El Clásico

The Story of the Rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid

El Clásico between Futbol Club Barcelona and Real Madrid is now the match between two Liga teams that has been played the most times.

It is not only the most watched game in Spain but, with an average audience of over 500 million viewers, is also the domestic football match with the biggest audience worldwide.

In recent years, the only other sporting events that have superceded this figure are the Football World Cup Final in South Africa in 2010 and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which reached 700 and 600 million viewers respectively.

Not suprisingly, the magazine rated El Clásico Number One in "World Soccer’s 50 Greatest Derbies".

Apparently, the term El Clásico didn't come into general use until the beginning of the 21st century, when it became increasingly clear that this match between two of the biggest and most successful football clubs in the world transcended mere sporting rivalry.


Political Background to the Rivalry

The reason why the rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is so intense is not just down to football.

The two clubs had long been seen as representatives as their respective regions of Castile and Catalonia, which as my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective explains have long been at loggerheads over political control of Spain with the Catalans have generally been on the losing side.

An official study in 2002 confirmed that this is still true today with Barça supporters tending to be left-wing and in favour of regional autonomy whilst Madrid fans are generally right-wing centralists.

This is not surprising because, although Spain's first socialist party was founded in Madrid, most of the ideas that have shaped modern Spanish politics, such federalism, republicanism, anarchism, trades unionism and communism, have entered the peninsula through Catalonia.

The first match between FC Barcelona and Madrid FC was played in 1902 and the sporting rivalry between the two sides grew first in games played in the Campeonato de España, the current Copa del Rey, in which each represented their respective leagues, the Campeonato Regional Centro and Campionat de Catalunya.

In 1913, Madrid FC received royal patronage from King Alfonso XIII of Spain and along with other clubs, such as Real Sociedad, RCD Español, Real Deportivo de la Coruña, became Real Madrid.

By the 1920s, FC Barcelona had already become a symbol of Catalanism, which openly opposed the centralising tendencies of Madrid-based governments.

During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-30), the Catalan language was prohibited and the freedoms of the Catalan people were severely restricted so supporting FC Barcelona was one of the few ways they could express their national identity.

However, the dominant team in this early period of Spanish football was really Athletic Club de Bilbao and the three-way rivalry continued after the Liga began in the 1928-29 season.

Although both the presidents of both clubs suffered at the hands of the nationalists - FC Barcelona president Josep Sunyol was murdered by Francoist troops and Madrid FC president Rafael Sánchez-Guerra was imprisoned at the end of the war - the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) caused a major grudge between the two.

At the start of the civil war, Madrid was under siege from Franco's troops and this made it impossible for the Campeonato Regional Centro to be played.

As a result Madrid director Pablo Hernández Coronado and Barcelona coach Paco Bru came to a gentleman's agreement to allow Madrid FC to register to play in the Campionat de Catalunya as Catalonia was still a long way from the front.

The proposal had the support of the Catalan public and the footballers' trades union so the refusal by the FC Barcelona board has always been seen as a lack of solidarity from the point of view of Madrid.

After Franco came to power in 1939, the rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid moved up a notch partly for political reasons as the two sides were seen as representatives of their respective regions, although the regime's team in the early years of the dictatorship was really Atlético Aviación as Atlético de Madrid were known at the time.

With the arrival of Santiago Bernabéu to the presidency of the club in the 1940s, the role of Real Madrid as the sporting representative of Spain and the Francoist regime began to increase and following the Di Stéfano Affair, in which the Argentinian star was snatched from the FC Barcelona ranks with government help, Madrid began to dominate both Spanish and European football.

The playing field evened somewhat after the death of the dictator in 1975 and FC Barcelona went through a particularly strong period under Johan Cruyff in the 1990s, when the Dream Team won four consecutive Ligas and their first Champions League.

In the 21st century,  under president Florentino Pérez, the presence of Spanish politicians and businessmen in the directors' area has made it clear that Real Madrid continues to exert political influence and occupy a position of privilege.

