Unravelling the red tape – Mirandes and Lugo Pay the Price of Success


It has been reported recently that the Spanish Second Division teams: CD Mirandes and CD Lugo, may be expelled from the Division for failing to meet financial obligations. So, exactly what have these clubs done wrong? The answer of course is nothing. Both teams have existed happily in the lower leagues for many years and have been well-run with little or no debt; they have formed good relationships with local sponsors and businesses and have enjoyed strong support form the local communities. So why are they now on the verge of being punished so harshly?

The answer is that they have become victims of their own success. The transition from part-time minnows to potential La Liga competitors is a massive one for these clubs and in order to play with the big boys they must hatchet their way through a mass of Government red-tape. To compete for a second season in the division they must first change the legal structure of their clubs.

In 1990, the Spanish authorities sought to adopt a common economic and legal model for all sporting teams competing at the highest level. The aim was to allow the clubs to participate in share trading on the stock market, establish a clear and transparent administrative control system over ownership issues, and to ensure the interests of the public and future investors are protected. To conform to these guidelines football clubs that are not already registered must convert to a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva (SAD). In order to do this the clubs must cover the administration costs for the conversion. Because Mirandes and Lugo are new to this level of football (Lugo reached the Segunda in 1992 but were relegated after one season), they have never been converted to an SAD.

For a small team like CD Mirandes, who have been operating on a budget of 500,000 euros a year, this means they have to raise nearly 2.5 million euros in order to pay for the conversion. This money is demanded by the Governments Sports Council (Consejo Superior de Deportes, CSD) and is non-negotiable – unless of course you happen to be Athletic Club Bilbao, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid or Osasuna, who were allowed to retain their non-commercial statuses for historical reasons.

The implications of non-payment are clear; the teams will be relegated from the Segunda Division. The President of Lugo, José Bouso, declared that: “The club is optimistic about completing the conversion.” However they have received a 900,000 euro contribution from the council, and a further 600,000 euros from the City of Lugo, leaving just under one million euros to pay.

CD Mirandes are finding things a bit more difficult as they have received no regional or provincial support and need to find the money themselves. So far they have raised only 15% of the amount needed and have until 30th June to declare their status.

The situation could deter potential investors from looking at smaller non-SAD clubs, as any progress on the pitch could lead to an unwanted encounter with bureaucracy.

(The expulsion of CD Guadalajara from the Segunda Division amid doubts over their SAD status is currently in the middle of a legal process)


The Incredible Sporting Prowess of Jose Maria Yermo Solaegui

jose-maria-yermo-solaegui-tnBorn in Las Arenas in 1903,  Jose Maria Yermo Solaegui (known simply as “Yermo”) was a Spanish footballer who played as a striker for Arenas Club de Getxo during the 1920s and 1930s.  He also captained the Spanish national team and in 1928, became the first player to score a hat-trick for Spain. However, his sporting achievements were not limited to the football pitch.

As well as being a talented footballer, Yermo was a member of the Spanish national cycling team and competed at the Olympic Games in athletics, cycling and football. He was the Spanish record holder for long jump and triple jump, and also competed in high jump, rowing, hammer-throwing, hockey and motorcycling.

His sporting exploits are a prime example of the proud Basque tradition for showcasing acts of physical strength and endurance. A practice that caused many footballers from the region to compete in other sports; such as the the four Arenas Club players, led by another club legend, Pedro Vallana, who went on to become the Spanish 4 x 250m relay champions in 1923.

Arenas de Getxo Football Club were founded in 1909 and soon became one of the biggest names in Spanish football – winning many regional tournaments and dominating the sport in the Basque Country. In 1914, they met Barcelona in a series of friendly games and won them all. In the following years, they went on to become champions of Northern Spain and the Basque Country, and they competed in three Spanish cup finals.

It was the Director of Arenas Club de Getxo, Jose Maria Acha, who first proposed the idea of a national league at a meeting in 1927 – an idea that became reality in 1929 when La Liga was formed. Arenas Club competed at the top level for the first 7 seasons of La Liga and many of their players went on to represent Spain at national level. They were eventually relegated in 1935 and have never returned to the top flight.

