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‘El Clasico’: The Barcelona-Real madrid Rivalry explained

Real Madrid Barcelona Rivalry
A Clash of the Giants

When these two teams clash, its not just about the 3 points. Pride and honour are stake. The magnitude and intensity of these two giants clashing is so huge that I, sitting in an entirely different continent, count down the days till “el clasico.” If your not Spanish, like myself, you do not understand what this match represents historically, it can seem baffling as to why this match is hyped up the way it is. I took the liberty to do some research on the matter a couple years ago.

A quick history lesson

A year after a defeat for the Spanish army in the Spanish-American war of 1888, a group of men (led by Joan Gamper) came together to form a football club based in Barcelona. These were the beginnings of FC Barcelona as we know it today. With the Spanish Empire in a bit of turmoil , there was a strong sense of identity and local pride that was felt in Catalonia. And with a newly formed football club in their city, FC Barcelona became a symbol of Catalan nationalism.

During the time of the Spanish civil war, Spain was under the rule of the dictator Francisco Franco. Madrid, the capital of Spain somewhat represented the Spanish Political hierarchy. While Catalonia, at that time a more free thinking region, stood for republicanism, communism anarchism, syndicalism and federalism. So when Catalonia wanted to be recognised as an autonomous state it didn’t go down well with the dictator. Such was his oppression that the Catalan language and the Catalan flag was banned after the Civil War. Dictator Franco publicly supported Real Madrid and this just precipitated the bad feelings between the two clubs. Real Madrid was strongly regarded as the “establishment club” by Catalans and many other Spanairds. Barcelona has long been regarded as the club of the freedon fighters against Franco’s fascist regimen as ot is a well known fact that within the walls of the Nou Camp was one of the only places that Catalan was spoken; and the claret and blue Barca flag was a substitution for the banned red and yellow Catalonia flag. FC Barcelona became a symbol of freedom to the Catalan people, hence the term “Mes que un Club” (More than a club) was coined. As the late Sir Bobby Robson put it: “Catalonia is a nation and FC Barcelona its army.”

The situation reached it’s boiling point during the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 FC Barcelona club President Josep Sunyol was murdered by Francoist troops. (Although his assassination was a political stunt, not really targeting the club itself). The injustices that Barca suffered at the hands of officials is also well documented.Most notably, in 1941 when Barcelona were ‘instructed’ to lose a match to Real Madrid. Out of protest, they went on to deliberately lose the match by 11 goals to 1. Their goalkeeper was banned from football for the rest of his life.

In the 1950’s the clubs disputed the signing of Alfredo di Stefano. It was agreed that the clubs should “share” player, with him playing alternate seasons with either club. It is rumoured that at the time, the Barca president was infact Franco imposed, and it is widely believed that upon insistance from the establishment, Barca backed down in the fight for Di Stefano.

In more recent times, players that have switched directly between the two clubs, have not been well received upon returning to the original club. The most famous example is obviously Lius Figo. The Portuguese returned to the Nou Camp wearing the all white of Madrid to have a pigs head thrown at him. The players however seem show great respect for each other, until a fight breaks out on the pitch. The rivalry still remains most intense among fans. EURO 2008 & the World Cup 2010 saw an amulgamation of these two teams, and invariably, while playing side by side for one team, the two biggest trophies were won under the Spanish banner.

The Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry is possibly the biggest rivalry in the world of sports, probably due to its political origins. After more than a century of intense rivalry, the clubs seem pretty even balanced, with Madrid enjoying most of the sucess in the first half of the said century and Barca overshining in the latter half.

Here’s some vids:

FC Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (29/11/2010)

Real Madrid 0-2 FC Barcelona (27/04/2011)

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  1. Wow! Thanks for all of the history… I had a general understanding of the political history, but this really explained a lot. Maybe I’ll refer back to it when I have friends over for the clasico who know NOTHING about football, much less the rivalry and all the drama that is likely to ensue. 😉

    • David on October 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm
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    Thanks for your detailed explanation of the story. Can now understand why in 17:14 minutes everyone in the Camp Nou shouted “Freedom for Catalonia”. We want to be free. We want to be the next state in Europe.

  2. Good, informative blog mate. Like conflictedinspain said I never knew this much about it, but then again I don’t watch much Spanish football. I like El Classico though, one of my favourite derbies!

    Alex (

  3. Barcelona will easily win for sure this time.

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