Cuban football: the British legacy of yesterday and its rising popularity today

Unlike other major sports such as baseball or volleyball, Cuban football has had to settle for a single appearance in the 1938 World Cup championship. Other than that, the only results it can show for itself are a non-goal draw against Lato and Zmuda's Polish team, and one or two other medals achieved in regional competitions. It hasn't gotten any better than that over the years, but nowadays football is gaining more and more followers among Cuba's younger generations, who are now playing street matches with the same passion with which they play baseball.

Cuban football: the British legacy of yesterday and its rising popularity today

It couldn't be any other way. The origins of Cuban football are directly linked to the presence of British players in Cuba, with England being the motherland of football since the remote times of those famous meetings in London's Freemanson's Tavern back in the 1860s.

It was there that the codes that would rule the game were laid out and from there these were exported to the world and reached Cuba. Certain sources, though unconfirmed, sustain that the first match ever held in Cuba took place in 1908, but the official version says that Cuba's first ever match was played in Havana's populous Cerro vicinity on 11th December 1911.

Kids playing football under the rain in Havana

At the time, the two teams battling it out were the local Sports Club Hatuey whose members were Cubans and Spaniards, and the Rovers Athletic Club, whose membership included players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The match was won by the Rovers team 1-0, thanks to team captain Jackie Orr's goal.

The Rovers Athletic Club was founded by Mr William Campbell and it was his founder who went on to buy a plot of land in the Capdevila vicinity, very near to where Havana's Jose Marti International Airport stands today. The team's playing field, the club house, a children's playground, golf courses and a tennis court were also established there.

The Rovers and Hatuey clubs have long ago ceased to exist as teams; it's rained a lot since then, but the island hasn't been able to climb up the ladder to position itself on the higher ranks of international football. Unlike in other team sports like baseball and volleyball, Cuba's football performance hasn't been pleasant for its fans.

Thus, football has had to conform to the one and only appearance in the 1938 World Cup, one or two memorable matches like that unforgettable 0-0 tie against Poland in the 1970s, and just a few medals achieved in regional events. Cuban football hasn't gone much further, however; it keeps gaining more and more followers amid the Cuban youth.

Taking a look at the stadiums

As you might expect, the country's main football stadiums are found in Havana, even though there are some fairly suitable ones in other parts of the island. Despite the fact that they all lack the magnificence and the history of old Trafford or Wembley, visiting them won't prevent you from having a great time while experiencing the joy in the stands where everyone has his own notion of the game.

Stadium Pedro Marrero

For a mere 2 CUC you can enjoy a match between two of the ten teams competing. The championship, as has occurred in its most recent editions, extends from the beginning of the year to the end of spring.

The Pedro Marrero and La Polar stadiums in Havana's Playa and Marianao municipalities; are among the main playing fields in the country. Nevertheless it's also worthwhile to visit other fields like Zulueta's Camilo Cienfuegos in the central province of Villa Clara, or Manati's Ovidio Torres in the eastern province of Las Tunas.

By the way, frequent matches between veteran teams; many of them made up of foreign visitors, have been held in the stadiums of Pedro Marrero and La Polar. In case you're interested in participating in one of these matches, playing against a team from the island, you need to go to the offices of the Asociacion de Futbol de Cuba (Cuban Football Association) which are located on 41st Ave. between 44th and 46th streets, in the municipality of Marianao.

How's the game played here?

Cubans are not very skilled at guiding a ball with their feet. They lack the Brazilians's technique, the unflagging capacity of the Germans, the Italians' tactics and the verticality of the English, but they do go out to the pitch with endless enthusiasm. Thus, by giving themselves to the game with such intensity; they end up diminishing the spectators' annoyance, brought forth by their erroneous passes and off target shoots.

Cuba vs NY Cosmos

This is not the Premiere League; not by physical standards nor by the capabilities of the players on the field. There aren't any teams like Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United; nor will you find here super stars like Sergio Aguero, Robin Van Persie or Eden Hazard. But it's still worthwhile to watch.

Football in Cuba is a much more modest spectacle where teams like Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara or La Habana shine over the rest, but they always do so based on elements actually unknown abroad. Nonetheless, I'll say it again; witnessing a Cuban football match is worthwhile. It's worthwhile because of all that takes place in the stands; because of the atmospheric music, the hand-made signs and even the scorching sun - all that embodies and defines the real Cuba.

Michel Contreras

Michel Contreras

Chief Sportsman

Sports-struck for as long as he can remember, Michel invites you to meet champions, travel around...

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