The first time Yermo competed in the colours of Arenas Club was as a teenage athlete. He was known for his jumping abilty and in 1923, became the Spanish long jump record holder with a jump of 6.23m. A year later, he became the first Spaniard to break the 13m barrier in the triple jump, recording a  distance of 13.48m. As a result, he was selected to represent Spain at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris but he was unable to compete due to injury.

Between 1923 and 1925, Yermo won multiple medals at the Spanish national athletic championships, including three silver and two bronze medals in his favoured long and triple jump events. In 1926, he became a cycling champion, winning the Basque speed championship and was also a runner-up in the Spanish championship. This earned him a place in the Spanish team for the World Championships but they were unable to secure a medal.

By 1928, Yermo was an established striker for Arenas Football Club and was chosen to captain Spain at the summer Olympic Games in Amseterdam. It was there that he became the first Spanish player to score a hat-trick in a 7-1 demolition of Mexico. Unfortunately, they were then beaten by the same score-line in the Quarter-final match against Italy, with Yermo scoring the only goal for Spain. Incredibly, at the same tournament, he also became the first Spaniard to represent his nation at Olympic cycling, finishing a commendable 12th in the 1km time trials.

Yermo began his football career in the youth ranks at Arenas Club and spent his entire career playing for the Basque Country side before finally retiring in 1935. As well as many appearances at regional level, he also made 51 appearances in La Liga, scoring a total of 30 goals – a contribution that secured his place in the club’s book of legends.

In the summer of 1932, Yermo made the news again after becoming the first person to row the course of the river Ebro from Aragon to the Mediterranean. He completed the course despite being capsized and battered against rocks in Sastago.

After leaving football, he retained a strong interest in rowing and cycling and, inspired by the Tour de France, became a key player in the inauguration of the now famous Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) cycling race. He lived to see the race grow into a prestigious global event before passing away in 1960 aged just 57.


FOOTBALL IDOL – The Enduring Legacy of Claudio ‘El Litri’ Barragan

Photo: elchecf.es

With SD Ponferradina currently pushing for a play-off place in the Segunda league; it seems like a good time to take a look at the man at the helm. A man who wears the status of legend like a favourite shirt.

Earning the status of a club legend is no easy feat for any footballer. You don’t have to be the most talented player but you must give something so empyreal to the fans that they feel the need to pass it on to future generations. You must inspire them, you must represent them and you must connect with them. Most importantly, you must give them a sense of romance.

When Claudio Barragan Escobar (known simply as “Claudio”) arrived at Levante in 1980 aged just 16, few would have predicted that the thin lad from Manises would go on to be an idol at more than one football club. In fact, the unassuming but talented youngster lurked quietly in the shadows as another footballing legend, Johan Cruyff, arrived at Estadi Ciutat de València in early 1981. Despite his young age, he did manage to break into the first team but a niggling knee injury hindered his progress, and he was subsequently loaned out to AgD Cueta and UD Las Palmas to work his way back to fitness.

In 1984, Claudio signed for newly-promoted Primera club Elche CF, where he would go on to earn the nickname “El Litri” (roughly translated as ‘The Dandy’) after the famous bullfighter Miguel “El Litri” Baez. He was recommended by former Coach Evaristo Carrio who famously said in a radio interview with Santiago Gambin: “If this kid does not play for the national team, I will cut my hand off.” A few years later, Carrio’s prediction came true and his hand was spared.

Claudio was not the most skilful striker and he was certainly not the most prolific, but he gave everything. His style of play was aggressive and intelligent, and he was a natural leader on the pitch. In his first season at Elche, his substitute performances were impressive enough to earn him a regular first team place, and he managed to score two goals, including the first of many he would record at Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium. Unfortunately, the season ended in relegation to the Segunda Division.

The following two seasons saw much upheaval at the club, with Managerial and Presidential changes that would hold back the progress of the team, but by 1987-89, things were looking up. Claudio was now playing alongside Sixto Casabona Martínez with Milijov Bracun linking up, and the three of them formed a formidable goal threat that would propel Los Franjiverdes back into the topflight of Spanish football. Claudio was the architect of the team and provided 11 goals; he also set up many for Sixto who scored an incredible 21, earning himself the nickname of “Sixtogol”. Bracun, who was a defender by trade, also scored 12 goals. This season was one of the most memorable in the history of CF Elche and the legend of ”El Litri” had been preserved in amber.

