‘El Classico’ is arguably the biggest and most intense rivalry in club football. It’s 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, and also the trophies and success both clubs have had over the years.
Spanish civil war shaped the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona in much more ways than we know today.
General and Dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, Football and The Real Madrid:-
Led by the General and Dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco who was helped by his fascist counterparts Mussolini and Hitler, in taking the control of Spain.
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 and the country was left in a disastrous situation and the social unrest was beginning to grow.
With the growing unrest throughout the nation, by adopting nation’s major Football club, Real Madrid, Franco opted for football to consolidate his control over Spain.
Although he had a little interest in football but he was very well aware of the power that football held among the masses and he thought of using it for his good.
Barca were The Anti-Francos, ergo the inevitable rivalry:-
Barcelona on the other became the symbol of Republican resistance. The Catalan club became “Mes Que un club” meaning more than a club. Barca stood for everything that Catalans and every left-leaning Spaniard who opposed the 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.
The Catalan club became a major part of the Catalonian resistance and Catalans used it time and again to show their hate and opposition to Franco and his regime.
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 they 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.
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 neutralise the Catalonian resistance.
The most controversial El Clasico of all time:-
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 controversial transfer of the legend Alfredo Di Stefano:-
The rivalry shaped up more in footballing terms with controversial transfer of Real Madrid’s legend, Alfredo Di Stefano. It is believed that Barcelona were first to make a move for Di Stefano, who was then playing for Colombian side Millonarios. Player signed for Barcelona but Millonarios refused to sell him. FIFA intervened and authorised 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 Di Stefano then they would become superior to his beloved, Real Madrid. So, the General of Spain used his power to do everything that it took to get the Argentinian to the famous turf of Real Madrid. 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.
Di Stefano before his controversial transfer to Real Madrid even featured in a friendly for Barcelona but later with Franco’s supremacy, the ‘Blond arrow’ joined the Los Blancos.
Di 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 5 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.