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LaLiga | All about Spain's First Division Football Championship

LaLiga History and Highlights.

Its official name is Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División; it is also called LaLiga Santander due to sponsorship agreements. However, it is known among all soccer fans as LaLiga. Currently, it is one of the most followed soccer competitions worldwide.

This Spanish championship was founded in 1929 and has been held for more than 90 years. Throughout its history, its broadcasting has only been interrupted on two occasions. The first was between 1936 and 1939, when a civil war broke out in Spain. The second interruption in 2020 was due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

LaLiga is the top Spanish soccer competition within the league system, and since 1984 it has been organized by the Spanish National Professional Football League (Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional Español).

For almost a century, the national tournament has been a spectacle of sporting quality, full of passion for soccer and the best spirit of competition.

In this article, we’ll detail the main Spanish national soccer championships, including statistical data and a brief outline of its history.

LaLiga Statistical Data

Most Successful Team in LaLiga

Most Seasons Played in LaLiga

3 teams are tied for the most seasons player, each having completed 91 editions:

  • Real Madrid C. F.
  • F. C. Barcelona
  • Athletic Club

Historical LaLiga Ranking

Pos

Club

Seasons

Points

Titles

Runners-up

Third place

1

Real Madrid Club de Fútbol

91

4786

35

24

10

2

Fútbol Club Barcelona

91

4676

26

27

13

3

Club Atlético de Madrid

85

3824

11

10

18

4

Valencia Club de Fútbol

87

3664

6

6

10

5

Athletic Club

91

3616

8

7

10

6

Sevilla Fútbol Club

78

3153

1

4

4

7

Real Club Deportivo Espanyol

86

2961

4

8

Real Sociedad de Fútbol

75

2852

2

3

2

9

Real Betis Balompié

56

2162

1

2

10

Real Zaragoza

58

2109

1

4

Competition System

LaLiga has a classic double round robin system in which participants play each other in twice per season — onece at home, and onece away. In total, teams play 38 rounds over a season that spans approximately nine months. In some editions, the season fruns from August to May, but in others, it runs from the beginning of September to June.

Since 1987, the league has been consolidated into a single group of 20 members. Generally, these teams belong to Foot-Ball Clubs or Sports Associations, and are ranked according to the score they obtain during the season.

According to their ranking, the teams can win a pass to participate in the access rounds to international competitions, such as the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, and the European Confederation League.

Official Scoring System

Teams are ranked according to points obtained during the tournament. In LaLiga, the following scoring table is established for each match played:  

Result

Points

Win

+3

Draw

+1

Lose

0

The scoring system also uses parameters such as goals for, goals against, and goal difference to classify teams in the league ranking in case of ties.

LaLiga Tie-Breaking System

If two or more teams finish the championship with the same score, then tie-breaking criteria must be applied according to the number of tied teams. For example, in a tie of two clubs, these are the rules for deciding the winner:

  • Most goals scored.
  • Greater difference of goals for and against scored during the matches between the tied divisions.
  • Greater difference of goals scored 
  • On the other hand, when the tie occurs between 3 or more divisions, other tie-breaking rules apply, such as the following:
  • Best score obtained in the matches played between the teams involved.
  • Greater difference of goals for and against scored during the matches between the divisions involved.
  • Highest number of goals scored
  • Greater difference of goals for and against scored during the competition.

LaLiga Santander Promotion and Relegation System

Promotions

Teams earn promotion under the following conditions:

  • The champion obtains access to the group stage of the next edition of the UEFA Champions League. along with the second, third, and fourth classified of the championship.
  • The champion and runner-up obtain direct access to the Spanish Super Cup, disputing the title against the finalists of the Copa del Rey of the season in play.
  • The 5th classified of the championship obtains the access to the play-off round of the next season of the UEFA Europa League, together with the 6th classified, who will play the third round of the same.
  • When the champion is among the top six finishers of the Copa del Rey, the 7th classified of the League will be able to access the third preliminary round of the Europa League.

Relegations

The rules for relegations are established on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Direct relegation to the Second Division for the last three classified in the tournament. 

Origins of LaLiga Santander

Foundation

At the beginning of the 20th century, regional soccer championships were already being played in Spain in tournaments such as the Macaya Cup in Catalonia (1901) and the Coronation Cup (1902), which years later would be known as the King’s Cup. For a quarter of a century, these were the main competitions. However, soccer was not yet considered a professional sport in Spain.

Progressively, the practice of football gained popularity among Spanish athletes and fans. Spanish soccer became professional on June 20, 1926. On that day, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) approved the first “Spanish Professional Football Regulations”, based on the model of English soccer. 

Then, in 1927, the RFEF considered it appropriate to organize a professional soccer league championship. For reasons of economic profitability and competitiveness, the tournament was structured following the English league format. However, its first season (1927-1928) ended in failure. 

Clubs and regional federations differed over the conditions for participation in the league. Opinions were divided between the “maximalists” (former national champions) and the “minimalists” (former regional champions). Faced with these discrepancies, the RFEF decided to divide the “first professional Spanish Foot-Ball League” into two competitions that did not prosper. 

The first was the Tournament of Champions in which few clubs participated, only those classified as national champions. The other competition was LaLiga Máxima, in which the title was disputed among a large number of regional teams.

