Wednesday, January 20, 2021

El Classico: How Spanish civil war shaped up the biggest and most intense rivalry in club football.

‘El Classico’ is unarguably the biggest and most intense rivalry in club football. It is a game where everything that happens around Spain politically and socially boils up. The enmity between Real Madrid and Barcelona goes beyond the football field, the trophies and the success both clubs have had over the years.

Spanish civil war shaped the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona in many more ways than we know today.

Spanish Civil war and it’s roots.

General and Dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco led his despotic army, helped by his fascist counterparts Mussolini and Hitler, took control of Spain.

Fransico Franco during a Real Madrid game.

Spanish general populous had to pay the price of Franco’s support to Hitler as after World War II, Spain was left isolated from the rest of the world, the country was left in a disastrous situation and the social unrest was beginning to grow.

Franco and his links with Real Madrid.

With the growing unrest throughout the nation, by adopting the nation’s major Football club, Real Madrid, Franco opted for football to consolidate his control over Spain.

Although he had little interest in football, he was very well aware of the power that football held among the masses and he used it to take control of the nation.

Barcelona on the other became the symbol of Republican resistance. “Mes Que un club”, Barca stood for everything that Catalans and every left-leaning Spaniard who opposed Franco’s regime believed in.

With the support of Franco for Real Madrid, the intensity and hatred increased manifold with Barcelona and it intensified even more over the years.

Catalan resistance and Barcelona.

The Catalan club became a major part of the Catalonian resistance and Catalans showcased Barcelona time and again to show their hate and opposition to Franco and his regime.

Catalan Independence demonstrations at Camp Nou.

Catalonia suffered much of the wrath of Franco, who saw the Catalan culture as the biggest threat to his idea of the nationalist state. Such was the situation that Catalans weren’t even allowed to speak their own language and were brutally oppressed by Franco’s soldiers.

In 1936, Catalan nationalism reached its peak when the president of Barcelona football club, Josep Sunyol was first arrested and then murdered brutally by Franco’s soldiers.

Later, Barcelona won the Copa del Generalisimo Cup now known as Copa Del Ray, in 1942  but it was believed that they won it because Franco wanted them to, this was all part of his plan to neutralize the Catalonian resistance.

In 1943, something even more controversial happened, Barcelona lost the second leg of the semi-final 11-1 after winning the first leg 3-0 against Real Madrid. They had a man sent off by the halftime and Jose Escola was stretched out after receiving a kick in the stomach from Josep Maria Querejeta.

But there was much more about the match than that, it is believed that the Barcelona dressing room was visited by the Director of State Security and Barcelona players were given a mouthful that they should consider themselves lucky as Franco was generous enough to let them live and play.

The Alfredo De Stefano scuffle.

The rivalry shaped up more in footballing terms with controversial transfer of Real Madrid’s legend, Alfredo De Stefano. It is believed that Barcelona was first to make a move for De Stefano, who was then playing for Colombian side Millonarios.

Player signed for Barcelona but Millonarios refused to sell him. FIFA intervened and authorized the transfer of the player to Barcelona but the Spanish federation refused for it as they wanted the consent of Millonarios too.

Franco knowing that if Barcelona had signed De Stefano then they would become superior to his beloved, Real Madrid. The General of Spain used his power to do everything that it took to get the Argentinian to the famous turf of the Bernabeu. In order to make that happen, Barcelona’s president was arrested and blackmailed to handover De Stefano to Madrid or his textile company would be a subject to very tough tax inspections and Barcelona president had to give in.

De Stefano during that time came to play a friendly against Real Madrid for the Colombian club and his performance during the match made the Real Madrid hierarchy approach him and sign him under the noses of Barcelona.

De Stefano during a match with Barcelona.

De Stefano 3 months later went on to score 4 past Barcelona’s helpless defence for Real Madrid and announced his arrival in Spanish football. The Argentinian’s brilliant goalscoring record helped win Real Madrid five European Cups and stamp their authority in European club football.

Franco used Real Madrid’s footballing dominance very well to better the international relations of Spain.

Over the years the rivalry between both clubs has been more on the football field than political grounds but the mutual hate has only grown stronger.

El Classico is a game that was born in conflict, intensified by war, and that can’t forget the past.

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