El clasico and the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubsMarch 29, 2016
This Saturday sees one of the biggest sporting events globally as FC Barcelona takes on Real Madrid at Camp Nou. After their humiliating 4-0 home defeat in November, Madrid will be looking to restore their self-esteem in the return leg.
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As well as a capacity crowd at Barcelona’s stadium, Spanish bars will be overflowing with supporters of both sides rooting for their teams. And around the world millions more will tune in to watch the 90 minute battle.
Ultimately Real Madrid has almost zero chance of overtaking Barcelona in the league table to take this season’s title. So why is the “clasico” so important and why is there such rivalry between the two sides?
Today FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two richest clubs in Spain, and among the most valuable sports teams in the world. The two sides dominate Spanish football with Madrid winning the Spanish League 32 times to Barça’s 23 league titles. To put that in context, the third most successful club is Atletico Madrid, with 10 league titles.
But the rivalry between the two clubs goes far beyond just sport. Long held as a symbol of Catalan language and culture, to many people FC Barcelona today represents the fight for Catalan independence. Against that, Real Madrid represents a centralist, unified Spain, opposed to the county’s regional languages, customs and culture. Madrid was also seen as the establishment club during the Franco dictatorship, an era during which Catalan and other languages were banned in Spain.
However, it is unfair to see the match as a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War. While Francoist troops executed Barça’s president at the start of the Spanish Civil War, it is also true the Madrid president fled to France after escaping imprisonment by the regime.
But Santiago Bernabeu de Yeste, Madrid’s post-war president after whom the club’s stadium is named, fought for the Nationalists. Elected president in 1943, Bernabeu rebuilt the club to become one of the most successful in Europe.
With Madrid finding success on the European stage Franco did what many politicians excel at. He jumped on the bandwagon and publically lent his support to Real Madrid. The key benefit to Franco was positive PR for Spain on the European stage. Whatever perception the rest of Europe might have of Spain, he could show the country as successful.
Some Barça supporters claim their arch-rivals received preferential treatment under Franco’s patronage and there is likely some truth to this. Perhaps more surprisingly, Barcelona awarded club medals to the dictator on two occasions in the 1970s.
Following the death of Franco in 1975 democracy was restored. And although little has changed in the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubs, whatever the score on Saturday there is little chance of it making a real difference in the league.
Madrid is currently third in the league table and a full 10 points behind the Catalans. They may have a good chance of overtaking Atletico Madrid, now just a single point ahead.
FC Barcelona is almost certain to win the title, their eighth league trophy in 11 seasons. But the clasico is about much more than where each team lies in the league. It is a matter of honour.
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