A Season in the Spotlight – La Liga 1934-35

The Background - La Liga was still very much in its infancy, with the title being the preserve of the established northern clubs. The 1934-35 season heralded the first expansion of the top flight, with twelve teams competing instead of ten. However, if clubs thought that this would change the geographical dynamic, they were mistaken. Only Real Betis and their cross-city neighbours Sevilla represented the southern half of the country. Since gaining promotion to the top tier in 1932, Betis had made steady, if unspectacular progress, finishing fifth in their debut season and then fourth in 1933-34. They were coached by Irishman Joseph O’Connell, who had found fame as a player with Manchester United. As a manager, O’Connell guided both Racing Santander & Real Oviedo to regional championships, before joining Betis in 1931.
O'Connell (Centre) with the Betis President Antonio Moreno (2nd right)
The Story of the Campaign - Under O’Connell, Betis had developed a strong defensive game, helped by a core of former Basque players who had emigrated to Andalucia. This strength was reflected in their opening five matches which all resulted in victory and just one goal conceded. A defeat in week six away to Atlético Madrid was the club’s only reverse in the first 12 fixtures. There followed a mid-season wobble however, with uncharacteristic heavy defeats at Barcelona and Valencia, and a surprising 0-0 draw at home to bottom club Arenas Getxo. This allowed Real Madrid to close within a point of Betis, who dropped a further point with a 0-0 draw at Athletic Club in week 20. With the two teams level, the penultimate set of fixtures threw up a couple of intriguing battles, with Betis hosting rivals Sevilla and Real Madrid travelling the Barcelona. Real Madrid had handed out an 8-2 walloping to Barça at the Chamartin and with the Catalans up for revenge, Los Merengues succumbed to a 5-0 defeat. Betis were not having it all their own way and twice fell behind to Sevilla, before finally drawing 2-2. With one game to play, Betis led Real Madrid by a single point.
Betis' fortress - Campo del Patronato
Matches of the Season - Betis had won both fixtures with Real Madrid by a goal to nil, but with the league back then decided on goal average, rather than the head-to-head record, they knew that they had to win their final match away at Racing Santander. Real Madrid had a superior goal average and was a shoe-in for a victory at home to already relegated Arenas Getxo. On the evening before the match in Santander, O’Connell paid a visit to his old club and it is alleged, discussed the outcome of the game. The next day, Betis romped to a 5-0 victory. Real Madrid protested that O’Connell, who had previous when involved in a betting scandal at Manchester United, had bribed his old team to throw the game. Betis in turn, accused Real Madrid of offering Racing a win bonus. The result stood and Betis took their first and to date, only league title.
Campeones - Real Betis line up for their deciding match with Racing
Extras – The summer of 1935 saw the city of Sevilla at the top of the Spanish footballing tree. In addition to Betis’ triumph, Sevilla won the Copa de la República, beating second division Sabadell 3-0 in the final at Madrid’s Chamartin stadium. The relegation fall-guys hailed from the Basque Country, as Real Sociedad then known as Donostia FC and Arenas Getxo dropped to La Segunda. Arenas has never returned to the top flight.

For the record - Athletic Club’s 8-0 humiliation of Arenas was the season’s highest margin of victory, whilst Real Madrid’s 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona remains their best victory over the Catalans in La Liga. Los Merengues topped the scoring chart with 61 strikes, one more than third placed Real Oviedo, who equalled their highest ever top flight finish. A total of 541 were scored throughout the season at an average of 4.09 per game.

Pichichi - Isidro Lángara finished top scorer for the second successive season with 27 goals in 22 matches. The Basque born striker joined Real Oviedo 1930 and spearheaded their free-scoring forward line, scoring 281 goals in 220 appearances in the six seasons up to the Civil War. Lángara fought for the Republican side during the hostilities, even touring Europe and the Americas with a select Basque XI. It was during a tour of Mexico that Lángara decided to set up home abroad, eventually starring for Argentine side San Lorenzo. He returned briefly to Oviedo in 1946, before retiring from the game two years later and returning to Mexico.
Top Gun - Isidro Lángara
Zamora  - Real Betis keeper Joaquín Urquiaga conceded fewest goals in the 1934-35 season. Just 19 strikes entered his net in the 21 matches he played. Urquiaga was one of the many Basque’s that starred for Betis during their championship campaign, but a year later, he and many other members of the team left for Mexico following the outbreak of the Civil War. Renowned for his weight in later years, Urquiaga made Mexico his home, winning the title with Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz.
Urquiaga - A corpulent custodian 
The Clubs Today - The 1934-35 final league table has quite a familiar feel to it, with ten of the participants competing in La Primera this season, albeit many under more recognisable names. Only Real Oviedo, now in Group I of Segunda B and Arenas Getxo in the Tercera, play their football outside of the top tier.

The Final Table - 1934-35