navas, but they shocked everyone by winning three UEFA Europa Leagues in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 and the latest triumphs made Sevilla the most successful club in the history of the competition. Sevilla played decent football last season under their new Argentine manager Jorge Sampaoli and finished 4th in the league table to ensure a spot in Champions League. But in the presence of the two giants FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and the emergence of Atletico Madrid, whether Sevilla will win another league in the foreseeable future is more of an if question than when.
The author wishes to thank Phil Ball for his incisive comments on the first draft of this article.