How General Franco changed the way Spain spoke about football

England is widely recognised to be the birthplace of football and, being the inventors, the English have distributed their product across the world. The sport hit Spain at the end of the 19th century and has been intertwined with culture and politics ever since. Under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, Spain endured hardship and its growth as a nation was stagnated compared to the likes of the UK, France and Germany. When Franco died in 1975, democracy returned to Spain and much of the country reverted back to its normal ways, but one thing has stayed the same. The language of football.


Shortly after the birth of football in England, it reached the shores of Spain thanks to British immigrants and sailors. Athletic Club (the hint is in the name) is a perfect example of a football club set up by the English upon their arrival. Athletic, based in Bilbao, were founded by migrants workers who travelled to the industrial heartbeat of Spain from ports like Sunderland, Southampton and Portsmouth. Some say Athletic’s red and white stripes were based on those seen on Sunderland and Southampton’s kits.


The English influence doesn’t stop there; Sevilla FC are known to be Spain’s oldest club and their first line-up in 1890 consisted of almost exclusively British players. That first match is considered the first official game in Spanish football history when Sevilla faced Recreativo de Huelva, whose team also consisted of mainly British players. It wasn’t just the British who were bringing the English football buzz. Spanish students carrying out their studies in the UK were also a major factor in the creation of many of Spain’s biggest clubs, including Real Madrid. The English flag is still prominent on Barcelona’s crest.

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As a result of the English influence, the language of the game stayed the same in many aspects. Spaniards playing the game used English terminology such as ‘córner’, ‘referí’ and ‘offside’ for decades after the English had left. The First World War took many of the British workers back home while Spain went through dramatic political changes during the 1920s and 1930s. The Second Spanish Republic was established in 1931 before Civil War broke out in 1936. Tensions between Republicans and Nationalists led to an attempted coup by the Nationalists with General Francisco Franco at the helm.


The brutal war spread across Spain and almost spelt the end for the country’s biggest clubs. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona came close to going out of business. Barcelona’s president Josep Sunyol was murdered by the Nationalists. By the end of the fighting, Franco came to power and ruled as a dictator for the next 36 years. He imposed strict nationalist rules on regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country and held the idea of a single Spain higher than anything else. He ordered Barcelona remove the Catalan flag from their badge and Athletic Club became Atlético Bilbao.

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Autonomous languages such as Catalan, Basque and Galician were all banned and Castilian Spanish was imposed on all walks of life. As a result, the language of football became nationalised. ‘Córner’ became ‘saque de esquina’, ‘referí’ became ‘árbitro’ and ‘offside’ became ‘fuera de juego’ among others. Despite the death of Franco in 1975 and the end of the dictatorship, these terms are still used at the Camp Nou, Bernabéu and San Mamés each weekend. Franco’s ideology for a united Spain truly changed how the Spanish spoke about and understood football.

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