Once again, Elche would only manage one season at the top level but “El Litri” continued to impress with his battling style of play and a seven-goal tally which included his obligatory strike at the Bernabéu. His performances caught the eye of Mallorca and a transfer was agreed, much to the dismay of the adoring Elche fans who were losing their idol – a warrior on the battlefield whose passion and ardour was matched only by their own.

Claudio spent two seasons at Mallorca, and in 1991 they reached the final of the Copa del Rey, eventually losing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after an extra-time goal by Alfredo. He was then courted by Cesar Augusto Lendoiro, the President of newly-promoted Deportivo La Coruna, who convinced him that the club was at the beginning of an amazing odyssey.

The Following years were incredible for Claudio and for Deportivo, as the team from Galicia emerged from many years in the wilderness to become a force of European football. Lendoiro was very ambitious but short on funds so he had to be smart in the transfer market, buying in cheaper experienced players (Lopez Rekarte, Paco Liano, José Luis Ribera, Adolfo Aldana, Donato) and picking up promising youngsters to build a team capable of surviving that first season back in La Liga. Claudio made his debut against Valencia on 31 August 1991 and went on to score 10 goals, as Depor retained their La Liga status after overcoming Real Betis in the play-offs.

The arrival of striker Bebeto and midfielder Mauro Silva sparked a new era for Deportivo and Claudio thrived alongside the Brazilians. Claudio and Mauro Silva provided the work-rate and fighting spirit that became the hallmark of the team, and Bebeto provided the flair. Claudio gained a reputation for being a bit hot-headed and would never shy away from a challenge. Despite being a striker, he always fought hard to regain possession, making him the perfect foil for Bebeto, who played the role of a more traditional striker.  Their goals took Deportivo to the top of the table where they remained for much of the season. However, they eventually had to settle for third place behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. Despite their disappointment at missing out on the title, Super Depor still secured a place in European competition for the first time in their history.

As predicted by Carrio, Claudio was called up to the Spanish National team and although he only made six appearances, he was never on the losing side. He made his debut in the 0-0 World Cup qualifying match against Northern Ireland in 1992.

In the 1993-94 season, Deportivo dominated the league and went into the last match of the season needing only a win at home to Valencia to secure the title. Claudio was out injured, but the team were confident they could overcome an inconsistent Valencia side that were sat safely in mid-table. The game was unbearably close and it seemed like a goal would never come until Depor were awarded a late penalty after a foul on Nando. Regular spot-kicker Donato had been taken off and Bebeto did not want to take it, so Djukic stepped up. Unfortunately, he fired a weak shot straight at the goal keeper and Deportivo were denied the title.

Claudio finally won a trophy with Deportivo in 1995 with victory in the Copa del Rey. The squad had been strengthened by the arrival of Salinas, Kostadinov and Manjarín and first-team chances were restricted for Claudio. At the age of 31, he had proved himself to be top-level footballer and he still had plenty to give, but it was time to move on. To the fans at Riazor, he left as a legend.

When he returned to Depor the next season in the colours of UD Salamanca, Claudio was greeted with emotional chants of his name that reverberated around the stadium, bringing tears to his eyes. Once again, his cult status amongst the supporters was confirmed. In what would be his final season in La Liga, Claudio netted 11 goals for the team from Castile and León, but it was not enough to prevent relegation back to the Segunda.

The following season began badly when he picked up a broken nose in a game against Levante. The injury kept him out of the team for several weeks and on his return he found it hard to gain a regular starting place. This alerted several clubs, including Elche, and in December 1996 he made an emotional return to his former club.

The return of “El Litri” gave a massive boost to the fans of Elche, who had watched the club struggle through financial difficulties and failed promotion attempts during the 1990s. Their idol had returned; a man of strength, quality and inspiration who could prove the difference when it came down to the wire.

The first season back was turbulent one which saw three different Coaches at the club. Despite this disruption, Elche made it to the play-offs and  everything came down to the last game of the season at Barakaldo CF. They needed to win, but also needed Cordoba to avoid defeat at Deportivo “B”. After a tense game, victory was sealed with a single goal from Enric Cuxart, while Cordoba prevailed at the Riazor meaning promotion was secured. Many fans still recall the image of an emotional Claudio falling to his knees at the end of the match with tears of joy in his eyes.

