Real Madrid C.F., F.C. Barcelona share a rivalry with no rivals

February 1, 2013

The United States has its fair share of sports rivalries: college football’s Alabama and Auburn, NBA’s the Celtics and Lakers, and baseball’s Red Sox and the Yankees.  Whether it’s the fact that they are only separated by 125 miles or the Curse of the Bambino, each of these teams has specific reasons for despising each other.  However, none of these American rivalries reach the intensity or the importance of the rivalry between the Spanish futbol (soccer) teams, Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona – a battle so intense that it becomes a way of life, burning hatred in their souls, tearing people apart.

In his book, Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, Phil Ball, a British writer based in Spain, uses the Spanish word “morbo,” meaning “disease,” to describe the enmity between the two clubs.

“There is so much morbo festering between these two sides that they would have to employ a very powerful priest to exorcise the phenomenon,” says Ball in his book.  “It’s not merely that they hate each other with an intensity that can truly shock an outsider, but that each encounter between them always has a new ingredient.”

F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the best soccer teams in the world, with arguably the two best players in the world, in Lionel Messi, who plays as a forward for Barcelona, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays as a forward for Madrid.  Many believe Messi to be the best player to ever play the game.  Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona are two of only three teams to have never been relegated to the lower divisions of Spanish soccer, as well as being the two richest teams in the world respectively, in terms of revenue generated.  Real Madrid has won 32 Spanish La Liga titles, 18 Copa del Rey titles, nine Supercopas de Espana titles, and a record nine European Championships.  F.C. Barcelona has won 21 Spanish La Liga titles, 26 Copa del Rey titles, 10 Supercopas de Espana, and four European championships.

In 2009 Barca, as the club is known by its supporters, became the only team in Spanish soccer history to win the treble, which consists of winning the La Liga title, the Copa del Rey title, and the European Championship all in the same season.   The current F.C. Barcelona team cemented itself in the discussions of being the best team of all time by winning 14 out of a possible 19 trophies in a span of four years.

Although these prizes add to their fame, the success of these clubs is not what makes the rivalry so heated.  The reason El Classico, the name of the rivalry, is so much more intense than any other rivalry, is the deep underlying political differences of the clubs.

F.C. Barcelona: More than a club

F.C. Barcelona is seen as a symbol of what it means to be from the region in Spain known as Catalonia.  The motto of the club is “Mes que un club,” or “More than a club.”  Sandro Rosell, Barca’s current president and a member of the club since the age of 6, explained what the motto means in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

“It’s a feeling,” Rosell said on the show.  “It’s part of our lives; it’s within our hearts. It’s something that is part of our culture.  It’s not only 11 players against 11 players and winning or losing; it’s much more.  It’s something that is in our blood.”

Dani Martinez, the founder of the Penya Barcelonista Chicago, an official supporters’ club of F.C. Barcelona, grew up in Barcelona and moved to Chicago in 2001.

“If you are born in Barcelona, you watch the team all the time,” Martinez said.  “I am very happy when Barca wins, and I am equally happy when Madrid loses.”

Martinez said he doesn’t know that anything compares to the rivalry.

“When you go to a Barcelona-Real Madrid game, its the best game ever,” he said.  “Everyone is singing. It’s really loud, and you are super nervous because they are usually very close. When Madrid scores the stadium goes silent, but when Barca scores it’s like having an orgasm.”

Adam Anschultz, a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., had a similar experience while studying abroad in Germany.  He travelled to Barcelona to attend a Barca game in February of 2012.

“It was way different from anything I had ever seen,” Anschultz said of the friendly game against a lower division Spanish team. “You can tell that the whole city revolves around the team. They didn’t even put Messi in. Barca got a red card early in the game, and the stadium just erupted.”

Every time that Barcelona scored it was like a party in the stands, he said.

“Everybody in the stadium would just start singing and chanting,” Anschultz said.  “It felt like the Super Bowl, just with way more passion.”

The Barca club has recently become more and more a symbol of Catalan independence.  On January 23, the parliament of Catalonia approved a declaration that states the region is a sovereign entity. The declaration was mainly symbolic but opened the way for a referendum on independence from Spain.  During Barca games fans have begun to wave Catalan flags and chant for independence.

“The rivalry is more than just a sport; it’s political,” Maritnez said.  “We are Catalans. We speak a different language, we have our own government, and we represent Catalonia.”

Martinez said that when Barcelona fans go to Madrid, the locals know they are Catalans and automatically do not like them.

“Even if I love Spain, if I have a Catalan accent, they don’t like me,” he said.

He said that at the last Barca game, the fans held up countless cards to create a mosaic that turned the whole stadium into a Catalan flag.

“Barcelona is the face of Catalonia for the world,” Martinez said.  “It’s not just a sport; it’s how we live our lives.”

Real Madrid: Nationalism personified

If F.C. Barcelona is the symbol of Catalan identity and independence, Real Madrid is the polar opposite.  Los Blanco, or the Whites, as the team is called, is seen as a symbol for Spanish nationalism and a unified Spain.  Real Madrid was the favorite team of  Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975.  This, along with the fact that they are the most successful team in Europe, has caused Madrid to be vilified by many soccer fans, not only in Spain but also around the world.

However, Phil Ball sees Los Blancos in a different light.  In his book, Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, Ball says that when he was a kid, it seemed like Real Madrid won the European Championship every year for half a century.  He says he still feels uncomfortable when Real Madrid loses, as if the apocalypse was right around the corner.

“Spain’s most successful club is almost neurotically fixated on winning, on hammering home the idea that nothing else matters,” Ball wrote in his book.  “For those who adopt this attitude, teams like Barcelona, who insist that their team represents ‘more than a club,, are merely rummaging about in the rubble of their own defeatism, looking for extra-mural scraps to cover up the truth of their (relative) non-achievement.”

Cesar Alcazar, who came to Miami from Madrid in 1975, is the president of the Penya Real Madrid Miami, the official supporters’ club in the area.  A United States citizen since 1994, Alcazar formed the Penya in 2005.

“Here in Florida, there are many people from Spain and many people from Madrid, and we are all very good friends,” Alcazar said.

Alcazar, who grew up in Madrid,  remembers when Real Madrid was the Real Madrid of old.

“When I was a young boy I lived very close to the Santiago Bernabeu, so I used to go very, very often,” he said.  “They had children’s tickets so it was very cheap. I saw us win five European Cups. I was young enough to see Real Madrid when they were Real Madrid.”

Alcazar said that Real Madrid focuses on the game alone. He does not understand why F. C. Barcelona attempts to represent Catalan independence through soccer or why the so-called Catalonians want independence from Spain.

“The Catalonians want to leave Spain,” he said. “They can speak Spanish, but they don’t want to speak Spanish. It’s foolish. Why do they want to leave?”

Differences aside, players from Barca, Madrid come together

The most amazing part of the rivalry is that all of the Real Madrid players and all of the Barcelona players can come together to play for the Spanish national team,, Alcazar said.

“There are seven players on the Spanish team from Catalonia. They come together with the other players, and they are very good friends,” Alcazar said.  “They want independence but there is no fight; they don’t care about that when they play.”

The Spanish national team is the defending World Cup champions and the two time defending European Champions.

These differences in politics, identity, and psychology, but also the ability to put those things aside, are what makes the El Classico one of, if not the most intense, sporting rivalry in the world.


One Response to Real Madrid C.F., F.C. Barcelona share a rivalry with no rivals

  1. Ken Meals
    February 2, 2013 at 4:12 am

    Nice article Collin, well done.
    Cheers, U. Ken