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Spanish Leagues beyond La Liga

Spanish football rarely – if ever – slips to the periphery. Whether that’s a coach, a player, or a team, representatives of Spain compete for glory in both the men’s and women’s games. For the men’s game, in particular, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s past and present loom large, while their future always looks bright or, in the very least, recoverable. 

It’s understandable that eyes are trained on the world-class and the elite. This is where all football clubs, players, and narrates tend towards, where they all culminate. But with this, it’s very easy to overlook the beauty, complexity, and glory the Spanish Leagues have to offer. Look below La Liga and you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Spanish Leagues: 101

  •     There are only two professional levels in the Spanish football league system. La Liga sits atop the pyramid, with Segunda División feeding into and off of it. Both leagues are run by the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional – separate from the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).
  •     In 2021/2022, a new tier was founded to be positioned directly below Segunda Division and be the top division of the semi-professional tier. This is called the Premiera División RFEF – which comprises two regionalised groups. As is given away by the league’s name, RFEF operates the semi-professional leagues. The other leagues that comprise this tier are Segunda División RFEF (not to be confused with the professional Segunda División, often known by its sponsorship-based name, La Liga SmartBank) and the Tercera División RFEF. Both of these leagues are split into numerous groups, all regionalised.
  •     Starting at the sixth tier is the amateur level of Supporting Spanish football. Again, regionalisation is employed, with each league run by the federation of that region – like Catalonia, Andalusia, and Navarre, for instance. Most regions go as low as the eighth tier, but Biscay in the Basque Country and the leagues of Aragon go lower to the tenth.
  •     Spanish professional teams have ‘B’ teams that play in the Supporting Spanish Leagues, similar to what’s seen in Italy and Germany. France and England are exceptions. However, none of these ‘B’ teams can be promoted into La Liga – though they can win the Segunda División (La Liga SmartBank). Instead, La Liga teams use their ‘B’ teams’ existence in the lower leagues to develop their youth teams.

The Evolving History of the Spanish Leagues

All European nations have had their football leagues erected, torn down, revived, and revolutionised in some way. Spain is no different. Its leagues have expanded and condensed many times over. So, here goes…

La Liga, Segunda División and Segunda División Group B were founded as national leagues – as opposed to regional leagues – in 1929. These leagues existed in their own pyramid, with the regionalised leagues given their own independent system to organise. As such, these national leagues were a ‘closed’ system – meaning no one could be relegated further than Group B.

Group B only lasted as a 10-team, single-group league for a season, though – which Cultural Leonesa were champions of. The following season – which still took place in 1929 – the league was renamed the Tercera División and consisted of eight groups. You’ll notice that this isn’t the last time the Tercera División has changed shape.

From 1940, the regionalised divisions previously in their own independent pyramid merged with the national leagues.

The Segunda División’s existence has been largely stable, though. From its 1929 birth to the present day, the only time it fundamentally changed was between 1949 and 1968, when it became regionalised into North and South groups. (This north-south divide is a common theme across European sporting leagues, for purely logistical reasons. However, of course, the north-south divide has political and social effects too.) During this regionalised period, the number of promoted teams fluctuated between two and four regularly. The likes of Murcia, Zaragoza, Málaga, Racing Santander, and Osasuna were the yo-yo clubs of those nineteen years.

During those same years as the Segunda División, the Tercera División expanded from six to fourteen groups and then back to eight. 

The Segunda Disivión was re-nationalised for the 1968/1969 season, featuring twenty teams, eventually won by Sevilla. 

The year 1977 was transformative for Supporting Spanish Leagues. The Segunda División Group B was revived, following its renaming as the Tercera División in 1929. The revived Segunda División B was inserted into the league system to be the third tier, shifting the Tercera Division down to represent the new fourth tier. This was significant as this was the first new tier above the autonomous regional divisions to be founded since 1929. The Segunda División B consisted of two groups. The 1986/1987 season is the only one the Segunda División B played as a single league featuring twenty-two teams – won by Tenerife.

In a surprising turn, RFEF founded two new leagues in 2021/22. They created a new third tier, called the Primera Federación, and a new fourth tier, called the Segunda Federación (which meant the folding of the Segunda División B for a second time). The Primera Federación has two groups, housing twenty teams in each – with two teams from each group earning promotion to the LaLiga SmartBank.  The Segunda Federación has ninety teams split into five groups – ten teams get promoted into the Primera Federación as a whole.

This left the Tercera División leading yet another existence. The ever-adaptable league became the Tercera Federación – the new fifth tier of  Supporting Spanish Leagues. It’s forever where the regional leagues meet the national ones. Two-hundred-eighty-eight teams are divided into eighteen groups at this level, with twenty-seven teams earning promotion.

Spanish Leagues: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

If the evolution of the supporting Spanish leagues hasn’t frazzled your brains, then maybe this pop quiz will test that resolve! 

Which team has been promoted from the Segunda División (aka La Liga SmartBank) most often?

Málaga has earnt 13 promotions from the second tier of Spanish football – both as CD Málaga before it dissolved in 1992 due to financial difficulties and as Málaga CF. However, it has only been promoted as champion 4 times – the latest being 1998/1999. 

Bonus question: who’s won the most Segunda División titles? Murcia has, with 8 – only one clear of Real Betis, who have become a very stable La Liga outfit, so Murcia’s hold looks set for now.

Before its latest reformatting, which club scored the most goals as a Tercera División club? 

That would be the little-known team of CP Cacereño. The club, based in Cáceres in the autonomous Extremadura community in the west of Spain had scored 3894 goals, which also contributed to their other Tercera-División record: most wins (1080). The club currently play in the fourth tier of Spanish football, on the hunt for promotion.