However, on the football field Barça have had the upper hand and with the Catalan independence process at the fore since 2012 still represent, in a symbolic sense, a repressed nation that is struggling to be free.

To this day, El Clásico goes well beyond the confines of a simple sporting event and, whatever happens politically, that looks unlikely to change.

The History of El Clásico

Early Years in the Copa de España (1902-28)

The first match between Futbol Club Barcelona and Madrid FC took place on May 13 1902 just a few months after Madrid had been founded by two Catalans living in the Spanish capital, Juan and Carlos Padrós.

The game was the semi-final of what was officially called the Concurso Madrid or Madrid Competition but is commonly known as the Copa de la Coronación as it was organised to celebrate the coronation of Spanish king, Alfonso XIII.

Held in Madrid, the superiority of the more established Catalan team was clear and FC Barcelona won the game 3-1 before going on to lose the final 2-1 to a Basque combination going under the name of Vizcaya.

Ten days later on May 23rd, Alfonso Albéniz, son of the Girona composer Isaac Albéniz became the first player to be transferred when he joined Madrid from Barcelona.

Madrid visited Barcelona for the first time in 1906 to play a friendly officially against FC Barcelona but in reality it was a Barcelona XI because the side included five Español players.

However, statisticians generally cite the game as Barcelona vs. Madrid with FC Barcelona winning 5-2, although this provoked the first complaints from Madrid and is considered the root of the poor relations between the two clubs.

From 1910 to 1920, the two clubs played each other on fifteen occasions - only four of these matches were official Copa del Rey games while the other eleven games were friendlies.

All four official matches were played as part of the Copa del Rey or Campeonato de España of 1915-16.

The two game was won 2-1 by Barcelona and in the second leg won 4-1 by Madrid, the Barcelona players ended up abandoning the pitch accusing the referee of bias by allowing the fourth goal.

The first tie-breaker resulted in a 6-6 draw, which along with Real Madrid's 11-1 victory in the Copa in 1943 remains the highest-scoring game between the two sides, while Madrid finally went through to the final after the fourth game, which they won 4-2.

In 1920, along with a clutch of other clubs such as Real Sociedad, Real Club Deportivo and RCD Español, Madrid FC received royal patronage and became Real Madrid.

Becoming Real Barcelona CF was an honour that never appeared to interest FC Barcelona in the slightest.

The two sides met again in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey of 1926 with both games being won by FC Barcelona, 5-1 and 3-0 respectively, and the Catalans went on to win the competition by beating Atlético de Madrid 3-2 in the final.

It is clear that there was no love lost between Real Madrid and Futbol Club Barcelona but the the matches still lacked the emotional power of the modern Clásico because the two sides met rarely as the main competitions at the time were the Campeonato Regional Centro and Campionat de Catalunya against local rivals Atlético de Madrid and RCD Español and others.

The two sides only met when they were drawn against each other in the Campeonato de España as representatives of their respective leagues and in fact, the period was dominated by Athletic Club de Bilbao, who conquered nine trophies before 1928 against FC Barceona's six and Real Madrid's six.

The Beginnings of Professional Football (1928-1940)

FC Barcelona - Liga and Campionat de Catalunya Champions 1928-29

The fierce rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid really began once La Liga got started in the 1928-29 season.

That very first Liga was closely fought between the two sides with Real Madrid going top after beating Barcelona in the Camp de Les Corts 2-1 in the second game of the season.

However, FC Barcelona  went ahead just before the end of the competition and ended up pipping Real Madrid to the post for the first Liga title with 25 points against 23.

Real Madrid had to wait until the 1931-32 season to win their first Liga, which they repeated in 1932-33.

The 1934-35 season left two historic Clásico results - the first 5-0 victory by Barcelona over Madrid was returned later in the season when the madrileños beat the Catalans 8-2.

