The Spain line-up in 1929.
Spain's historic footballing victory over England

Spain's historic footballing victory over England

It was 95 years ago that the two national teams first faced each other on a pitch in Madrid

Alekk M. Saanders

Monday, 1 July 2024, 14:42

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In Euro 24 Spain and England have both got through to the quarter-finals but are only likely to meet if they reach the final.

Their history goes back a long way, however. This year marks 95 years since England played against Spain for the first time. That debut was a success for the Spaniards, becoming the first non-British team to beat the football pioneers.

In 1929, the England national team travelled to Madrid to play Spain in an international friendly football match. The game was so prestigious for the Spaniards that it was the first ever to be publicly broadcast on radio. That said, many members of the British press did not even travel to Spain to cover the predictably mediocre match. Only a reporter from The Times came to the Spanish capital.

The greatest team in the world

At the beginning of the 20th century, England were considered the greatest team in the world. Their first matches against continental European teams ended in high-scoring victories. The English had been behind the start of football in Spain. Spain's oldest football club, Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, was founded in Andalucía in 1889 by Englishmen who moved to Huelva province to work in the mines of the British company Rio Tinto. Since then, the British have played a significant role in the development of football in the Spanish regions. One of the significant figures was Fred Pentland, who actively assisted the legendary 1929 Spanish national team.

Fred Pentland. SUR

The British have played a significant role in the development of football in the Spanish regions

This English footballer and coach played in several football clubs and became the champion of England five times. Later Pentland moved to Germany, where as a manager he led the German Olympic football team, and then worked with the French national team. In Spain, Fred coached Racing de Santander, Real Oviedo, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético de Madrid.

Fred Pentland is considered to be the first great coach in Spain because he changed the English kick and "onslaught" style (the way football was played by many Spanish clubs) to a style centred on skill, courage in possession, short passing and quick movement. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Fred Pentland returned to England.

The first ever meeting

On 15 May 1929, the first meeting between the two countries took place at the Estadio Metropolitano, a stadium opened in 1923. Overall, it was the 33rd international match for Spain and the 167th for England. All tickets, priced from 5 to 22 pesetas, were sold out two days before the match. Although the official capacity of the stadium was around 36,000, it is reported that 45,000 spectators attended the match. The match started at 5pm, although according to some reports, it started five minutes late as Spain's players were late on the pitch. The match was refereed by Belgian referee John Langenus, who was considered the best referee in the world at that time.

England were considered clear favourites and were believed to be in good form before the match. Indeed, at the start of the match Englishmen clearly outclassed their opponents and this made the players drop their guard. The Spaniards were very fast on the pitch and not lacking in skill and finesse. They held steady throughout the match and even better at the end.

As a result Spain managed to defeat England, who had never lost in Europe before, by an impressive score of 4-3. England captain Jack Hill said he was shocked at how well Spain played and that he was "very, very disappointed" with the result, but claimed the heat had hampered his team.

The victory thanks to the heart

The British press gave little coverage to the result, which turned out to be a historic defeat. Apart from The Times, short reports were published by The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. The Daily Express correspondent wrote: "I never thought I would live to see the day when 11 Spanish players humbled the might - more or less - of English soccer".

The Spanish media, predictably, were delighted with Spain's performance and noted in their reports the decline in the quality of English players and the apparent crisis of English football. England's loss was attributed by experts to the effects of the First World War and a wave of increasing skill and innovation in football clubs across Europe.

There were many opinions that the victory was achieved thanks to the will of the players rather than their technique

As for Spain's victory, many noted that the atmosphere in the Madrid stadium played a decisive role. It was very patriotic and rousing. Unsurprisingly, there were many opinions that the victory was achieved thanks to the will of the players rather than their technique.

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