NINETY-FIVE years ago, St Mirren became the first ‘foreign’ football team to visit Spain.
They played seven matches in total during a three-week tour, starting off with a game against the then reigning Catalan League champions and Cup holders Barcelona in their new Les Cortes stadium in front of 16,000 fans on Saturday, 20th May 1922.
A British Army lieutenant, Jack Edwards, refereed the game which saw the Scottish club lose 2-1 … but it was not the result that mattered, it was the friendliness of the occasion which was attended by several local dignitaries including the Civil Governor, the city’s Mayor and the President of the Manco-Munidad (local government organisation).
St Mirren played a second game against Barcelona soon afterwards (lost 1-0), contested two more friendlies against Racing Santander (won 3-2, drew 2-2) and another two against Sporting Gijon (won 7-3 and 4-2). And they also played and beat English club Notts County 2-1 in front of a 20,000 crowd in sweltering heat for the Landome Cup which was described as being 2ft 6ins tall, made of silver and worth £50 guineas.
The East Midland club had also ventured over to Spain around the same time, having just finished the 1921-22 season in 13th place in Division Two.
They also played Barcelona twice, winning 4-2 and drawing 1-1, as well as sharing four goals with Racing Santander, whose coach at the time was the former Birmingham, Blackburn, Brentford, Middlesbrough, QPR and England winger Fred Pentland. With ten minutes of injury added on at the end of this game, Saints led 2-0 but the Spanish referee awarded the home side three late ‘dubious’ penalties (two scored, one missed) and as a result the honours were shared. Say no more!
Surprisingly, in the early-to-mid 1920s, five other rather unfamiliar football clubs from the UK – Division Three (N) teams Durham City and Hartlepool United and three amateur sides, the Civil Service, Crook Town and Ilford – also visited Spain for short tours.
References show that getting over to Spain all those years ago was far more difficult than it is today!
For instance, St Mirren took over three days to reach their destination. Boarding the train from Glasgow to London on the morning of Wednesday, 17th May, they continued by coach to Dover, crossed over to France by ferry and, staying overnight twice, took another long and laborious coach journey down to Barcelona, arriving at their elected hotel just in time to play their opening match on the 20th May.
The Notts County, party comprising 13 players, 11 officials and a courier from Thomas Cook Tours, left their local railway station at 7am on the 18th May and, travelling via the overnight ferry and staying in Paris and Toulouse, they eventually arrived in Barcelona late Saturday evening, 20th May.
How times of changed….