Isidro Lángara – A Son of Oviedo

In the year 761 two monks, Maximo and Fromestano, founded a monastery on a hillside, dedicated to San Vicente in the Principality of the Asturias. This great deed enabled the founding of the city of Oviedo and since ancient times it retains its monastic and regal character. Today, the city is the reference point for the primitive way of St. James, the pilgrims’ road to Santiago de Compostella founded by Asturian king, Alfonso II. Football arrived in the city in 1914 through the endeavours of a group of young students who founded Real Stadium Club Ovetense. The club played in the regional championship of Asturias, with a young Santiago Bernabéu of subsequent Real Madrid fame lining up for the team in its early years.

It would take the club a decade to be crowned champions, the first club from Oviedo to win the championship. However, the team slipped to third in the 1925/26 season with local rivals Sporting Gijon becoming the dominant force in the region. In reaction to Gijon’s success, Real Stadium Club Ovetense agreed to merge with another local side Deportivo Oviedo and after two mediation meetings in March 1926 a merger pact was signed on April 26th, 1926 culminating in the foundation of Real Oviedo football club.

Real Oviedo 1926

The merger brought the anticipated results, with Real Oviedo winning the regional championship two years in a row in 1927 and ’28, the team being coached by Englishmen Fred Pentland and Frank Burton respectively. In 1929 a national football league system was formulated with the foundation of La Liga and the Segunda Division by the Royal Spanish Football Association. Nine teams would be granted automatic inclusion in the new league with a tenth position up for grabs through a qualifying tournament. In that mini tournament Oviedo lost one nil to Real Betis of Seville on January 13th, 1929, and Betis would go on to lose out to Racing Santander in the semi-final.

That Santander team, who would win the tournament and reach the top table of Spanish football, was managed by Irishman Patrick O’Connell and he would become manager of Oviedo in 1930. During their inaugural season in the Segunda division Oviedo finished 7th and their Czech coach Antonín Fivébr was replaced by O’Connell. In the pre-season of 1930 a young muscular 18-year-old walked into the Buenavista stadium, O’Connell spent 20 minutes on the pitch with him and signed him immediately – his name: Isidro Lángara. A Basque, Lángara had nurtured his football skills as a youth with his local clubs Andoain and Tolsa C.F.

Langara

The directors at Oviedo weren’t convinced about Lángara, but O’Connell saw him as a ‘rough diamond’ with exceptional goal scoring ability and a powerful, devastatingly effective right-foot shot. Of course O’Connell was correct; Lángara would become a figurehead at the club and lead Oviedo to the promised land with promotion to La Liga in 1932/33 as the division’s top goal scorer. Lángara was at the centre of the celebrated Delantera Eléctrica (the electric forwards) alongside Casuco, Gallart, Herrerita and Emilín; a quintet of talented and pacy young forwards capable of steam-rollering teams with their skillful, high-tempo play.

Oviedo and Lángara announced themselves to the top flight with a crushing seven goals to three defeat of the mighty FC Barcelona. The Catalans had started the game strongly and surged into a two goal lead through a double from legendary winger Martí Ventrola, however, with the Los Azules fans in fine voice and the electric forwards leading the fightback, Gallart and Henrietta drew Oviedo level. In the second half Lángara stole the show with a hat-trick sending the home fans into raptures. Oviedo would finish their first-ever season in La Liga in sixth position, while Lángara’s 27 goals saw him top the goalscoring charts and win the Pichichi trophy.

Lángara would in fact become the first man to win the Pichichi three seasons in a row as Oviedo climbed to a third-place finish in the 1934/35 season, then replicated that position in the final season before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. From the day he walked into Oviedo’s stadium in 1930, Lángara is recognised to have scored 281 goals in 220 games by 1936, which includes 231 goals in 160 competitive games. Lángara’s total of 60 goals from 32 games for Oviedo and a further 9 goals in 5 games for the Spanish national team remains today a record for the highest single season goalscoring record by a Spanish born footballer.

Basque national team on tour

The outbreak of war ruined Oviedo’s momentum and Lángara returned to his native Basque region to join the Republican ranks during the conflict. By 1937 he was on the road playing football for the Basque national team and promoting the Spanish Republican cause throughout Europe. In 1938 the team landed in Mexico after Bilbao fell to Franco’s troops, and in the land of the Aztecas the Basque team would become Club Euzkadi and play for one season in the Mexican league. Euzkadi ended their unusual campaign as runners-up with team captain Lángara’s 15 goals ensuring he finished as the League’s top scorer. The team would disband as the war continued in Europe and most of the players would abscond to different parts of the Americas. Lángara himself ended up in Argentina at San Lorenzo and in his debut versus the mighty River Plate he scored all of his new team’s goals in a four-two victory. The Azulgrana supporters witnessed Lángara net 33 goals in 34 games during his first season at the club, virtually a goal a game, and again top League scorer.

He returned to Mexican football in 1943 joining Real Club Espana and spending three seasons there. More success followed winning the Mexican league and earning yet more League top goal scorer awards in 1944 and 1946. Isidro Lángara was the first man to win top goal scorer awards on three different continents – Europe, South America and North America, a feat ultimately matched by the great Alfredo Di Stefano. In 1946 Lángara returned to his homeland and to Real Oviedo where his career had begun, receiving a hero’s welcome from the locals.

Calle Langara inauguration

On the 15th of May 2016, 72 years after he had retired from football with Real Oviedo and 104 years after his birth, the one they called ‘*El Tanque’* was honoured with a street in Oviedo named after him. This initiative came about through the work of local journalist Miguel Sanz with the support of Oviedo fans and the club. So, today as the hordes arrive en masse to Oviedo’s new Carlos Tartiere Stadium, they do so with a stroll through Calle Isidro Lángara – an appropriate tribute to a proper legend of the Spanish game.

 

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