Do you know which is the oldest football club in Spain? It may surprise you to know that the answer is Real Club Recreativo de Huelva in the southwest of Andalucia. They were founded on 23 December 1889, a decade before Barcelona existed, and a whole 13 years before Real Madrid came into existence. Being the old man of Spanish football, they are also affectionately known as El Decano, or The Dean in English.
The Huelva Recreation Club, as it was then known, had a very English name. That’s because it existed primarily for workers at the British Rio Tinto mines. They formed their club and were subsequently challenged to a game by British workers in nearby Seville. They had formed their own club a few weeks after Huelva. That challenge resulted in the first ever football match in Spain. A note for the historian nerds out there, Sevilla celebrated their centenary in 2005 but the club then changed its formation date to 1890 as it turned out to be the same club that played in that first game! The report below from the Dundee Courier was instrumental in that change to their official foundation date and illustrates the links between Seville and Dundee for oranges to make marmelade.
Back to El Recre, as they are known by their fans, and they needed a ground. Nowadays there is a shiny new stadium on the banks of the river (more of that later) but they originally played on a pitch at the velódromo, which we assume was a cycling track. It was right next door to our hotel, the NH Luz Huelva. They played there from 1892 until 1957. A statue commemorates this and the nearby cafe is full to the brim of photographs and memorabilia.
From 1957 until 2001 the club played at the central Estadio Colombina after which it moved to the modern Estadio Nuevo Colombino. Although we weren’t lucky enough to see a game, the stadium is easily accessibly and you can get a tantalising glimpse inside. What we really wanted to see though, was the statue paying homage to the supporters of the club. Thankfully it is located outside the stadium and it is fabulous. It appears to be a grandad with his two grandchildren watching a match. Look carefully at the plaque underneath and you may just catch a glimpse of the shield of the world’s oldest football club. In 1857, Sheffied FC were formed, and for those of you with some knowledge of English football, this is neither Wednesday nor United! Sheffield in fact ply their trade in Tier 8 of the football pyramid alongside the likes of Cleethorpes Town. It would have been nice to have explored the history of El Recre more but the club’s museum, whose entrance is via the well stocked gift shop, closed during the Covid crisis and nobody seems to know if or when it will re-open.
So what of the exploits of the football club? It’s certainly not had a glorious existence full of silverware, but having joined the Spanish league at some stage, they only reached the second tier in 1940 and their stay was brief, just one season. It wasn’t until 1978 that this historic club finally reached the top flight but a single season was all they could muster. The same happened in 2002. Three successive seasons at the top level were completed from 2006 to 2009 and since then their fortunes have steadily declined culminating in the ignominy of being relegated to the fifth tier of Spanish football in the reorganisation of the league in 2021. Better times are ahead though, and they recovered from the shock of playing at such a low level by gaining promotion at the beginning of April 2022.
Congratulations to El Decano. The start of better days to come? If your Spanish is up to the challenge, this short video runs through the history of the club in pictures.