Study analyzes historic rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona
UC3M/DICYT A study by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) analyses the historic rivalry between the two teams with the most season ticket holders in Spain: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The study explains the origins of their disputes, the transcendence of their encounters and their political and social influence.
The sports rivalry between the two teams “is the reflection of rivalry in other spheres: the industrial city par excellence, as is Barcelona, and the financial and administrative city and seat of power, as is Madrid,” explained Eduardo González, from the UC3M Department of Humanities: History, Geography and Art. In his study, published in the journal Política y Sociedad, he analyses the origin of this sports rivalry.
This match overshadowed the rivalries of other teams even though in the 1920s, when professional soccer was born in Spain, Basque teams dominated, especially Athletic de Bilbao, who were the representatives of the country. The hostilities between Barcelona and Madrid and the Catalan perception that there was favouritism amongst the referees began in the 1915-1916 Championship of Spain, notes González. “Madrid won the fourth and decisive tiebreaking match 4-2 on April 15th, 1916, allegedly thanks to the help of referee José Ángel Berraondo, and the Catalan team left the field before the end of the match as a sign of protest over the last goal by Madrid, as they felt Aranguren had been offsides.”
The famous “Chamartín scandal” occurred during the 1942-43 season, when on June 6th, 1943, Real Madrid was defeated 3-0 in the Cup semi-final at Les Corts. The journalist Eduardo Teus then promoted a campaign that, according to the official history of the Barcelona team, turned into a matter of State and the game ended 11-1. “In the return leg match, they laid a real trap for Barcelona with the intervention of the government, and the result was the most lopsided defeat in their history,” explained González. After that, he said, such a controversy was brewed in the press that the Spanish soccer federation ordered the presidents of both teams to resign.
Ten years later, in 1953, after problems which led to the signing of Alfredo Di Stefano, the rivalry intensified, because Real Madrid became the favourite team of the Franco dictatorship and the ambassador of Spain in Europe. The regime’s support of Real Madrid stirred resentment among Barcelona players towards their rival from the capital. As of that moment, Real Madrid became the sports symbol of centralism. As such, when Barcelona played at Bernabéu Stadium, Real Madrid’s fans would shout “Spain, Spain” and carry Spanish flags.
Soccer and Politics
Unlike Barcelona, “who had on occasion confronted the political regime established in the Spanish state, above all in the years of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and even in the era of the Franco regime,” the team from the capital has had a great ability to adapt to all political circumstances,” González comments. Thus, Real Madrid was the team of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII. It was a team that was quite well accepted in the era of Primo de Rivera and even in the Republic, since the president of the team was also the secretary general of the Presidency of the Republic, Rafael Sánchez Guerra. During the Franco regime, the team gradually changed to a certain extent into a faithful ally of the government because it improved the bad image that the government had abroad.
People identified with their team because of “some principles or values that transcend the sports act itself.” As González explains, Real Madrid, especially as of the 1950s, when it began to have sports success abroad, became Spain’s team, as the Spanish national team did not yet excel in international competition. By contrast, in the case of Barcelona, Catalanism was closely linked to the team’s activity. “Real Madrid will always be the paradigm of centralism and Barcelona the paradigm of nationalism,” he concluded. The political views that both teams represent make reconciliation practically impossible. “They need very capable directors, but only to ease the tension.” At times the presidents of the teams have known how to exploit the rivalry to achieve other ends. For example, Ramón Mendoza remembers that, at election time, Josep Lluís Núñez and Joan Gaspart would always offer him their help, although they did so with unflattering declarations which, logically, the Real Madrid camp took as an attack that strengthened its position.
“Every sports team that generates such expectations has, at the same time, an obvious political influence,” says González, who also analysed these topics in a work he published on the occasion of the centennial of los blancos: Historia del Real Madrid, 1902-2002. La entidad, los socios, el madridismo (Everest, 2002). The main source of information for this book was the Real Madrid archives, which are in the so-called carceletas of Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, holding facilities that were initially built to control hooligans at the 1982 World Cup.
“El Real Madrid, ¿’Equipo de España’? Fútbol e identidades durante el franquismo”, in Política y Sociedad (Madrid), vol. 51, nº 2, 2014, pp. 275-296.