Real Madrid vs Barcelona’s rivalry is one of the most distressing representations of competitive soccer, not only for the battles they endure on the field but for reasons that delve deeper beneath the surface of what we see on our screens too. On first glance, the crowd seems fairly homogenous. Yes, the majority are wearing maroon and blue stripes, while one noisy corner tucked into the top of Camp Nou is decked out in white or the other way round when they play in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. But the voices sound similar, the faces nearly blend together. At first, it’s difficult to believe the spectators are divided by 125 years of history. Over here effort has been made to cover the rivalry history of this two great football clubs.
The First Ever Encounter
Tuesday, May 13, 1902. That was the day when FC Barcelona, formed two and a half years earlier, first appeared in Madrid to start off what was set to become arguably the greatest rivalry in world football. The occasion was the semi-final of the Copa Coronación ( now known as Copa del Rey), organized to celebrate the crowning of 16-year of Alfonso XIII, and the first ever football competition involving teams from different parts of Spain. The Barcelona was proclaiming themselves in the press as the best team in Spain, and Hans Gamper and his colleagues were determined to go to Madrid and set them straight.
Barcelona already had two years of experience of competitive football in the Copa Macaya, and their team, including two Swiss (Hans Gamper and George Meyer), a German (Udo Steinberg) and three Englishmen (Arthur Witty, John Parsons and Henry Morris) was expected to be far too strong for the newly formed Madrid FC (the ‘Real’ part would not be added until 1920), who had just one foreigner Arthur Johnson an Englishman, and had only ever played a handful of friendlies against New FC, the only other team in the capital.
It kicked off at 11.00, with Madrid wearing their now famous all-white strip, while Barcelona was dressed in their already traditional red and blue striped jerseys and white shorts. Arthur Johnson of Madrid scored the first-ever goal in the history of Barcelona and Real Madrid rivalry. Barcelona the favorites eventually came good. Steinberg scored twice to put Barcelona in command, and the third and definitive goal was converted by Henry Morris from the penalty spot. The final score was 3-1 in the favor of Barcelona. At least the first Clásico Real Madrid vs Barcelona encounter had been won by FC Barcelona!
The Spanish Civil War
Spanish war took place from 1936 to 1939. On 28th March 1939, General Francisco Franco captured Madrid. During the war period, the image of Spain was degraded worldwide. So, General Francisco Franco wanted to unify newly formed Spanish state and thought that he could use Madrid to rebuilt Spain’s image worldwide. Therefore, he frequently used policies of murder, torture and political pressure to suppress any anti-Nationalist sentiment. Separatists from previously autonomous regions were most troublesome for him, and since Catalonia(autonomous community, mostly present in Barcelona) had fought Franco’s centrist policies very bitterly, this region became a source of particular ire for him.
At the same time, football had become an important means of cultural expression. Therefore, Franco started using football as the propaganda tool for newly formed Spain. Hence, he started disrupting the operations of Barcelona, a symbol of Catalonian pride, while supporting Real Madrid. On the contrary, all the people who were against Franco’s policies started supporting Barcelona with heart and soul, just to show that they are united in their hatred for General Franco.
There are many examples of Franco’s interventions in Spanish football. In order to enforce the strict prohibition of regional languages, Franco demanded that the name of the club be translated from the Catalan FC Barcelona to its Spanish equivalent, Barcelona CF. Symbolically, such a change was a cultural indication that Catalan society was not to be tolerated by the new Spanish State. The story of the 1943 semifinals of the Copa del Rey, renamed the Copa del Generalísimo during Franco’s dictatorship. Barcelona was seemingly in control after the first leg, which they had comfortably won 3-0 at home. However, Director of State paid the surprise visit to Barcelona’s dressing room in Madrid before second leg’s kickoff. According to Jimmy Burns in his book Barca, Director of State told the players, “Do not forget that some of you are only playing because of the generosity of the regime that has forgiven you for your lack of patriotism.” The visitors ultimately lost the match 11-1.
The Di Stefano Signing
Alfredo Di Stefano is almost unanimously regarded as the greatest player in Real Madrid’s history. Current club president Florentino Perez in his emotional tribute for Di Stefano said in a symbolic way that, Di Stefano simply is Real Madrid.
In spring of 1952, Di Stefano first time played in Madrid from his Colombian club side, Millonarios. His performance was heartbreaking and both teams were pushing hard for his signature. He actually belonged to the Argentine club River Plate but was on loan to the Colombians due to a player’s strike in Argentina.
Barcelona was leading the race until they made an error when they enlisted the help of another Catalan who was living in Colombia, Joan Busquets, to get the rights of Di Stefano. Unfortunately, Busquets was the local rival of the director of Millonarios and his presence at the bargaining table made the Colombian club suddenly reluctant to agree to the move – especially when Barcelona strangely submitted an almost ridiculously small initial offer, which was promptly rejected. Apparently believing that Millonarios were irrelevant and that River Plate was the only club they needed to do business with, Barcelona arranged for Di Stefano and his family to leave Colombia and flew them to the north-east of Spain, where he started to settle into life with his ‘new’ club and even played at least one pre-season friendly for Barcelona in the summer of 1953.
At that point, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) intervened by refusing to sanction the transfer on the grounds that Millonarios had not agreed to it. The RFEF dismissed Barca’s complaints that the deal had nothing to do with the Colombian club. According to Barcelona, River Plate was the legal owner of Di Stefano. In the meantime, Real Madrid’s president Santiago Bernabeu had taken advantage of the uncertainty and reach a similar deal with Millonarios.
At the end, RFEF came to a verdict that Di Stefano could play for alternate clubs over the course of four years, i.e., 2 years for Barcelona and 2 years for Real Madrid, starting with a season at Real Madrid. Frustrated Barcelona president Marti Carreto backed out from this deal, which allowed Real Madrid to become the sole owner of Di Stefano.
The rest, as they say, is history, as he led Real Madrid to 8 league titles, but more importantly, 5 consecutive European crowns, leaving Barcelona in their wake. This left more than a bitter taste in FC Barcelona’s fans’ mouth.
Continuation of Rivalry
There were many other incidents which added fuel to the fire kept Real Madrid vs Barcelona rivalry going. One of the incidents was of Luís Figo Transfer. Figo was the favorite of Barcelona fans during his time at Barcelona. But in 2000, he made a switch to Real Madrid. This annoyed Barcelona fans and they never forgive him. They always tried to taunt him at every opportunity. One of the fans had even thrown the head of a pig on the pitch when he was preparing to take a corner for Real Madrid.
One of the more prominent incidents would be in 2011 when the two teams played four matches in a short period. One of these saw a brawl between the two sides that led to the referee distributing three red cards, Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque stating his concerns over the hatred that could rise between the Spanish players in the two sides and Barcelona’s assistant manager, the late Tito Vilanova getting a poke in the eye from Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.
Finally, after knowing the history of El Clasico anyone can conclude that these two teams are not less than sheer rivals and this rivalry wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the success that the two clubs have enjoyed in the middle. Even now, the fans have found a new reason to hate each other – the debate over who is the best player in the world. Is it Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid or Lionel Messi of Barcelona?
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