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The beautiful game

June 10, 2010 – 11:22 am

What I know about football could be written on the back of a postage stamp, and what I like about the sport could just about fit into the price on its front, but as it’s World Cup time, I can’t escape the topic. Especially as Spain is the current favourite (betting odds as of today are 4/1, with 18/1 for Spain to win plus David Villa to take the Golden Boot; Fernando Torres is second-favourite). Although complacency can be dangerous – as England’s Joe Cole pointed out, “Spain are different class, but it is not always the best team that wins.” Some British media, typically negative, are predicting that England get kicked out at the Quarter Finals. Bah, humbug.

Although I hardly ever watch matches (except for when England takes part in European or world championships – yes, I am one of those irritating very-part-time fans) – my husband is that rarity, a Spanish man who hates football – I was interested when researching an article to find out that football was introduced to Spain by none other than the English.

The game was first played by Rio Tinto mineworkers, sailors, and Spanish students returning from England (the earliest match, in 1873, was between teams of British seamen – no laughing at the back, please). The oldest Spanish football club, Huelva Recreativo, was founded in Huelva on 23 December 1889, by a Scottish doctor, Alexander Mackay, to offer healthy activity for the Rio Tinto mineworkers on Saturday afternoons (probably to keep them out of the pub, too). The first actual pitch was in the town of Rio Tinto itself, where British engineers brought in to work on the copper mines also played cricket, tennis, polo, and built the first golf course. The first official game took place on 8 March 1890 in Seville, with all players except two (both on the Huelva team) being British.

Obviously living in Seville, I can’t be unaware of the traditional Sevilla-Betis rivalry, and its attending rumpus – my in-laws are all Beticos. The children haven’t been given team shirts or any of that inevitable mchandising yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before their uncle takes my son to a match.

I will be watching this Saturday’s England v USA match (don’t mention BP) with an American (girl)friend who is married to a Brit. She probably knows as little about “soccer” as me, so will be the perfect companion. Altogether now, En-ger-land, En-ger-land, En-ger-land…

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