Tag Archives: Rio Tinto

First football match in Spain?

In the previous post I explained how I looked for some museum about the origin of football in Spain, which is regarded to have taken place in the province of Huelva, Spain.

The village of Rio Tinto claims such origin and it may well be so as it was there where the British colony working for Rio Tinto Company Limited established (at “Bella Vista” neighborhood).

The oldest football team in Spain is regarded to have been the Recreativo de Huelva (according to the Wikipedia originally known as Huelva Recreation Club), founded at the end of 1.889 by workers of the Rio Tinto mines and based in the city of Huelva, some 70 kilometres from Minas Rio Tinto.

I found some months ago, in the Spanish sports newspaper Marca, the following picture from an article of the The Dundee Courier” (Monday, March 17, 1.890) covering the “first football match in Spain”.

It was supposedly played in Seville, at the Tabladar (close to Airbus Military factory nowadays), between the above mentioned Huelva Recreation Club and “Club de Football de Sevilla” (not related to the current Sevilla F.C.).

The article is an interesting read for its historic touch.


  1. having been that Recreation Club from Huelva founded only in 1.889, by Rio Tinto workers,
  2. living many of the company workers at the village of Minas Rio Tinto, some 70 km from Huelva,
  3. having the workers other social clubs in Minas Rio Tinto (including Bella Vista) and
  4. being the company established in 1.873.

I’m afraid that probably the first match would have been played at Rio Tinto, not in Seville, and much earlier than in 1890.

At the mining museum of Minas de Rio Tinto, there is a small one-page text about the introduction of football by Rio Tinto Company Ltd. workers. In fact, in that text there is a mention of the celebration of a football match in 1.873 to celebrate the festivities of the local patron, San Roque.

But I am no historian, and thus would love to see some historian diving into that history and putting up the nice results in a museum in Rio Tinto :-).

Article of the “The Dundee Courier” (Monday, March 17, 1.890) covering the “first football match in Spain”.

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The origin of football in Spain

One of the sports introduced by the British working at the mine of Rio Tinto (post about the visit to it I made the last week here), was football.

Welcome to Minas Riotinto (“Birthplace of Spanish football”).

I didn’t expect anything special as I had not researched the topic beforehand but I hoped there would be something knowing that the origin was there. This was immediately confirmed as there is a signpost at the entrance of the village about the relation of it with football.

But then, there was nothing else but the statue you can find below in front of the local football club field (playing in who knows which division).

I asked at the mining museum whether there was something to be visited about football and its origin in Spain. There wasn’t. “The town hall has a project of building a local museum of football, but today there is nothing”. What a pity. I guess I am not the only person who when travelling is searching for this kind of places and memorabilia, thus I guess it could have some potential.

Statue celebrating the origin of Spanish football in Minas de Rio Tinto (Huelva).

It is not the first time that I get this disappointment. You may remember that I had the same feeling when searching for the roots of football at the Freemasons in London. I would love to see such museum like the one about golf in St. Andrews, I hope that one day I will be able to do so. To date, the closest to that is the one-page text below, found at the mining museum:

Page about the introduction of football in Rio Tinto by British RTCL workers.


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Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is a river flowing through the South of Spain opening to the Atlantic ocean at Huelva. I had wanted to visit it since long time ago. It is not just any river: it is especially acidic (pH2), it has a high content in heavy metals and as its name points out, it is red (“tinto”), due the iron dissolved in the water.

The Rio Tinto area has been a mining site since ancient times, and it is there that the British mining company, bearing that name, was founded in 1873, when some international investors bought the site to the Spanish government. The mining activity grew so much that at some time it was reported as the biggest mining site in the world (especially for copper).

The influence of the operation in the area reached every corner of life:

  • The ancient village of Minas de Rio Tinto was brought down in order to exploit the underground below it and had to be displaced.
  • A huge train system (over 300km of rails), only second to the national state train system, was built to bring metals to the port of Huelva.
  • The British colony formed by the company workers and managers brought by the owners introduced all kinds of changes in the society: from religion to the introduction of several sports (football, tennis, polo, criquet…).
  • The Mediterranean forest in the area was completely destroyed. Today, the a forest of pine trees, more resistant to the acidic conditions has been planted.

At first, several dozens of children were employed (about 50 under age 10!), salaries would be paid out in coupons to exchange for food from the company, work conditions were deplorable. Years later, partly due to the pressure of organized unions led the company to improve the standards of workers and to provide several social benefits. A major cornerstone was the strike that occurred in the first days of February of 1.888 which ended in the killing of over hundred demonstrators (“Año de los Tiros“).

In 1.955 the Spanish State bought back a majority stake of the operation to the Rio Tinto Company Ltd., which was kept ongoing for some decades, but today is closed.

Today, Rio Tinto has a very different interest, as it serves scientists from NASA to study the bacteria living in the extreme conditions of the river. This helps them in studying the plausibility of life in Mars under similar conditions.

The landscape is unique, striking. We took several pictures of it and I share some of them below:

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The village has a wonderful mining museum, a train tour through the mining complex (11km route and back) along the river, a small mine can be visited (entering 200m into it) and a typical British house of the time is also open for tourism. It is a very interesting tour for a day (different packages starting from 10€; just ~60 km from Seville).

We also recorded some 5 videos along the train tour. See the first one here (you may find the rest at my Youtube channel):


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