The following season Elche were dealt a further blow when they were relegated again but in the 1998-99 season they fought their way back into the play-offs with a team that included current Barcelona Coach, Tito Villanova. Once again it came down to the wire, with a win in the final match in Melilla needed to secure an immediate return to the Segunda league. For the 200 Elche fans that made the trip to the Moroccan coastal enclave, it was a night of destiny.

With the game level at 1-1 and half time approaching, the decisive moment came. Tito Villanova floated in a free-kick from the right and the ball was knocked back into the path of Claudio. The outcome was inevitable; it had already been written.

The goal put the visitors ahead and –  despite the expulsion of Villanova with 17 minutes to play – they managed to hold on and win the game.

Claudio finished the season as top-scorer and had now led Elche to three promotions. He played on for another year and helped Elche to consolidate their place in the Segunda league.

After hanging up his boots, he returned to Elche once again in 2004 as a member of the Coaching staff and remained there until 2009 when he eventually left after a brief spell as Head Coach. He arrived at SD Ponferradina as Coach in January 2011 but was too late to avoid relegation to Segunda “B”. The following year – in typical Claudio style – they bounced right back and secured promotion via the play-offs.

Now, the impossible dream of reaching La Liga seems like a tangible reality. Claudio makes people believe. The fans are his idols and he is theirs. Another day, another legacy.


The magic of the Copa del Rey alive and kicking in Spain

Guest writer Neil Moran explains why romance is not dead in the Copa del Rey…..

With the recent trend of top sides putting out weakened teams for their domestic cups, an act claimed to be devaluing the competitions and taking away that cup magic, it could not be more different in Spain where last year’s Copa del Rey final was fiercely fought in Valencia’s Mestalla stadium by the giants of Spanish football Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Fuelled by Jose Mourinho’s desire to wrestle some trophies away from Pep Guardiola’s Barca, who it seems just want to win every prize put in front of them, it appeared a new found competitiveness had revitalised the Copa del Rey.

The eyes of the world fall on the Camp Nou tonight with the Catalans and Madrileños doing battle once more, this time in the second leg of their cup quarter final. But last night, over 500km up the road, in Miranda de Ebro, a city bordering on the wine-swilling La Rioja region, 6,000 locals were packed inside the Estadio de Anduva hoping to raise their glasses to one of Spanish footballs big giant-killing stories.

Third division Mirandes find themselves in the quarter finals having already knocked out La Liga rivals in the shape of Villareal and Racing Santander – not a bad run for a side that have never played higher than the third tier and just 15 years ago found themselves playing non-league football. A first leg 3-2 defeat against Mauricio Pochettino’s Espanyol gave them every chance of progression to the semi finals thanks to the two away goals they scored at Cornellà-El Prat, a feat that the mighty Barca could not achieve when dropping two points there in a League visit just a couple of week before.

As the supporters made their way to the stadium by the banks of the River Ebro they had reason to be optimistic, with an home record of 10 wins, two draws and just the one defeat they found themselves sitting as sole Leaders of their group with an healthy lead over second placed Ponferradina, a side whose big cup adventure came to an end two rounds ago in the Santiago Bernabeu, being swept away by Real Madrid 7-1 on aggregate. When Espanyol’s Portuguese striker Rui Fonte put them ahead shortly after the break to open up a two goal lead, the writing was on the wall as the visiting fans began to dream of an all Catalan final. Pablo Infante then gave the home side hope, leveling after 57 minutes with a Roy of the Rovers strike, but the final half hour was a long one with both sides coming close to scoring. Mirandes Coach Carlos Pouso had nothing to lose and threw the kitchen sink at their La Liga opposition and was rewarded when all had seemed lost.

With the game well in to injury time, journeyman centre half César Caneda headed home to make the tie 4-4 on aggregate, the two away goals giving the underdogs the advantage and sending their fans delirious. The full time whistle was greeted by looks of disbelief on the faces of the courageous heroes who were in turn greeted by the customary cup pitch invasion. The vino flowed into the early hours as the 40,000 residents of the city toasted their team as they continued their march in to the unknown.

The third division club find themselves in the cup semi final, an achievement only seen once before in Spanish football when in 2002, Figueres were beaten in the semi finals by Deportivo la Coruña, having already knocked out Barcelona on the way. Only the winners of Atletic Bilbao and Mallorca stand between Mirandes and a dream cup final against one of Spanish and European football’s big guns. 2012 looks like being a vintage year in this corner of the province of Burgos and who would bet against them pulling off another giant-killing? Long live His Majesty’s cup…

About the author: Neil Moran has been living in Madrid for over 7 years and finds himself in the thick of Spanish football, involved from the very top to the very bottom of the Spanish league pyramid. Neil does commentary work for Real Madrid TV as well as writing on the Atletico Madrid website. As a keen football coach he works with children in the city whilst managing FC Britanico de Madrid, the number one English speaking team in Spain who are currently playing Spain’s eight tier. @fcbritanico @neilmadrid @premierfutbol

When the Lions of Bilbao met the Renegades of Budapest

Budapest Honved SE in 1956

Football and war have had a strange relationship over the years and have often come together in the most unlikely of circumstances. One famous example is the now legendary (and somewhat mythical) First World War truce in no-man’s land when despondent troops from opposing trenches supposedly stopped on Christmas day for a good-natured kick-about.

There have been many other instances where football has been affected by war such as the time in 1938 when Liverpool Manager George Kay, along with dozens of top flight footballers, joined the Territorial Army in readiness for the inevitable conflict with Nazi Germany. When the war came many players hung up their boots and took up arms to fight for their country and inevitably, some never returned.

Football has even been implicated in the outbreak of international conflict. The infamous “football war” between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 certainly inflamed an already tense situation that existed between the two nations, and ultimately led to a bloody military battle.

A more recent example of war and football crossing paths happened during the Belgrade “Eternal” derby on March 22, 1992 when the fiercely violent opposing fans of Red Star and Partizan Belgrade briefly forgot their own bitter terrace war to cheer in unison at the conquest of Croatian territory by the Serbian army.

Another story worth recounting involves a match between Athletic Bilbao and Budapest Honved SE, and tells of how the early days of the European Cup were also affected by the turmoil of war and revolution.


In 1956/57, Athletic were making their debut in the competition, and after overcoming FC Porto 3-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round, they were drawn against Budapest Honved SE – the team of the Hungarian Army. The side from Budapest included several key members of the famous Hungarian national team known as the “Mighty Magyars”, which made it to the 1954 World Cup final and famously defeated England 6-3 in front of 105,000 people at Wembley Stadium in 1953. Names such as Puskas, Bozsik, Kocsis and Czibor formed the nucleus of that Golden team of the 1950s and they were considered to be the best team in the world at the time.

Los Leones of Bilbao were themselves a major force to be reckoned with, and were one of the most successful teams in Spain with 6 La Liga titles and 19 Copa del Reys already under their belt. That season, they had just won the Liga and Copa double under the guidance of legendary journeyman Coach Ferdinand Daucik and the squad contained talented players such as Mauri, Orue, Marcaida, Merodio, Carmelo, Canito, Garay, Maguregui, Arteche, Arieta and Piru Gainza. The match promised to be a spectacular battle between two giants of world football.

The first leg of the tie was due to be played in Budapest on November 7 with the return match due to take place at the Sam Mames stadium in Bilbao. To prepare for the match, Honved had embarked on a series of tour matches in Western Europe, unaware of the terrible events that were unfolding back in their home country.

Before the first leg, on October 22, a student demonstration against the Soviet-inspired policies of the newly-formed communist state, turned into a revolt after the State Security Police opened fire on protesting students. Violence and disorder quickly spread across the country leading to revolution and on November 4, in an attempt to halt the uprising, Soviet-led forces were deployed.

As Soviet tanks loomed on the Capital, it was clear that the first leg could not take place in Budapest and it was switched to San Mames in Bilbao, with the venue of the return leg to be decided at a later date. The Hungarian players decided not to return home even though many had wives and children back home and were unaware of their whereabouts or safety.

It seems incredible today that the match still went ahead but the Hungarian players had to make a living and, as well as the European Cup tie, they also had several lucrative friendly matches organised. They could not return home for fear of imprisonment, and the money earned from these games would be enough to help get their families safely out of Hungary.

The first leg was played on a cold night in front of 40,000 excited fans at the San Mames stadium and was a highly entertaining game. Athletic dominated early on and took the lead after 16 minutes through Arteche, much to the delight of the home fans. They continued to put pressure on Honved and when they doubled their lead through Marcaida on 27 minutes, it looked as though the tie was over. The Hungarians were playing under extremely stressful circumstances and understandably, it seemed to affect some of the players with Puskas and Czibor in particular looking rather subdued.

In the second half, the team from Budapest began to claw their way back into the match and after 75 minutes, the pressure eventually paid off when Budai scored, setting the scene for a frantic last 15 minutes. As Honved pushed forward they became more and more exposed to the counter-attack, and seven minutes later Athletic scored again through Arieta. However, Honved didn’t give up and when Kocsis scored after 85 minutes to make it 3-2, it seemed like the tie could go either way. In a dramatic finale, it appeared that Honved had equalised only for the goal to be disallowed by English referee John Husband. Moments later, the final whistle went and the match ended 3-2 in favour of the Basque team.

There was much speculation about the venue for the second leg with Paris, Valencia and Madrid considered before it was finally decided that the Heysel stadium in Brussels would stage the game on December 20. In the meantime, unable to return home, the Honved players decided to continue their makeshift tour of Europe. Many had now been reunited with their families some of whom had fled Hungary on foot.

The legendary tour produced some remarkable moments in football history, beginning with a 5-5 draw in Madrid, when Honved faced a combination of players from Atletico and Real Madrid including Di Stefano, Gento and Joaquin Peiro. The next game took them to Barcelona where the Hungarians prevailed 4-3 and were reunited with their legendary compatriot Laszlo Kubala, who had fled Hungary in 1949 and was now representing Spain. The third game of the Spanish leg of the tour saw another unlikely union, as the players of bitter rivals Sevilla and Real Betis joined forces to beat the Hungarians 6-2. Further friendly encounters in Italy and Portugal helped to keep the players in shape ahead of the second leg in Brussels.

It was a cold and foggy night at the Heysel stadium but the atmosphere was electric. More than 30,000 fans packed into the stadium, aware that this may well be the last chance to see the exiled legends of Honved play together in an official match. Both teams attacked from the outset and after just two minutes Merodio scored for Athletic. Then, just four minutes later, Budai equalised for the Hungarian team. The game remained finely poised until a turning point early in the second half, when Bilbao forward Arieta collided with the opposition goalkeeper Lajos Farago. As a result, the keeper was forced to leave the pitch with a damaged collarbone.

With no substitutions available, Czibor was chosen to take Farago’s place between the goalposts. Athletic capitalised, and after 72 minutes they were 3-1 ahead thanks to goals from Arieta and a second from Merodio. Incredibly, Farago returned to the pitch for the final minutes, as goals from Budai and Puskas left Honved needing just one more goal in the final 4 minutes to complete a remarkable comeback – a feat they were unable to complete.

The tie was over and Athletic went on to face Manchester United in the next round, a match they eventually lost 6-5 after two more pulsating legs of football. It would be 28 years before they would win their domestic league again. Meanwhile, Honved were left in limbo, unable to return home and without a league to play in, they continued their tour with a trip to Brazil to play Botafogo and Flamengo. Unfortunately, these unofficial exhibition matches were not approved by FIFA and they took the decision to ban the renegade team from world football, and also threatened to expel Brazil from the next World Cup.

A golden era had come to an end and upon returning to Europe the team went their separate ways. Some returned to Hungary but others, such as Czibor, Kocsis and Puskas, refused to go back, preferring instead to seek refuse elsewhere – a decision that saw them issued with two-year bans from UEFA.

Eventually, Czibor and Kocsis both joined Barcelona while Puskas signed for Real Madrid where he enjoyed eight successful years before retiring. His nomadic adventure didn’t end there however and he went on to manage football clubs on six different continents before finally returning to Hungary in the 1990s.

The Improbable Legacy of Los Matadores

AtleticoTetouanIf you were to pay a visit to the Saniat R’mel Stadium in the Moroccan City of Tetouan on match day, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a lower league Spanish side.

The venue is actually home to Maghreb Athletic Tetouan of the Botola League, but there is a distinctly Spanish theme present amongst the club’s fanatical supporters. From the banners honouring “Los Matadores” (the matadors) and the passionately-waved Spanish flags, to the replica shirts of Athletic Bilbao and Athletico Madrid that echo the red and white colours of the home team, the tributes are commonplace on the terraces.

This blatant nod to the league of their neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea is by no means a simplistic show of admiration. It is in fact a nostalgic evocation of a unique and proud past – a past which saw the team nicknamed “The White Doves” become the only foreign club ever to play in La Liga.

This remarkable fairytale became a reality in the 1951/1952 season. And although Tetouan only got to rub shoulders with the best teams in Spain for one season, the event remains a proud and enduring moment in the club’s history, as well as a badge of honour for their fans.

The origins of the club can be traced back to 1918 when a merger of three local teams saw the formation of Athletic Club, but it wasn’t until 1922 that the foundation of the club was officially recognised. The Spanish influence was evident even back in those early days; the clubs colours are said to be inspired by Atletico Madrid’s kit, while their shield is reportedly a re-working of Athletic Bilbao’s. This inspiration was an obvious by-product of the Spanish Protectorate of North Morocco that existed at the time. And the club’s founders took full advantage of this by signing footballers who were conscripted in Tetouan at the time. One of the original directors, Fernando Villavicencio, had in fact played for Atletico Madrid.

By 1933, the club became known as Atletico Tetouan and played in the North Moroccan League, winning the title in only their second season – a feat they equalled in 1936 with a line-up consisting of Guash, Fernandez, Otilio, Rojas, Cuenca, Andrew Matthew, Maquinay, Granados, Paco Mateo, Trinchart and Puente. This success in the North Moroccan League gave them the opportunity to play in the Spanish Cup and face the mighty teams from the peninsula for the very first time.

During the Civil War, football was suspended and by the time it was over, many players were lost or did not return to the club. However, after a couple of seasons of re-building, they soon returned to winning ways and by 1942, they were once again crowned champions of North Morocco. It was during the same season that the Spanish league was re-structured, giving Atletico the chance to earn a place in the third tier of Spanish Football – a feat they achieved in 1944 through a play-off system. This promotion marked the beginning of a brief but memorable odyssey that would take them all the way to the top flight of Spanish Football.

During that first season in Spain they faced Hercules, Cadiz, Malaga, Coria, Algeciras, Linares, ONUB, Cordoba, Jaen and Olympic Linense Balompedica, and finished in a commendable fifth place. In the following season they found things much tougher and were eventually relegated after finishing bottom. Despite this setback, it did not take them long to return and after beating Cadiz in another play-off, they were back in the Third Division.

Three years later, the ascension continued as they gained promotion to the Second Division where they faced Albacete, Alcoyano, Balompedica Linense, Cartagena, Castellon, Cordoba, Elche, Granada, Hercules, Levante, Mallorca, Mestalla, Murcia, Ultra Plus and Salamanca. Despite being newcomers, they pushed for their ultimate dream of promotion to La Liga but ultimately fell short, finishing in a respectable fifth place. The team from that season consisted of Pachon, Larosi, Humanes, Cabello, Ramoní, Sevilla, Antonito, Solano, Bozambo, Pepin and Mancheno.

It was in the following season (1950/1951) that they finally achieved their dream and were promoted to La Liga as champions of the second division. What had once seemed so far-fetched and improbable had now been achieved, as they took their well-earned place amongst the elite of Spanish football. Older fans of Atletico, still remember the names of Hurtado, Pachon, Castillo, Humanes, Seisdedos, Alarcon, Jaco, Solano, Marti-Gimeno, Sevilla, Vivet, Patricio, Manolin, Moreno, Chicha, Julian and Antonito as the heroes of 1951.

Life in La Liga was never going to be easy for Atletico and after an opening day home defeat to Real Zaragoza, it soon became apparent that survival was going to be a struggle. Their biggest problem came away from home where they lost all but one of their games.

