The two biggest football club in Spain are Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona. These two clubs represent the biggest entities, Madrid and Barcelona in Spain and these cities are seen as cultural representation of Castilian region and Catalonia region. Castilian region is the royal region of Spain mostly consists of Spanish nationalist who are loyal to the Spanish Catholic monarchy, whereas Catalonia region is mostly consisted of Republicans looking for independence from Spanish Empire. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is famously known as a dictator of all time in Spain and also a Spanish nationalist with a strong desire to create a united Spain toward cultural homogeneity. Franco's repression of non-Castilian cultures began when he rose to power in 1939, after Republican's defeat at Spanish Civil War. To what extent did Franco's attempt at cultural homogeneity during his regime (1939-1975) impacted the intense rivalry between two major soccer teams, Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona, in Spain?
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This question arose from general interest of popular issue from Spanish football clubs. This investigates the conflict between these two clubs and how much of political component have an impact on the issue. The question is examined with various secondary sources containing history of Spanish national football and history of cultural nationalism in Spain.
Despite an argument made that the conflict between Catalan nationalist and Spanish nationalist have been continuing for over a century with constant demand of autonomous government from Catalonia, under Franco's regime, his extreme measure to an attempt at cultural homogeneity has caused Spain to be even more divided and it is clearly expressed from the intense rivalry between two major soccer teams, Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona, in Spain.
Table of Contents
- Background of Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona
- Primo de Rivera
- Rise of Francisco Franco
The Franco Regime
Franco's Cultural Homogeneity Policies
Football and Politics
Rivalry between Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona was established in the early 20th century, from 13 May, 1902, when their first confrontation was held in the history of Spanish football  . It was long before Generalissimo Francisco Franco rose to power (1939). These football clubs have been sharing their history from 1902 to present, through the rage of harsh conditions of Spanish history. It is interesting how extreme the competition is between two football clubs during games.
Real Madrid Club de Futbol is a football team established in 1902. (Crolley 27) King Alfonso XIII bestowed the name Real Madrid in representation of royalty, as Real means royal in Spanish. The biggest support and fan base of the club is located in Madrid, Spain, well known as capital city of Spain. Madrid represents the centre of royal region of the Castile family. Spain has never been a single, unified kingdom since Rome's collapse.(24) Many regions with kingdoms stood before United Spain. They existed side by side with great tension for power and control. After the Reconquista, or Reconquest in translation, in 13th Century, Christian kingdoms gained more power in the state. With an increased Christianity in Spain, three main states were formed in Spain, which are Castile, Aragon, and Portugal.(Kamen 34) In 1469, marriage between Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Argon tied two powerful kingdoms together. The allegiance formed was powerful, and gradually, the political power shifted from scattered kingdoms to the Castile alone, and the Castile united Spain as it conquered surrounding kingdoms to form Spanish Empire  .
Futbol Club Barcelona was founded in 1899 by Catalan footballers  . The club became a symbol of Catalan nationalism as the club was supported by the city of Barcelona, the capital city of Catalan and most of its fans are located in Barcelona. Catalonia is one of Spain's historic nationalities formed from the decent of Aragon. In 1486, from Ferdinand of Aragon, Catalans were allowed a degree of autonomy. (kamen 55) However, as their decent left without an heir to inherit the place, Catalonia progressively subsided into Spanish Empire under Castilian kingdom as. Under the Nueva Planta Decrees, which was a result of their defeat in a War of the Spanish Succession, all of the land was merged into Crown of Castile, within a united Spanish administration(Mcroberts 20). However, despite the abolishment of the institution and administration, the economic state of Barcelona prospered by industrialization (crolley26). This increased the gap between two regions, Catalonia and Castile, and the forthcoming ideology of separatist and regionalist.
