Dermot Corrigan reviews a highly eventful La Liga campaign, in which Real Betis, managed by an Irishman, defied the odds
The long-term significance
La Liga was formed in 1929, and Real Betis' win this season was the first time one of the initially dominant "big three" of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao did not take the title. The leading clubs all featured players who had starred for Spain in the preceding summer’s World Cup finals. A skilful Spanish team were out-muscled in a quarter-final replay by the more physical Italians, who went on to win the competition watched by Benito Mussolini. Domestic Spanish football was also to suffer from the effects of fascism during the 1930s, with La Liga suspended once civil war broke out in July 1936. During the war separate leagues were organised in the Fascist and Republican controlled areas, before La Liga returned in 1939-40.
Story of the season
Despite losing two of their first three games, Betis, managed by Irishman Patrick O’Connell, soon surged to the top of the table. O’Connell’s defensive tactics meant keeper Joaquín Urquiaga only conceded 19 goals in 21 games, while at the other end Víctor Unamuno and Spain international Simón Lecue scored most of the goals. Betis went into the final round of games just one point ahead of Real Madrid, but cantered to a 5-0 victory away to Racing Santander. Madrid protested that O’Connell, previously Santander’s manager and involved in a betting scandal as a Manchester United player in 1915, had bribed his old friends to throw the game. Betis responded by accusing Madrid themselves of offering the Racing players a “win bonus”. The result stood and Betis took their first and only La Liga triumph to date. Madrid finished runners-up two points back, mostly due to the 21 goals of Ildefonso Sanudo. Although Barcelona won home and away against Betis, and beat Madrid 5-0 at home, they finished in mid-table without challenging. Fourth place and a Copa del Rey victory in Sevilla’s first top flight season would have been considered a success had local rivals Betis not overshadowed that achievement by winning the title. Two Basque clubs – Real Sociedad and Arenas Club de Getxo – were relegated, and replaced for 1935-36 by Hércules (of Alicante) and Osasuna.
For the record books
Betis’ 8-0 defeat of Arenas Club de Getxo was the biggest win of the season, while Real Madrid’s 8-2 home thumping of Barcelona remains their best victory over the Catalans in La Liga.
Same place today
The mid-1930s Spanish football scene has a familiar look to it. Real Madrid and Barcelona have shared the La Liga title between them for most of the intervening 75 years, while today’s best of the rest – Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia and Bilbao – were already established by this season.
Moved furthest away
Victorious Betis manager O’Connell immediately left to take over at Barcelona. When war broke out he took the team on a tour of North America, although most of them didn’t return to Spain. O’Connell managed Seville and Santander (for the second time) to moderate success in the 1940s. He then drifted back to the UK, and died unheralded in London in 1959.
Went onto greater things
Ricardo Zamora: As a Catalan player for Madrid, Zamora (right) was a politically obtuse figure but is generally accepted as Spain’s best-ever goalkeeper. The award for fewest goals conceded each year in La Liga is still known as the Zamora.
Isidro Lángara: Real Oviedo’s striker was the leading goalscorer with 26 goals in 22 games. During the civil war he played in Mexico and Argentina and was top scorer in both leagues.
Josep Escolà: Barcelona’s 20-year-old striker scored 18 goals in 18 games in his first senior season. He won La Liga with Barça in 1945 and 1948.
Disappearing from view
Betis’ success Relegated in 1940, Betis have bounced between the two top divisions since despite being arguably Andalusia’s best-supported club.
Josep Sunyol In August 1936 the Barcelona club president was arrested by Francoist troops and then executed. His body was exhumed in the 1990s during a campaign to recognise the 60th anniversary of his death.
Arenas Club de Getxo Among the founding members of La Liga in 1928, Arenas finished this season and continued to slide. They currently play in the fourth level of the Spanish league system.
From WSC 283 September 2010