To be perfectly honest, throughout the 1930s, Madrid were the better team and this was possibly why the FC Barcelona board didn't allow them to participate in the Campionat de Catalunya after the Liga and the Campeonato Regional Centro were suspended due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The two sides didn't meet again until the end of the Civil War when La Liga began again in the 1939-40 season.

The Political Situation Exacerbates the Rivalry (1940-50)

With Spain under Franco's dictatorship, FC Barcelona was particularly affected as the club was forced to remove all signs of its Catalan identity including the Catalan flag from its crest as well as to change its name to Club de Fútbol Barcelona.

The effects of the politicisation of Spanish football were first seen on the pitch in the 1942-43 season, in which Real Madrid dominated La Liga with a 5-5 draw in Les Corts and a 3-0 victory in Chamartín.

In the semi-final of La Copa in 1943, now called La Copa del Generalísimo, the first leg was played in Les Corts and Barcelona won 3-0.

Following the game, the Madrid press accused the Barcelona supporters of jeering and booing the Madrid players and the CF Barcelona president of the time, Enrique Piñeyro Queralt, sent a letter to the Madrid board denying the accusation.

However, the regime imposed a fine of 2,500 pesetas on Barcelona and a hostile reception was expected for the Catalans for the return leg in Madrid in what has become known as the Scandal of Chamartín.

Before the game, the Head of National Security went into the Barcelona dressing room and threatened the players, telling them that winning the game would be considered an act of treason.

On the pitch, the Barcelona players were jeered and booed and stones were even thrown at the Barcelona goalkeeper whilst the referee just let play go on.

Barcelona lost the match by 11 goals to 1 and president Enrique Piñeyro, who had actually been appointed by the government, ended up resigning as a result.

In successive years, Barcelona beat Madrid 5-0 and also suffered a 6-1 defeat and the decade ended with both teams winning ten games each.

Overall, the 1940s were a better period for CF Barcelona, who won three Ligas and a Copa del Generalísimo, whilst Real Madrid won two Copas and no Ligas.

Both sides also won a Copa Eva Duarte, the predecessor of the Spanish Supercopa, played between the Liga champions and the Copa winners.

Di Stéfano Changes Spanish Football (1950-60)

The start of the 1950s were clearly dominated by a CF Barcelona led by Ladislao Kubala, who won five trophies in the 1951-52 season and became known as the Barça de les 5 Copes.

However, the rivalry between the two clubs was aggravated once again by the Di Stéfano Affair in 1953.

Argentinian player Alfredo do Stéfano had come to both clubs attention during the tournament held to celebrate Real Madrid's Golden Anniversary in 1952 between Madrid, Swedish side IFK Norrköping and the Colombians Millonarios de Bogotá.

Barcelona made the first move and bought the rights to Di Stéfano from his original club and owners River Plate and the Argentinian even played a few games in Barcelona alongside Kubala.

Seeing a potential unbeatable combination between the Hungarian and the Argentinian, Madrid approached Millonarios, for whom Di Stéfano was currently playing, and signed a separate deal.

Both clubs claimed ownership until the Consejo Superior de Deportes de España ruled that Di Stéfano would play alternative seasons for each club and in protest, CF Barcelona gave up all rights to the Argentinian.

The arrival of Di Stéfano changed the history of Spanish football and Real Madrid won four consecutive Ligas as well as the first five European Cups and an Intercontinental Cup.

Winning four Ligas and five Copas as well as two Fairs Cups and other trophies during the decade, the 1950s was also a good period for Barcelona but Real Madrid had got the upper-hand and was definitely seen as having a privileged position as the regime team.

A Decade Dominated by Madrid (1960-70)

After having won consecutively the first five editions of the European Cup from 1955-56 to 1959-60, it should come as no surprise that Real Madrid's first defeat in Europe came at the hands of CF Barcelona in the last 16 round of the 1960-61 edition.