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Constitutional monarchy continued in Spain until the rise of General Primo de Rivera. In 1923, de Rivera took control of Spain without bloodshed as King Alfonso was under heavy pressure from post First World War depression and a military defeat in Morocco. (salvado 50) The king withdrew without making a commotion. During the time, Barcelona was growing into become a Republican state. With recognition of this, nationalist suppression began. To control the Catalans, Primo de Rivera set regulations against Catalans. (crolley 26) The football stadium was closed down for weeks which worsened the case, because football during the time was considered to be a representation of cultural identity and rights. Considering the importance of football in Spain, the suppression of Catalonia only fuelled Catalan nationalism.
Primo de Rivera ruled Spain as a dictator until 1930. Primo de Rivera's method to leadership was fully supported by the king, Alfonso. De Rivera introduced public works systems, building of roads, and irrigating the land. Industrial production increased by three times under his time of governing. (conversi 109) Primo de Rivera also ended the rebellion in Morocco in 1925. Despite his economic and political success, in 1910 to 1920's, with his attempt at a policy introducing higher taxes on the rich for more public fund, he lost support from the wealthy and the army  . The army's withdrawal of its support forced Primo de Rivera to resign in January 1930. Shortly after his resignation, he died from diabetes on March 16th, 1930(Salvado 61).
As a result of de Rivera's resignation, in April 1931, elections were held in Spain. The election ended with a result of Republicans winning all the major cities in Spain because of increasing regional nationalism that supported regional autonomies. (salvado71) The Republican's victory from the election then claimed Spain a Republic and the monarchy and the single party state system in Spain was abolished. Shortly after, the Spain Second Republic was established, and two major regions in Spain, Catalonia and Basque region, requested independence and were granted independence acknowledging their distinct cultures.(McRoberts 34) However, with a strong tension building up between Republicans and the Spanish nationalists who was still favoured monarchism, Spanish Civil war (1936-1939) errupted. (Meneses 22)With a rise of General Francisco Franco, Spanish nationalists seized victory against republicans(34). Catalonia, by this time, has transformed into a heavily industrialized region in a predominantly agricultural state.(Crolley 26) Simultaneously, they favour industrial areas, which was against the centralised government  . Under the rule of Franco, "Francoism adopted the most radical politics of assimilation against non-Castilian cultures in modern Spanish history" (Conversi 109). However, to exactly what extent did Franco's attempt at cultural homogeneity during his regime (1939-1975) impacted the intense rivalry between two major soccer teams, Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona, in Spain?
The Franco Regime
The victory of General Franco's forces in the Civil War led to his dictatorship (1939-1975) that lasted 36 years until his death on Nov 20, 1975. In 1939, the outcome of the Spanish Civil War was becoming clear. On April 5 in the city of Burgos, General Franco signed a decree abolishing the Government of Catalonia and declared that "the state shall regain the powers of legislation and enforcement that correspond to it in the common-law territories and the services that were transferred to the region of Catalonia". The military occupation of Catalonia was completed in early 1939. The Government of Catalonia was abolished, its assets were seized and the Provincial Councils were re-established, with the offices of the Barcelona Provincial Council set up in the Palace at Plaça Sant Jaume. Thus, began a period of deprivation of democracy and Catalan national rights. As a consequence of abolishment of Catalan parliament, the Catalan language, which was official with Spanish, was left out of the Parliament of Catalonia, the Administration, school and University. Its public use was prohibited and it was consigned to home life, which meant it was pushed back into a situation of diglossia. The term diglossia refers to the era where Spanish was predominant over Catalan. Catalan was choked and hidden and its public use was tauntingly despised. The region was covered with posters and signs posted said 'If you are Spanish, speak Spanish', 'If you are Spanish, speak the language of the Empire'. If a citizen was heard speaking Catalan in a public space, he was addressed with phrases like 'Speak in the Christian tongue' or 'Let's see when you stop barking'. Public signs with offensive sentences like 'Prohibited to spit and speak in Catalan' could be read (Conversi 121).
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To those defeated from Civil War, