EL CLÁSICO: WHY ALL THE FUSS?
For some, football may not be a passion, let alone an obsession. For Spain, and most of the world, you could go almost so far as calling it a religion or way of life. So, if you’ve heard “el clásico” being bantered about and aren’t sure what it is or why so many seem so amped up about it, we thought we might help clue you in.
El Clásico is the name given to any match played between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. These two teams are considered the greatest in the world and have long been bitter rivals. Yes, they are from the two biggest cities in Spain, but that’s not the only reason. Just look at the head-to-head matchup in competitive matches to get an idea as to how they managed to become the marquee event in football: 96-95 in favor of FC Barcelona (the overall record between them is 115-61-99). Back in 2014, they were declared the two most valuable sports teams in the world by Forbes magazine; as of 2019, Real Madrid is ranked third and FC Barcelona fourth. They have fans literally everywhere; no matter where you go around the world, football fans have one of them as one of their followed teams. They are also the two most followed teams on Instagram (RM: 57.3 million followers; FCB: 56.1 million) and Facebook (FCB: 23.7 million; RM: 22.4 million likes).
These two teams have also been closely tied to Spanish politics. FC Barcelona is seen as a symbol of Catalan nationalism, as well as the independence movement, whereas Real Madrid is seen as one of Spanish nationalism. FC Barcelona’s motto, “Més que un club,” or “More than a club,” stems from the years of Franco’s dictatorship when Catalan language and culture were being restrained; the club coined it as a a stand against this. Barça’s fans naturally developed a strong disliking of Real Madrid; it didn’t help that Franco was a Real Madrid fan. [Strangely enough, though, FC Barcelona, due to its management’s relationship with him, gave Franco two awards in 1954 and 1971, respectively. In October 2019, FC Barcelona club members voted overwhelmingly to withdraw those distinctions.]
In terms of their fan bases here in Spain, there is little love between them. Each has its own hooligan group: the Ultras Sur of Real Madrid and Boixos Nois of FC Barcelona. As you might expect, there have been violent clashes between them over the years.
Transfers and signings have also added some extra salsa brava to the tie. Starting with Di Stéfano back in 1950 who, after having been ruled that both teams would have to share him in alternate seasons, Real Madrid eventually claimed outright, and then there was Luís Figo. He went from playing for Barça to transferring to Madrid and had a pig’s head thrown at him during his first match back at Camp Nou. His name riles up the culés even today. Other big names that have played for both clubs are: Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, Samuel Eto’o, Luis Enrique and Michael Laudrup.
It has been over one hundred years since the two first faced off against each other— the first match was played in 1902—and there are so many anecdotes that can be added to provide more clarity as to why these two clubs create such high anticipation each time the meet. The majority of the fixtures they’ve played are marked by high intensity and high quality football, so it’s always a treat for the fans to watch the two titans battle.
Now, tonight’s clásico has a lot of extra buzz surrounding it, and that is due to Tsunami Democrátic‘s, a protest group, insistence to rally its supporters in protest against the sentencing of nine Catalan separatist leaders. This clásico was supposed to have been played back on October 26th, but, due to the threat of demonstrations, La Liga had it postponed for security reasons. However, the postponment hasn’t deterred the protesters. If anything, it has only made them more intent on making their voices heard. Knowing that this match is a globally covered sporting event, the group wants to take advantage of the coverage to get its message out, “Spain, sit and talk.”
As this piece is being finished, there are already helicopters circling, and it’s only 1pm (the game is scheduled for 8pm). With the demonstration set to begin at 4pm at four locations surrounding Camp Nou, all sorts of measures are being taken to ensure that the match goes on without disruption.
As a precaution, both teams spent the night at Hotel Sofía, a hotel located only 800 meters from Camp Nou. It’s the first time the teams have shared a hotel. One thousand Mossos d’Esquadra agents have been called upon to provide security at and around Camp Nou. Around 500 officers from the National Police and Civil Guard have also been sent in. In total, there will be about 3,500 security personnel on hand to police the event.
Whatever ends up happening, let’s hope that the match can go on and provide us with yet another classic clásico.
Whether you’re watching it for the first time or not, we hope you enjoy the spectacle! We know we will!
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA