La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World – Book Review


I have always been a huge fan of the La Liga and Spanish football in general. However, it was only after the 2002 World Cup in Japan & South Korea that I started watching football. Like anyone who is new to a sport, I had to support somebody and for whatever reason I decided that Spain was my team. It turned out to be a pretty good choice back then as Spain ended up reaching the quarter finals only to lose to the host nation South Korea on penalties. The game was marred by controversial refereeing decisions with 2 of Spain’s goals being wrongly disallowed; and then to top it all, Joaquin fluffed his penalty in the shootout and Korea had pulled off a monumental upset. I just couldn’t forgive him back then but it was only later that I realized what a phenomenal player he was. Despite his early retirement, he continues to show flashes of his timeless genius to this day.

Following the World Cup, I became a fan of Real Madrid after seeing all the top stars from the world cup at Los Blancos. In the process, I ended up following quite a bit of La Liga at the time apart from Real Madrid. It was great fun to witness teams such as Valencia, Deportivo La Coruna, Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad give the big 2 of the La Liga a run for their money. Of course, Spain has since gone on to many successes; lifting the Euros twice and the World Cup for the first time as well.

So when I chanced upon a book about the history of Spanish football, I just had to get my hands on it…..

The Book

Spain Football Map

Spain Football Map (Courtesy: Flickr – Jordi)

Jimmy Burns has done a fantastic book in detailing the rich history of Spanish football. In some ways this book is as much about modern Spanish history as it is about Spanish football. It chronicles football’s early beginnings in Spain in the mines of Rio Tinto, in Huelva, to the huge role played by the Basque region in football’s development in the country (Something I confess that I wasn’t aware of). It also talks about much of Spain’s football history over the last decade or so and Burns connects the dots of the past to the present very beautifully.

I must say that after reading this book, there is so much about Spanish football history that I did not know. It is interesting to note that the British, South Americans, Italians, Dutchmen, Scandinavians etc. all contributed significantly to the game’s history in Spain. Not hailing from either Europe or South America, I always assumed that the huge presence of foreigners in the Spanish league these days is all due to mass commercialism. The influx of foreigners however, goes back way further.



La Roja: Fantastic Book by Jimmy Burns

For all football history aficionados, this book is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. There are several interesting anecdotes throughout the book that are used to describe a particular event or phase in the game’s history in Spain. Who knew that Real Madrid’s founders were born in Catalonia ? Or the fact that Atletico Madrid’s origins can be traced back to the Basque country. Many facts that are well known in Spain & probably the Spanish speaking world; but perhaps not so much to the rest of the world are all chronicled. Basque Football’s early dominance, Spain’s more aggressive playing style during the Franco regime, the Quinta Del Buitre (Vulture Squad of Real Madrid) etc…it’s all there.  The political aspect is also covered; especially in the rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

This book is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in Spain’s history or football. As a side-note, it has been a dream of mine for some time now to visit and live in Spain for many years. The very thought of experiencing the rich culture of Spain along with its love for football on a daily basis is so mouth-watering. To that end, this book has no doubt played its part in stirring my imagination and capturing the best of Spanish football.


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