From the Brits in Huelva to the first Malaga football club

From the Brits in Huelva to the first Malaga football club

Following the disappointing loss of England to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, how about a trip back in time to recall the role of England in bringing football to Europe?


Tuesday, 13 July 2021, 09:58


England came so close to a European title, losing on penalties to Italy at Wembley. It's little consolation but still not too late to go back on a trip through history to see the contribution the British made to bringing football to Spain and the rest of Europe.


The first written evidence of a football match in Europe originates from around 1170. That year the cleric William Fitzstephen described his visit to London: «After dinner all the youths of the city go out into the fields for the very popular game of ball.» Another of one of the earliest known references to football is in Shakespeare's King Lear, written in 1605.


The very first game between England and Scotland took place on 5 March 1870. Played at The Oval stadium, this was the first encounter of five matches between teams representing the two nations. However, the matches are not recognised as official internationals by FIFA, as the Scottish players were all London-based and as such were not fully representative of Scotland as a nation. The first official international, Scotland vs England, was played two years later, on 30 November 1872.


By the 19th century football had spread all over Europe and even to other continents. It was thanks to workers who came from England to the Huelva copper mine, that the game started to spread around Spain.

The most western province of Andalucía, Huelva, played a very special role in promoting and developing football. The cradle of the game can be found in the small village of Riotinto, which was a dusty industrial place a century ago. The village's English neighbourhood, Barrio Inglés or Bella Vista was built to house distinguished and wealthy people of the Rio Tinto mining company after a British consortium bought the rights to mine the area from the Spanish government in 1873. Five years later, they built the English Club de Minas de Riotinto, where the workers played football.

According to some sources, a team at the English Club was established in 1873 and had the name Club Inglés de Río Tinto, or Rio Tinto FC. A bullfighting report described a ball game, or 'juego de pelota', taking place in the Riotinto bullring on 3 October, 1880.

However, the oldest football club that still exits today in Spain appeared in Huelva in 1889 - 'Recreativo de Huelva' - established by a British worker. In 1890, Recreativo played against Colonia Inglesa (apparently referring to the Rio Tinto team), and this match is considered the first official football match in Spain.

In 1890 neighbouring Seville also had its team.The Seville football club was sponsored by The Seville Water Works Company Ltd, established in 1883 with British capital. So, in 1890, Recreativo de Huelva played against Sevilla Fútbol Club or Club Inglés de Sevilla.

That match on 8 March became the first official game in Spain. The players of both teams, except two Spanish players representing the Huelva team, were British. The team from Seville won, but that loss made the Huelva club take measures to improve and develop football infrastructure.


The first football club in Malaga was established in 1903, with the formation of the Málaga Foot-Ball Club. According to other sources, the birth of Malaga club dates to 1904. Their first rivals were small teams formed by crews of foreign ships arriving in the local harbour, and they played in the La Malagueta Bullring.


In 1912, Malaga got its second football club, named FC Malagueño. It was a main rival for Málaga FC until 1933 when the both clubs merged to become Club Deportivo Malacitano. However, it appears that it wasn't a real merging, and just a name change of the FC Malagueño, which had economic wealth and a better squad than the Málaga FC.


A football tournament was contested for the first time at the Summer Olympics in London in 1908. The national team of Spain was formed especially for the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920. After defeating Denmark, Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands, the Spaniards left the Olympic tournament with silver medals.

It was a success that later boosted the popularity of football in Spain. Enthusiam for the sport was increased thanks to the monarch too. King Alfonso XIII even issued a Royal decree announcing that regimental football clubs were to be formed in all branches of the armed forces. Moreover, under the influence of the King of Spain, youth was taking an interest in football.


In 1922 the first football field of Malaga opened in El Balneario, known as Los Baños del Carmen. The day of 23 August was rainy, but the opening match went ahead against Real España from Granada. The Malagueños won by eleven goals to one.


In 1941 the club changed their name to the Club Deportivo Málaga when the new La Rosaleda stadium was inaugurated. When the football at the Baños del Carmen flooded, the stadium built at the 'rose garden' had to be used for the first time on 13 April 1941. However, the official inauguration took place on 14 September 1941, with a friendly match between the CD Málaga and Sevilla. In this match, Club Deportivo Malacitano premiered its new name CD Málaga.


In the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920 the United Kingdom participated as the Great Britain Olympic football team. One of the players in the UK football team was Charles Robert Julian, born on 26 June 1897. This forward represented clubs such as the Old Westminsters, Casuals and Corinthians between 1919 and 1926.

But he also played for the football team Rio Tinto, after moving to Huelva province. In Andalucía he worked as a general manager of Rio Tinto mines and in 1923 he was awarded the 1st Class Diploma Royal School of Mines. Charles Robert Julian lived in Huelva province till his death on 7 Sept 1955. He was buried in Rio Tinto, at the British Protestant Cemetery (Cementerio Inglés de Bella Vista).

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