The first leg of the tie was a 2-2 draw and Barcelona won the return leg 2-1 although Madrid have always complained that the referee was biased against them and disallowed various goals.

However, the rest of the decade was clearly dominated by Real Madrid, whose main rival throughout the 1960s was Atlético de Madrid and the two Madrid clubs shared most of the Spanish domestic trophies between them.

The decade closed with another famously polemical match in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Generalísimo on June 6th 1970.

Real Madrid had won the first leg 2-0 and in the second leg at Camp Nou Barcelona were 1-0 up at half-time.

In minute 59 of the second half, the referee Emilio Guruceta blew a penalty against Barcelona's Quimet Rifé for a foul committed on Velázquez more than a metre outside the area.

The Barça fans started throwing the cushions onto the pitch and Eladio, the Barcelona captain, went up to Guruceta and said “eres un madridista, no tienes vergüenza” - "you're a Madrid supporter, you have no shame" and was sent off.

A few minutes later, when Guruceta refused to blow a clear penalty committed against Rifé, there was a pitch invasion and the match had to be stopped five minutes before full-time.

CF Barcelona was fined 90,000 pesetas, Eladio got a two-match suspension and Guruceta was suspended for six months.

However, the President of the Referees Commission, José Plaza Pedraz, who is famous for the phrase "Mientras yo sea presidente de los árbitros, el Barça no ganará la liga" - "While I'm president of the referees, Barça won't win La Liga" resigned over the issue and both he and Guruceta were reinstated.

The Arrival of Cruff and the Death of Franco (1970-80)

The signing of Johan Cruyff for a record fee brought CF Barcelona their first Liga in 1973-74, which included a 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid in Chamartín along the way.

Prior to signing, Cruyff had publicly stated that he woul never play for a fascist team like Real Madrid and he famously christened his son Jordi, the Catalan for George, at a time when Catalan names were illegal in Spain.

Through the decade Barcelona also won two Copas and a European Cup Winners' Cup but the truth is the 1970s were still dominated by Real Madrid, who won six Ligas and three Copas.

For Barça's 75th anniversary in 1974, just a year before the death of Franco in 1975, Barcelona went back to its original of Futbol Club Barcelona and the Catalan flag returned to the club crest.

During the same celebrations, the club's anthem El Cant del Barça was written and performed in public at Camp Nou for the first time.

However, the rest of the 1970s were a quiet period as far as the rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with both teams more concerned about beating their local rivals, Atlético de Madrid and RCD Español.

The Quinta del Buitre and Cruyff's Return (1980-90)

The early years of the decade were dominated by the Basque clubs until FC Barcelona won the Liga title in 1984-85 under Terry Venables.

In the second half of the decade one of the best Real Madrid sides in history came to the fore and the Quinta del Buitre, named after its leader Emilio Butragueño helped Madrid to win five consecutive Liga titles from 1985-86 to 1989-90.

Relations were stretched when German midfielder Bernd Schuster one of Barcelona's star players signed for Real Madrid in 1988.

Although the merengues won more titles, the 1980s were the first decade for a long time when Barcelona managed to win more of the direct confrontations against Madrid.

The decade closed with the return of Johan Cruyff to Barcelona as coach in 1988.

From the Dream Team to La Séptima

After five seasons of Madrid domination, in 1990-91 La Liga title returned to Barcelona and stayed there for four consecutive seasons until 1993-94.

The Barça side coached by Cruyff was known as the Dream Team and also brought the first European Cup to Barcelona by beating Sampdoria at Wembley in 1992.

In terms of Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona rivalry, the real nailbiters were the final games of both the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, Madrid had led the Liga all season and in the last game just needed to beat Tenerife to take the title.

On both occasions, Madrid lost against all expectations whilst FC Barcelona won their games against Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad and were crowned Liga champions against all expectations.

