Barcelona and Madrid are not just the largest cities in Spain but also are arch-rivals when it comes to football. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the largest football clubs in the world and were ranked as the two most valuable sports teams by Forbes back in 2004. Both of these clubs are the world’s most-followed teams on social media with millions of followers on both Facebook as well as Instagram demonstrating the immense fan following they have across the globe.
Beginning of the Rivalry
The conflict among the two teams started on 13th May 1902 when they went head to head for the first time in the semi-final of Copa Del Rey, where Barcelona drubbed Madrid 3-1, kicking off one of the largest rivalries in the history of football, that has now been on for decades and has long gone past a purely sporting dimension and is strongly politicized. Every match between the two teams is referred to as “El Clásico” in Spanish or The Classic.
History goes on to say that a few hundred years ago, Barcelona was the capital of Catalonia and independent state, and after a long drawn war stretching over a decade, the Catalonians lost their sovereignty and reluctantly became a part of Spain, however the Catalonians kept up their independent spirit, and continued to rebel against Madrid.
Getting back to the game, apart from the political and historical conflicts, both teams are fairly evenly matched on the pitch as well, with Barcelona leading the head to head win tally with 96 wins to Real Madrid’s 95 wind of the total 242 matches with 51 matches ending in a draw, and an overall winning score of 115 to Madrid’s 99 as of the match played on 2nd March 2019.
Barcelona is often referred to as a rebellion or an alternative to the conservatism that is associated with Real Madrid, however, Real Madrid is the favorite team for most Spaniards in comparison to Barcelona as per a poll released by Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (a Spanish public research institute).
The war of the clubs took a more intense turn when supporters of the groups created Ultras groups who were infamous for hooliganism and violence. One of these groups going by the name “The Casuals” supposedly even went on to turn into a full-fledged criminal organization.
Real Madrid beat Barcelona 11-1 at home in the second leg of the Copa del Rey in 1943. The first leg of the semi-final was played at Barcelona home ground at Catalonia, which was won by Barcelona 3-0.
Following the result of the first leg of the match, a campaign began in Madrid, riling up and causing immense rage amongst the fans. Barcelona fans were banned from traveling to Madrid for the match, on the day of the was, Barcelona player’s bus was attacked with stones as it left the hotel. On the pitch, even before the match had begun, the Barcelona penalty corner was full of coins thrown in by the fans. Then Barcelona goalkeeper Lluis Miró barely approached his line and every-time he would, he would be within reach of supporters behind the goal who were armed with stones.
Real Madrid went up 2-0 within half an hour and shot off another 6 goals in the next fifteen minutes. Barcelona players refused to play the next half, but were forced out with the threat of being arrested, the scoreboard read 11 for Real Madrid vs 0 for Barcelona before they managed to score a goal in the last minute, which is also often looked at as a last act of defiance by the losing team on the day.
Mexico’s “La Prensa”, reported this goal as a reminder that there was one team that knew how to play football, and on that given day it was not their fault that they did not. In-fact there are not many mentions of this game in Madrid’s history and not exactly a very celebrated win by them either.
War for the Players
The rivalry was further intensified in the ’50s with both clubs attempting to sign the Argentinian player Alfredo Di Stéfano, and with both the clubs claiming ownership to his registration. FIFA had to intervene in the matter and it was decided that he would play alternate years for both the clubs. This did not go down well with the Barcelona board, with the board members forcing the board’s president to resign, and canceling of Alfredo Di Stéfano’s contract with Barcelona club. He then moved to Real Madrid permanently and became an integral part of their success in the coming years, and with him, Madrid won the first five European Champions Cups.
Years later in 2000, FC Barcelona lost another prized possession in the form of the teams vice-captain Luís Figo, the highly controversial transfer was marked by constant denial and reassurances to his team and fans by Figo, till it was finally realized that Barcelona would have to pay $ 30 Million as transfer fees to prevent his transfer and retain their player. In his first match in Barcelona after the transfer to Real Madrid, he was greeted with hatred and banners of Judas, Scum and other profanities were hung around the stadium and fake 10,000 peseta notes with his image printed upon them were amongst other missiles such as oranges, bottles, cigarette lighters thrown at him.
Hatred for Luís Figo continued to grow amongst his fans from his Barcelona fans and in his third season for Real Madrid in 2002, at an El Clásico match being played in the Catalonian city, Figo was mercilessly taunted throughout the match. Missiles of coins were continually showered, along with a knife, a whiskey bottle, and various other objects that were rained down upon him and amongst the debris was also a rotted pig’s head.
A modern Spanish tradition of Pasillo was started and has also been controversial to a large extent in extending this rivalry. Pasillo is a courtesy where one of the two teams gives a Guard of Honour to the other team if the La Liga Trophy has already been won by the other team before they clash in the tournament. This scenario has happened only thrice in the last three decades 1988 which won by Real Madrid, 1991 which won by Barcelona and 2008 again won by Real Madrid. In the year 2018, Real Madrid refused to perform the Pasillo to Barcelona, despite them already having won the championship before the El Clásico.
Ronaldo and Messi
In recent years, the rivalry has been enclosed to two major players from these teams, Ronaldo for Real Madrid and Messi for Barcelona. Both of these players have often been referred to as not just the best in the current generation of players but according to many fans, writers and players are topping the list of all-time greats as well.
Apart from being a fixture that is known for its aggression and intensity, the players too have often been involved in over the top celebrations on scoring a goal. Real Madrid’s Raúl began the trend by silencing thousands of Barcelona fans by putting a finger to his lips after scoring a critical goal, followed by Barcelona’s Carles Puyol by kissing his Catalonian arm-band after doing the same. Christiano Ronaldo has on more than one occasion told the Barcelonian fans to calm down after scoring but Messi takes the cake by pulling off his Barcelona T-Shirt and holding it up to Real Madrid fans with his name and number facing them after scoring a last-minute blinder to win the match for his team.
The rivalry of Ronaldo and Messi had turned from a private rivalry into a club rivalry once Neymar and Luis Suárez were signed by Barcelona and with Real Madrid picking up Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema the very same year, with incredible attacking trios on both sides, the games were simply incredible. However, this rivalry has toned down considerably after Ronaldo moved out of Real Madrid to Juventus just before the La Liga in 2018. The same year Messi was also unable to represent Barcelona in the tournament due to sustaining an injury to his arm. This was the first time in 11 years that neither of the players was on the pitch in a head to head competition, and was also referred to as the end of an era of greatness by the pundits of the game.
Real Football over all Else
Despite being one of the fiercest rivalries in the world, there have been occasions where fans have stood up and appreciated a player from the opposing team as well. Laurie Cunningham playing for Real Madrid was the first player to have this appreciation back in 1980, followed by Diego Maradona while playing for Barcelona in 1983 and Ronaldinho in 2005 for Barcelona again. Andrés Iniesta, who was Spain’s hero for scoring the winning goal in the 2010 world cup final, was the third Barcelona player to have been appreciated by Real Madrid’s fans with a standing ovation.