As long as there have been sports teams, there have been rivalries. Whether it’s the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox or the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the two rival teams inevitably end up meeting over and over again, forming a fierce rivalry that thrills fans of the sport. One of these rivalries exists between the Spanish soccer teams FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
FC Barcelona (also known as Barça by its fans) and Real Madrid are two of the first Spanish football teams, both formed in the 1890s. From the start, the two teams were seen as representatives of two rival regions of Spain, the ancient kingdoms of Castile and Catalonia. Both teams were part of La Liga, a Spanish soccer league, and a rivalry that went far beyond football quickly took hold.
It was during and after the Spanish Civil War that the rivalry took on more political connotations. Dictator Francisco Franco banned all peripheral languages, such as Catalan, the language of Barcelona. Catalonia had long been associated with more progressive political fashions and ideas, such as democracy – which was the opposite of Franco’s dictatorial regime. FC Barcelona suffered from being part of Catalan culture. Real Madrid, on the other hand, were considered by many Spaniards (and in particular the Catalans) as the club “of the establishment”. Although Franco appears to favor Real Madrid, members of both teams suffered under his regime.
The fierce rivalry continued into the 1950s when the two clubs sought to sign Alfredo Di Stefano to play for them. Real Madrid ultimately won and Alfredo Di Stefano led them to many victories. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other twice in the European Cup in the 1960s, with Real Madrid winning one and FC Barcelona the other. The two teams faced off again on one player in 2000 when Luis Figo left FC Barcelona and signed with Real Madrid. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other again in the 2002 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, with Real Madrid claiming the victory. The Spanish media dubbed the match “The match of the century”.
In the mid-2000s, the rivalry reached new heights when it acquired its own name, El Clasico. The term El Clasico was traditionally attributed to any South American football rivalry, but the growth of football in the Americas, coupled with the rivalry of these two great teams, led to the invention of the term applied to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. This was primarily a marketing program communicated through GolTV, a satellite channel devoted entirely to football, but the term was adopted by fans around the world.
El Clasico shows no signs of slowing down. To this day, the two teams inevitably seek each other out on the pitch to find out who is the best team in Spain. Sometimes FC Barcelona wins and sometimes Real Madrid wins, but at the end of the day football fans all over the world are the ones who win whenever these two giants meet on the pitch.