The History of La Liga

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Soccer, aka football, is the most popular sport in the world. Of all the professional leagues in the world, there is one that has achieved a level of success and competition above all others. 

Spain’s Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División, otherwise known as La Liga. 

Learn more about La Liga, and the history of football in Spain, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


This episode is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain.

I’ve talked about many of the festivals and traditions you can find in Spain, but Spain is also a great place to attend sporting events. 

You can catch an El Classico game at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid or Camp Nou in Barcelona

The Spanish Grand Prix is held on May 9th at the Circuit de Barcelona. 

The Mallorca Championships are a professional tennis event held in the home of Rafel Nadal in June. 

Or, catch the Andalucía Valderrama Masters in Andalucia, which was named the “European Golf Destination of the Year”.

You can start researching your dream trip to Spain today by visiting where you can get everything you need to know to plan your Spanish experience.


Soccer, which I shall hereby refer to as football for the rest of the episode, didn’t originate in Spain, but it did arrive there rather quickly.

In the late 19th century, Spanish workers and students who lived in England brought back with them the game of football. The first football club formed in Spain was Recreativo de Huelva which was founded in 1889 by British workers of the Rio Tinto company. The club still exists and currently plays in the second division in Spain’s professional league. 

Clubs spread quickly throughout Sapin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

In 1902, the idea was floated to have a single-elimination knockout tournament in honor of the coronation of King Alfonso XIII. It was called the Copa de la Coronación and it was won by a team from Bilbao which was the precursor of Athletic Bilbao, the current team which represents Bilbao.

The next year in 1903, the tournament was brought back, this time being called the Copa del Ray or the King’s Cup. The first two Copa del Ray’s were won by Athletic Bilbao. 

Barcelona has won the cup 30 times, with Athletic Bilbao winning 23 times and Real Madrid winning 19. 

Here I’ll take just a brief detour to explain my favorite Spanish team: Athletic Bilbao. There are several things that make the team unique. 

First, their nickname is the lions. They got the nickname because their first stadium was next to the church of San Mamés. San Mamés was the saint that was thrown to the lions and pacified them. Their stadium, which just opened up in 2013, is called San Mamés Stadium. 

The other unique thing about them is that only have players from the Greater Basque region. They have done this since 1912 and have still found a great deal of success. So they won’t be spending millions to bring in a superstar ringer like some other teams. Everyone in their club is homegrown talent. 

Athletic Bilbao is back in the finals of the Copa del Ray both last year and this year. Because of COVID, the 2020 finals weren’t played, so finals for both the 2020 and 2021 cups will be played in April 2021, and Bilbao is in both games.

The reason Athletic Bilbao is my favorite team is simply that I visited their headquarters and their stadium when I visited Bilbao, and they gave me a whole bunch of Bilbao swag. It is pretty easy to buy my support when I don’t have any skin in the game.

For the first few decades in the 20th-century football kept growing in popularity in Spain. The idea of a professional league was floated and in 1929 the Primera División, now known as La Liga, was created with 10 teams. All the previous Copa del Rey winners and runners-up. 

Of the 10 original teams in the Primera División, three have never been regulated down to a lower league since 1929: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic Bilbao. 

Over the course of the history of La Liga, there have been 62 teams that have made it up to the premier league. Today, the league has 20 teams, and each season is conducted in a double round-robin format. Each team plays every other team both home and away. 

Since 1929, of the 62 teams which have appeared in the league, the competition has been dominated by only a few teams.  The only season which canceled was the 1936-37 season which was canceled due to the Spanish Civil War.

Real Madrid has won the league 34 times and has been runner up 23 times.

Barcelona has won 26 times and has been runner up 26 times.

Athletico Madrid has won 10 times and has been runner up 10 times.

Athletic Bilbao has won 8 times and has been runner up 7 times. 

You will notice a huge gap between the top two teams. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated Spanish football for decades. Over the last 10 years, Barcelona has never finished worst than second, and Real Madrid has never finished worst than third, and between them, they have won every championship. 

They have been listed as the number 1 and number 2 most valuable football teams in the world. They have the top two followings of any football club on social media. 

Those two teams are so dominant that whenever they meet, the game is called “El Clasico”. 

El Clasico will occur at least twice a year during the regular La Liga season, but it can occur more than that. It is possible to meet in the Copa del Rey, or in the European Champions League, which consists of the top teams from each of the national leagues in Europe.

The lifetime record between the teams in competitive matches is 97 wins for Real Madrid to Barcelona’s 96 wins. 

It’s almost like the Packers/Bears rivalry if the Bears were actually good.

The Barcelona/Real Madrid rivalry has transcended sports and it has been used as a proxy over the years for politics in Spain, with various groups throwing their support to one team or the other. 

The league as a whole, lead by the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, has extended European and Global competitions as well. 

7 of the last 10 FIFA Club World Cups have been won by Barcelona or Real Madrid. They are the only clubs in the world to have won the cup more than three times. 

La Legas has won the most UEFA Champions League titles, UEFA Europa League titles, and UEFA Super Cup titles.  UEFA is the Union of European Football Associations.

La Liga has had UEFA’s top ranking in the strength of each European league more than any other. 

It has produced more awards for individual players as well. La Liga players have accumulated the highest number of Ballon d’Or awards, FIFA World Player of the Year, and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.

Financially, La Liga has the 6th highest revenue of any sports league in the world, behind only the four major North American leagues and the English Premier League.

So, yeah. The competition in  La Liga is pretty good. 

If and when you next visit Spain, I’d highly recommend you take the time to catch a football match.