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Spanish Primera División: Whatever happened to...

When the Primera División, Spain’s highest professional football league, began play in 1929, ten clubs competed. Barcelona won the title and became the first league champions of Spain.

Since then, the Primera División has expanded to twenty clubs. In all, 482 clubs take part in the top four divisions. The Primera and Segunda Divisiones are nationwide, and the Segunda División B and the Tercera División are divided into regional groups. Below these are found the regional football divisions, each containing up to five tiers.

So what happened to those ten original clubs that founded the Primera División? Which ones are still there, which ones have been relegated, and which ones no longer exist? Let us now find out as we ask: Whatever happened to the founding members of the Spanish Primera División?

BARCELONA

By the time the Primera División began play, Barcelona had already won the Copa del Rey eight times. They were inaugural champions of the Primera División and have won the title 24 more times since, including last season. Barça have won the UEFA Champions League five times and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup four times. They have never been relegated from the Primera División.

REAL MADRID

Real Madrid had won the Copa del Rey five times going into the first Primera División season, where they finished second. Since then, they have won the competition 33 times, more than any other club. They have been European champions 13 times, also a record. The Merengues currently compete in the Primera División, where they finished third last season. They have never been relegated.

ATHLETIC BILBAO

Athletic Bilbao had won the Copa del Rey nine times before the first Primera División season, where they finished third, ahead of Real Sociedad on head to head results. They would win the title in the next two seasons, and their current total stands at eight championships. The Lions have never won a European trophy, but they have reached the final of the UEFA Cup/​Europa League twice. They currently compete in the Primera División, where they finished sixteenth last season. Bilbao, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid, are the only clubs that have never been relegated from the Primera División.

REAL SOCIEDAD

Real Sociedad, located in the Basque city of San Sebastián, had won the Copa del Rey once, in 1909. They finished fourth in the first Primera División season and have won the title twice, in 1980-1 and 1981-2. La Real have spent several seasons in the Segunda División, most recently in 2009-10, but they have played in the Primera División for the vast majority of their history. They finished twelfth in the Primera División last season.

ARENAS

Arenas Club, located in the Basque town of Getxo, had won the Copa del Rey once, in 1919. They finished fifth in the first Primera División season and third in the next season. But they were relegated after the 1934-5 season and have never been back to the top flight. They have dropped as low as the fifth tier, for one season in the 1980s and two in the 1990s. El Histórico currently participate in the third tier, the Segunda División B, where they finished twelfth in Group 2 last season.

ATHLETIC MADRID

Athletic Madrid had reached the Copa del Rey final twice going into the inaugural Primera División season, where they finished sixth, ahead of Español on head to head results. They were relegated in the next season but returned to the top flight after four seasons. Following a 1940 merger, Athletic would adopt their current name, Atlético Madrid. They have since won the title ten times, more than anyone other than Real Madrid and Barcelona. They have been relegated only one other time, for two seasons in the early 2000s. The Rojiblancos have won four European trophies: the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup once and the Europa League three times, including last season, when they finished second in the Primera División.

ESPAÑOL

Real Club Deportivo Español, located in Barcelona, had reached the Copa del Rey final twice when they were nominated to the inaugural Primera División season. They won the cup for the first time one week before the Primera División kicked off. The Periquitos ended up in seventh place in the Primera División season and have finished as high as third. They have been relegated to the Segunda División four times, but each time they bounced back after only one season. In 1995, the club changed their name to the Catalan spelling, Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol. They finished eleventh in the Primera División last season.

EUROPA

Club Esportiu Europa, based just outside Barcelona, reached the Copa del Rey final in 1923. They finished eighth in the first season of the Primera División and were relegated after three seasons, and they have never been back to the top flight. Since the late 1960s, they have alternated between the fourth and fifth tiers, except for one season in the third tier in 1994-5. Europa currently compete in the fourth tier, the Tercera División, where they finished eighth in Group 5 last season.

REAL UNIÓN

Real Unión, based in the Basque town of Irun, had won the Copa del Rey four times going into the inaugural Primera División season, where they finished ninth. They spent four seasons in the top flight before they were relegated after the 1931-2 season. They have never been back to the top flight, but they have risen to the second tier on a few occasions, most recently for a single season in 2009-10. Real Unión currently compete in the third tier, the Segunda División B, where they finished thirteenth in Group 2 last season.

RACING SANTANDER

The nine teams that had reached the Copa del Rey final at least once – and that still existed – were granted places in the inaugural Primera División season. The tenth team was decided in a tournament in which Racing Santander defeated Sevilla in the final after two replays. In fact, Barcelona’s first league match had to be delayed so that they could play the winner of the final. Racing Santander finished last in the Primera División and survived a relegation playoff. They were relegated for the first time after the 1939-40 season and have dropped as far as the third tier. The Montañeses were most recently in the top flight in the 2011-2 season. They currently compete in the third tier, the Segunda División B, where they finished fifth in Group 2 last season.

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