A Season in the Spotlight - 1945-46

Background. This was the fifteenth Spanish league championship and to date, the title had only travelled to the south of the country on one occasion when Real Betis won the league in 1935. By 1945, Betis had fallen on hard times and was struggling at the wrong end of La Segunda. Barcelona had just won the championship and having expanded the Camp de Les Corts in the close season, many expected the Catalan giants to earn back-to-back titles. However, a new force was emerging in the south of the country in the shape of Sevilla Club de Fútbol.

The Story of the Campaign. Sevilla had shown promise in recent seasons, winning the Copa del Generalísimo in 1939 and finishing runner-up to Atlético Bilbao (Athletic Club) in 1942-43 championship. The 45-46 championship will go down in history as one of the most open, with a total of six different clubs topping the league standings at some point during the season. 1943-44 champions Valencia made the early running, beating Atlético Aviación (Atlético Madrid) 6-1 on the opening day of the season, and they vied with Barcelona for top spot during the opening month. An unbeaten start to the season saw Real Oviedo take over at the top in late October, before Sevilla’s own unbeaten start was rewarded with the lead in early November. Sevilla’s 1-0 loss away at Valencia and a 2-3 reverse at home to Barcelona, saw the Andalucian’s drop to fourth at the season’s half-way point. With 13 matches played, the table was headed by Real Madrid, but the top seven clubs were separated by just three points. The second half of the season remained just as tight, as first Real Oviedo and then Atlético Bilbao moved into pole position. The Basques seven-match unbeaten run had taken them to the summit with six matches to play. Tied with them on points was Sevilla, with Barcelona a point further back. After an uncharacteristic slip up away to Castellón, Bilbao got back on track with a 4-3 victory over Sevilla at San Mamés. With two matches left to play Bilbao, Sevilla & Barcelona were tied together on 33 points. However,  with the easier fixtures and the fact that Barcelona & Sevilla had to meet on the final day of the season, many felt it was Bilbao’s title to lose.
Newly extended, Les Corts was about to stage its biggest match
Matches of the Season.  Bilbao had beaten Sevilla at home and done the double over Barcelona, which included a 0-6 victory at Les Corts in October. However it was the Basques unwanted ability to lose unexpected matches that ultimately cost them the title. In the penultimate round of fixtures, Bilbao travelled to relegation threatened Alcoyano and contrived to lose 3-2. With Barcelona drawing away at Castellón, Sevilla’s 3-0 victory at home to Real Oviedo catapulted them to the top of the table and ended Bilbao’s title aspirations. The league would be decided on the final day of the season as Barcelona hosted Sevilla. A capacity crowd of 60,000 at Les Corts knew that only a victory would keep the title in Barcelona, but they were silenced in the 7th minute when Sevilla’s Araujo headed Lopez’s looping cross into the corner of the Barça net. Sevilla continued to control the game and reached half-time with the title in their sights. Barcelona eventually breached their opponents defence on 63 minutes when Bravo scored from close range. Sevilla withstood the Barcelona onslaught with some controlled and at times frantic defending, but eventually referee Pedro Escartin signalled the end of the match and the title was Sevilla’s. Here's some fotos & rare footage of that historic match.
Sevilla show off the silverware at their Estadio Nervion
Extras. The excitement of a tight finish was not the sole preserve of the top teams, as the relegation battle was not resolved until the final week. At some point during the season, Celta Vigo, Real Mucia, Español & Hércules had occupied the relegation places. Alcoyano on the other hand, had pootled along in mid-table and despite a poor run of results in the second-half of the campaign, appeared to have saved their tocino with that 3-2 victory over Atlético Bilbao. However, Celta’s 4-2 win over Hércules saved the Galicians and condemned their opponents, whilst wins for Murcia & Español, meant that only one from three could guarantee safety. Tellingly, Murcia & Español were to meet in the final fixture, whilst Alcoyano had to travel to Valencia. As news filtered through of a hatful of Valencia goals, Murcia & Español played out a 2-2 draw. Alcoyano eventually lost 6-1 and occupied a relegation spot for the first and at the most important stage of the season. Español eventually won a relegation play-off against Gimnástico de Tarragona to retain their position in the top flight. In the Copa, Real Madrid ended their 10 year wait for a trophy with a 3-1 victory over Valencia at Montjuic.
Borrowed time - 1946 was the penultimate final that the old Montjuic staged
For the Record. Atlético Bilbao finished the season as top scorers with 63 goals and also recorded the highest victory with a 7-1 crushing of Castellón. Atlético Aviación also scored seven when they beat Español 7-3, whilst Celta Vigo was the league’s entertainers with 113 goals coming in their 26 matches. A total of 611 goals were scored in total at an average of 3.35 per match.

Pichichi. Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra continued to be the scourge of La Liga’s defenders as he bagged a second consecutive top scorer title thanks to 24 goals in 18 matches. It’s thought by many, that Zarra’s absence from 8 matches cost Bilbao the title in 1945-46. Zarra spent 16 seasons at Athletic Club, scoring a total of 333 goals in all competitive matches. His tally of 252 goals in 278 first division matches is an all-time record, as is his total of six Pichichi titles.
"Pick 'e out the stingers" - Zarra strikes again
Zamora. The Real Madrid custodian José Bañón was the league’s top goalkeeper, conceding 29 goals in 25 matches. Bañón was a native of Alicante and joined Los Merengues in 1943 from Hércules. He went on to win two Copa’s and finish runner-up in the league, before a lung injury led to his early retirement at the age of 27. Bañon played just the one game for the national side, a 1-4 defeat to Portugal in Lisbon in 1947.
Madrista Bañon at full stretch
The Clubs Today. Eight of the class of 1945-46 still ply their trade in this season’s top division. The absentees are spread over three tiers, with Sporting Gijón, Real Murcia and Hércules playing in La Segunda. Real Oviedo & Alcoyano play in the regionalised Segunda B, whilst Castellón has dropped furthest, playing in Group 6 of the Tercera.

The Final Table 1945-46