El Clasico: The History of Spain on The Pitch

by AT&T Digital Media Productions

beIN Sports El Clasico History

El Clásico is a sports rivalry like no other. It’s the biggest game in club football each year and airs in 90 countries, with more than 400 million global viewers tuning in. One of the world’s most unique rivalries, the FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid match is known for both its sustained tension and historical significance. This greatest of sports dramas is a metaphor for the history of Spain and its long-standing regional, cultural and political upheavals that have gripped the country for generations.

As the home team, Real Madrid represents not only Spain’s capital, but symbolically the historic epicenter of centralization and fascist nationalism. In contrast, Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, with its own language and culture, has spent the past 200 years grudgingly accepting Madrid's oppression and attempted cultural exorcism. Together these dueling forces have profoundly shaped modern Spain—influencing soccer, culture and politics—and the fierce rivalry remains at the heart of Spanish life today.

FC Barcelona was founded by Joan Gamper along with several foreign-born players in 1899, while Madrid’s club was founded by Spaniards in 1902. Commonly known as La Liga, the Spanish Primera Division was established in 1929 and featured 10 teams. Barcelona hosted Real Madrid in the second round of the new league, marking the opponents’ first-ever face-off, with the visitors prevailing 2-1. It was here that the El Clásico rivalry was born.

In 1933 the Catalán region officially gained autonomy from Spain. But that victory was short-lived, as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) would usher in a fresh wave of modern-day ultra-nationalistic forces at the hands of General Francisco Franco.

Franco staged a coup d’état in 1936, leading to the bloody Spanish Civil War that catapulted his Nationalist party to power in 1939. Madrid was the frontline with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, supplying Franco with armored vehicles for his assault on the capital, while Hitler’s Luftwaffe units attacked from the air. Upon seizing Madrid, Franco immediately banned the use of Catalán. Using the language, whether spoken or written, was viewed as a direct threat to the Fascist government, punishable by torture and death. 

Franco's victory marked the beginning of a 40-year dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975). The centralist government view FC Barcelona as a symbol of the Catalán people in the 1930s. As a sign of what was to come, then-FC Barcelona president Josep Sunyol was executed without trial by Francoist forces.

Real Madrid was Franco’s preferred team, symbolizing Madrid’s regional dominance and unification of Spain under Fascism. For the next four decades, Barcelona would represent an oppressed people who yearned for their linguistic and cultural independence. The political state of Spain was restored after Franco’s death in 1975, but the fiery passions shared by both clubs continued. The rivalry grew more impassioned over the next 25 years, influencing every facet of society—and football was no exception.

Forming a powerhouse lineup at the turn of the century, Real Madrid became known as “Los Galácticos” for their star-studded line-up that dominated La Liga from 2000 to 2006. Management signed David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Fabio Cannavaro, Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona responded in kind by signing superstars Deco, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Rafa Marquez, Victor Valdez, Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

In 2006 the Catalán region came closer to gaining indepenence, passing a referendum that would be successfully upheld by the Spanish High Court. More recently, in October 2017, the Parliament of Catalonia approved a resolution unilaterally creating an independent republic, although it was considered illegal in Madrid. To this day, La Liga stadiums are filled with anti-Independence flags and slogans, pitting Madrid’s pro-Nationalist fans against the independence-seeking Catalanians and erupting violence at several venues each year.

Since their first meeting in 1929, the teams have played 174 matches, with Real Madrid winning 72, Barcelona taking 69, and 33 draws. El Clásico took on a very special dimension in 2009, when Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United to join the ranks of Real Madrid, leading to a direct clash with Barcelona’s Argentine star, ​​Lionel Messi.

On December 23, 2017, Barcelona will travel to Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium for the archrivals’ 175th meeting, where El Clásico will again be played out for the world to witness.

Experience the action December 23 only on beIN Sports, Channel 620.

Next Article