Peace and tranquillity are usually traits that can be found in abundance throughout Spain. However, twice a year “El Gran Classico” divides two cities over politics, nationality, class and sporting fanaticism.
Real Madrid: The club of the cigar smoker. Every banker, rich businessman and anyone of financial importance is a member. Some bring cushions to matches to avoid the potential stiffness of placing their backside on a hardback seat. On the outside the club always appears to have a mountain of debt. But don’t let that fool you! Real Madrid has so much economical and social significance that it wouldn’t make sense to place them in jeopardy. They are the epicentre of Castilian society, where the capital’s elite meet to wind down from the daily traumas of running the country and converse about former days of fascism and right-wing politics.
Barcelona: The ultimate symbol of Catalan nationalism. In a region that has longed to break free of Spanish oppression, FC Barcelona has given its people a collective voice. That voice has turned this sporting institution into an international phenomenon that has fascinated the world with the cause of the Catalan people. “Mes Que un Club” (More than a Club) is the motto the club affectionately goes under, which stems from the politics and unity that the club has created beyond the football.
It goes without saying that Real and Barca are Spain’s two most successful clubs. Animosity between them can be traced back to 1936 when Barca club President, Josep Sunyol, was murdered by Francoist troops. Each year his death is remembered by FC Barcelona delegates with propaganda of an anti-Francoism and anti Real Madrid nature.
Tensions reached boiling point in 1943. Drawn together in the Kings Cup semi-final Barcelona won the first leg 3-0. However, with Madrid engaging excessive force into their tackles, the Catalan crowd began to boo. Seen as the club of the Spanish regime, it was taken with such insult that the Barca players were paid a visit by the Director of Spanish State Security before the return leg. Whatever was said, Barca were 8-0 down by half-time and ended losing 11-1. Despite a period of sustained success during the Franco regime, Barcelona can point to a long list of blatant referee malpractice that infiltrated further triumph.
However, although politics are the main reason that fuel this bitterest of rivalries, there are plenty of other factors that have contributed to the unending hatred. Luis Figo made mans biggest decision when he decided to swap maroon for white. When Figo returned to the Nou Camp three months after the most notorious transfer in Spanish football history, he was met by a barrage of abuse – which also included three mobile phones, a few half-bricks, a bike chain and a pig’s head. In signing for Real, he counter-signed a death wish with Catalunya. The great Alfredo Di Stefano also chose Real over Barcelona in the fifties. This decision was the catalyst that saw “Los Blancos” lift the first five European Cups.
In competing first and foremost with each other, and then with the rest of Europe, Barca and Real have paid well over the odds for the best players and completely skewed the world transfer market which has now had enough and is on the point of crashing. The rivalry remains as fierce as it ever was. And with Real breaking the bank in an attempt to gain equilibrium with Barca’s treble winners, it’ll take an entertaining hobby to divert attention from “El Gran Classico”.