Spain and the Beautiful Game

On 6th August 1927, the Aberdeen Press and Journal published an article on the rise of ‘futbol’ in Spain. The piece was written by an unnamed ex-Aguilas footballer, (probably a Briton), who recounted his experiences and opinions about the popularity of the game in Murcia and the rest of Spain during the 1920’s.

Arenas_v_Barcelona_1919 Copa Del Rey final
Arenas v Barcelona 1919 Copa Del Rey final

The ex-Aguilas footballer believed that ‘futbol’ had boomed in Murcia and the rest of Spain in the ten years after the end of the First World War. Prior to this time, he said it was a common sight to see boys in the streets mimicking bull fights, with one child acting as the toreador and the other charging about with a cardboard bull’s head on his shoulders.  By the late 1920’s, all this had ended according to the footballer. Boys in the backstreets of Murcia and elsewhere, were now shooting for goal and speaking of little else than ‘futbol’.

The ‘beautiful game’ was, however, played differently in Murcia and Spain. The ex-Murcian footballer described how games in Aguilas and elsewhere in southern Spain, were played on grounds as hard as roads and totally devoid of grass. The football thus bounced much higher than usual and was extremely difficult to control. Those playing the game therefore had to exhibit excellent close control of the ball if they were to do well, score goals and win matches. The ex-Aguilas player also believed that the game was far more violent in Spain. Spanish crowds cheered loudest when players were completely flattened by foul tackles. From a 1927 British perspective, footballers in Murcia and elsewhere also indulged in far too much hugging, kissing and patting when a goal was scored (this was contrasted to the more restrained British congratulatory handshake).

Scottish readers of the 1927 article were told that the popularity of football in Murcia and Spain as a whole, owed much to the presence of British ex-patriots in the region. In addition, the ex-Aguilas player singled out King Alfonso (King of Spain between 1886 and 1931) for his role in encouraging the popularity of the game in Spain. Most people in Spain have heard of the Copa del Rey – the King’s Cup – which is really the Spanish equivalent of the English FA Cup. However, Alfonso also organised an additional King’s Cup, which was competed for by British clubs, on Spanish soil. Presumably the competition was organised in order to promote the game of football in Spain and in 1927 Motherwell beat Swansea 4-3 in the final of this particular King’s Cup, before going on to beat Real Madrid 3-1 in a one-off game against the winners of the better known King’s Cup which involved Spanish teams.

The Murcian Mashed Myatt

Myatt Ashleaf potatos, Photo by Cultivariable
Myatt Ashleaf potatos, Photo by Cultivariable

In the minds of many historians, potatoes were the outstanding crop of the 19th century; the food that fuelled the Industrial Revolution. Notwithstanding the Potato Blight of the 1840’s, which killed millions in Ireland and elsewhere in Western Europe, the humble potato still went on to provide cheap, nutritional food for all those who toiled in the factories and other workplaces of Britain during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

During the latter part of 1898, one particularly enterprising Hull fruit importer decided that he would try to grow potatoes in Murcia which would challenge the pre-eminence of Jersey (and other potatoes) in the British market. The importer sent out thirty tons of seed potatoes to be grown on the fertile agricultural lands of Murcia. The seed potatoes he sent were of a little known type called Early Myatts, developed by an employee of a Worcestershire landowner called Arthur Savory in 1804. A renowned and popular Victorian market gardener named Joseph Myatt then bought the rights to this new potato, and it was these Early Myatts which were then grown in Murcia in 1898-9.

King Alfonso_XIII, by Tomas Martin Rebollo 1915
King Alfonso_XIII, by Tomas Martin Rebollo 1915

No-one really knew whether this horticultural experiment would succeed or not. Myatts could grow early and quickly and it was hoped that the potato crops would develop rapidly in the warm Murcian sun. As it turned out, the experiment was a complete success. Murcian Myatts proved to be high quality, high yield potatoes which were kidney shaped, with a light buff skin. The potatoes were also full of flavour, with a light yellow flesh and during the early summer of 1899, nearly 6,000 cases of these Murcian Myatts (sometimes called Myatt’s Early Ashleaf) arrived at Hull docks and were then distributed to hungry workers across eastern Britain. Imports of these tasty Murcian potatoes continued until well into the 20th century and the tubers (though quite rare) can still be obtained today. A modern Myatt Early Ashleaf is particularly tasty when boiled or mashed!