However, the one game that stood out that season was the home tie against the mighty Real Madrid. On a beautiful January afternoon in front of the Jalifa and the High Commissioner, Solano (Captain of Atletico) proudly presented a pennant to Real Madrid legend Miguel Munoz. The atmosphere was electric (in what was then known as Estadio Varela) and the Atletico players were clearly inspired by the occasion. They dominated the first half, much to the delight of the crowd, and reached the break with a 3-1 advantage. There was now a genuine belief that they could go on and win the game. But inevitably, Real Madrid fought back, and despite the valiant efforts of Atletico, the superior fitness and technical ability of Los Blancos eventually paid off and the game finished 3-3.

Atletico finished the season bottom of the league and were duly relegated. They continued to perform well in the Second Division for a couple of seasons until the independence of Morocco brought an end to their Spanish adventure, both on and off the pitch. Suddenly the dream was a fading memory and the club was split in two. One half merged with SD Cueta to form Club Atletico Cueta, who continued to play in the Spanish League until their later demise. Meanwhile, Atletico Tetouan went back to the Moroccan League and eventually became known as Maghreb Athletic Tetouan, the name they still use to this day.

Fifty years on from that glorious season, there are still a few souls who remember making those epic journeys across land and sea to watch their beloved team play in the famous stadiums of Spain. There are also a new generation of supporters who take great pride in reminding anyone who may have forgotten that this is a club with a truly unique past.

Real Betis and the Irish Rover

Patrick O'Connell

Real Betis Balompié S.A.D. will line-up in La Liga again next season after a two-year absence. The troubled Andalusian club will return with renewed optimism and a symbolic name change for their 82-year-old stadium.

The 52,000 capacity venue had already been re-named in 2000 after renovation works and a subsequent ballot of season ticket holders. As a result, the arena was named Estadio Manuel Ruiz de Lopera after its controversial President who was eventually removed following fraud charges and a court case in 2010. His departure prompted another council referendum and, after a majority vote, the stadium reverted back to its former name Estadio Benito Villamarín.

Benito Villamarín remains the clubs most famous and revered President having led the Verdiblancos between 1955 and 1965. During his spell in charge, the club returned to the top flight and achieved a top-three finish. His appointment brought to an end the worst period in the club’s history during which they fell to the Tercera Division.

However, somewhere in a parallel universe, there might just be a stadium in Seville bearing the name of an enigmatic Irishman.

Betis won their one and only La Liga title (as Betis Balompié) in 1935 under the guidance of former Ireland captain Patrick O’Connell. As a result, the journeyman coach remains a legendary figure at the club, despite the fact that he went on to lead their city rivals Sevilla FC.

O’Connell was always a controversial figure – as a player he was involved in the famous 1925 match-fixing scandal involving Manchester United and Liverpool. However, he was never charged for his alleged involvement and continued to play for Manchester United.

He was a man who lived for football, so much so that he gave up his family life in England to pursue his passion for the game after being offered a job at Racing Santander in 1922. The coaching role in Cantabria would prove to be the first of many successful spells in charge of top Spanish clubs. His career path eventually led him to Betis where he cemented his burgeoning reputation by leading the team to La Liga glory.

After his success in Seville, O’Connell continued his adventures as Head Coach of Barcelona. He led the Catalan side to success in the Campionat de Catalunya and the Copa de España but his La Liga ambitions were curtailed by the Civil war.

In the absence of a national league, Barcelona competed in, and won, the Mediterranean league title before heading off on a lucrative tour of North America. The tour was a success, however, only four of the twenty-man squad returned to Spain, with the rest preferring to remain in exile abroad.

He returned to Seville in 1942 to coach the team in red and white – leading them to a second-place finish in the league – before taking up his final coaching job back in the north of Spain with Racing Santander.

His family knew little of his exploits and received hardly any communication from him except for the occasional cheque. He was eventually tracked down in Seville by his son Daniel in 1950. After a cold encounter, Daniel became convinced his father had a second family in Seville but never gained the courage to ask. He knew that the truth might break his mother’s heart.

Daniel left his father in Spain, where he spent his time frequenting bars and drinking heavily. When he eventually ran out of money, he returned to England and lived out his final years in poverty on the streets of London.

Daniel O’Connell once asked his Father: “How is Seville?” His father replied: “Seville is a place where the people live today as if they will die tomorrow.” He was clearly a man who took this philosophy to his heart.