After much debate, the regional federations and the clubs reached an agreement to establish a regular championship with two categories. These were the First Division National Championship and the Second Division National Championship. 

First LaLiga Seasons

On February 10, 1929, the first edition of the championship for the highest title in Spanish professional soccer began. Among the ten teams that participated in the first season of the First Division National Championship were:

  • Six teams with the title of champion of the Spanish Championship: Athletic Club de Bilbao, Real Madrid Football Club, Arenas Club de Guecho, Foot-Ball Club Barcelona, Real Unión Club de Irún and Real Sociedad.
  • The three runner-up teams that still retained their club structure: Real Club Deportivo Español, Athletic Club de Madrid, and Club Deportivo Europa.
  • Since the number of teams was an odd number, to decide the tenth place, a knockout tournament was held among 10 regional champions, where the winner was Real Santander Racing Club. 

F.C. Barcelona was the winner of the first season (1929 – 1930) of the championship, winning the championship title after finishing the competition with 25 points. The runner-up was Real Madrid Football Club, which had shown an excellent performance throughout the tournament. However, the title was snatched away from them, and they finished second with 23 points.

The success of the first edition allowed the continuity of the championship and gave way to new modifications, such as the increase in the number of participants to 12 in the 1934 – 1935 season. Unfortunately, the National Championship had to be suspended in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out.

Once the First Division league resumed, teams demonstrated inefficient performance on the field. Several clubs justified their poor participation with the period of inactivity. Even some of the crowned champions, such as FC Barcelona, dropped so far down the rankings that they had to play the relegation round in the top flight or say goodbye to the first division. 

By the 1945-1946 season, there had been more than seven different champions in 15 seasons, demonstrating the fairness of the championship. Even so, the Madrid club was already beginning to demonstrate its potential to dominate the field, thanks to the incorporation of foreign player Alfredo Si Stéfano. In addition, the application of novel strategies, such as the incorporation of the dorsal numbers, positioned them as a tough rival. This technique would be progressively adopted by the rest of the teams.

The Spanish National Soccer League

In 1984, the Spanish First Division underwent a restructuring after disagreements with the national federation over the economic income of the championship and the management of professionalization.

At that time, the clubs took the initiative to establish an independent body to succeed the RFEF in its role as organizer. Thus, for the 1984-1985 season, the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional (National Professional Football League) was created, a legally autonomous body made up of the member clubs of the First and Second Football Divisions.

Since then, the competition ceased to be called Campeonato Nacional de Primera División and became known as LaLiga. 

LaLiga Participants

Throughout the history of the National League Championship, more than seventy different clubs have participated. However, only the following 9 teams have been consolidated as champions of the Spanish First Division with their titles obtained:

Club

Títles

Championship-Winning Years

Real Madrid C. F.

35

2022, 2020, 2017, 2012, 2008, 2007, 2003, 2001, 1997, 1995, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1980, 1979, 1978, 1976, 1975, 1972, 1969, 1968, 1967, 1965, 1964, 1963, 1962, 1961, 1958, 1957, 1955, 1954, 1933, 1932.

F. C. Barcelona

26

2019, 2018, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005, 1999, 1998, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1991, 1985, 1974, 1960, 1959, 1953, 1952, 1949, 1948, 1945, 1929.

Atlético de Madrid

11

2021, 2014, 1996, 1977, 1973, 1970, 1966, 1951, 1950, 1941, 1940.

Athletic Club

8

1984, 1983, 1956, 1943, 1936, 1934, 1931, 1930.

Valencia C. F.

6

2004, 2002, 1971, 1947, 1944, 1942.

Real Sociedad

2

1982, 1981.

R. C. D. La Coruña

1

2000

Sevilla F. C.

1

1946

Real Betis

1

1935

Three of these teams have remained in the first division since the tournament was founded: F.C. Barcelona, Real Madrid F.C. and Athletic Club. In addition, these three teams and C. A. Osasuna are the only ones that retain their status as sports entities owned by their members.

Six teams have participated in LaLiga that have never been relegated from the professional category, i.e., they have never played in championships lower than La Segunda División. They are: Club Atlético de Madrid, R. C. D. Espanyol, Real Sporting de Gijón, Valencia C. F., Sevilla F. C. and Real Sociedad de Fútbol.

Throughout the history of the championship, the number of participating teams has progressively increased from 10 to the current single group of 20 teams. For the 1995-1996 and 1996-1997 seasons, 22 teams were incorporated into LaLiga as an unsuccessful strategy to increase competitiveness and improve the profitability of the competition.

For this reason, since the 1997-1998 season, the number of participants was reduced again to 20 teams per tournament. This structure has been maintained to date.

“El Clásico” (The Classic)

LaLiga Santander hosts one of the most relevant sports rivalries within Spanish soccer, it is the match played between Real Madrid Club de Fútbol and Fútbol Club Barcelona. Between 2012 and 2020, the Madrid-Catalan match was positioned in the top three most followed sporting events worldwide, with an average of approximately 650 million viewers. 

For this reason, this match is known among fans and promoted in the media as “El Clásico“. The first official meeting was on March 26, 1916. Here are the updated statistics for the 2021-2022 season:

  • Official matches played: 248
  • Matches won by Real Madrid C. F.: 100
  • Matches Won by F. C. Barcelona: 96
  • Total Draws: 52
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