FC Barcelona would win two more Ligas and two Copas before the end of the decade but after Cruyff left Camp Nou in 1996, dominance returned to Madrid, who were led by a young Raúl González.

Raúl had debuted with the Real Madrid first team in 1994 and in 1998 was to lead the merengues to their seventh European Cup, now renamed the Champions League.

Real Madrid repeated their success in 1999-2000 to take their eighth European title.

Two grudge matches took place in 1993-94 and 1994-95, when FC Barcelona first beat Real Madrid 5-0 in Camp Nou and Real Madrid returned the compliment with a 5-0 victory in the Santiago Bernabéu.

The Madrid side for second game featured two turncoat player - Michael Laudrup, who had signed from Barcelona after differences with Cruyff, and Luís Enrique, who would later become a Barcelona legend as a player and coach.

The Greatest Clubs in History (2000-10)

As part of the Millenium celebrations, FIFA designated Real Madrid as the Best Club of the 20th century whilst the International Federation of Football History & Statistics voted the club Best European Club.

FC Barcelona came fourth and third, respectively, in the two rankings.

The main bone of contention, though, came in 2000 when Barcelona idol Luis Figo signed for Real Madrid by president Florentino Pérez.

The rather Madrid team known as Los Galácticos began to take shape, featuring Figo, Raúl, Beckham, Roberto Carlos amongst others, and Florentino made the rather obnoxious comment about 'Zidanes and Pavones' in which he disinguished between star players and mere workmen.

On Figo's return to Camp Nou, a pig's head was famously thrown on the pitch when he was trying to take a corner kick.

Real Madrid won La Liga in 2000-01 and 2002-03 but with the arrival of Ronaldinho in 2003 another golden period began at Camp Nou and FC Barcelona won two consecutive Ligas in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

In 2006, Barça also won their second Champions League beating Arsenal 2-1 at the Stade de France in Paris.

In 2006-07 and 2007-08, FC Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard lost its touch and the Ligas went to Real Madrid.

In 2008, the young and inexperienced Pep Guardiola took over a Barcelona side that was soon to be led by a young Leo Messi with a supporting comprising some of the finest players in the world, including Xavi, Iniesta, Piqué and Busquets amongst others.

In 2009, Guardiola's Barcelona won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the third Champions League against Manchester United at Wembley in the 2008-09 season and by Christmas had also won The Spanish Supercopa, the European Super Cup and the FIFA Clubs World Cup becoming the side the first to win all six possible trophies in a calendar year.

Along the way there was a notable 2-6 victory in El Clásico over Real Madrid, which was followed a season later with another 5-0 drubbing.

As a result, according to IFFHS, FC Barcelona officially became the best club of the first decade of the 21st century, much to the chagrin of the madridistas.

Mourinho, Messi and Cristiano (2010-present)

In the hope of fighting back against Barcelona dominance in 2010, Florentino Pérez appointed Jose Mourinho as coach and with a team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid were back giving an impression of arrogance and superiority.

Mourinho famously hit Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the face before a Clásico and was filmed waiting for a referee in the car park after a particularly close match.

Pouting Cristiano showed his muscles and made animal noises to the cameras at every opportunity and also claimed that everyone is jealous of him because he's rich, talented and handsome.

The Mourinho period brought a Liga in 2012 but made Real Madrid few friends particularly when contrasted with the courtesy and intelligence of Guardiola and the mild-mannered solidarity of Leo Messi.

Since Guardiola's departure in 2012 and Mourinho's move back to Chelsea a year later, the press conferences of the clubs' respective coaches have much more civilised.

During the past few seasons under Luis Enrique and Zidane, both sides have won a Liga, a Champions League and a FIFA Clubs World Cup in recent seasons and the sensation is that they are extremely evenly matched.

However, El Clásico remains to most closely fought grudge match in football and each game is a nail-biting decider watched by millions of fans around the world.

I wonder what will happen in the next one with Valverde on the Barça bench!

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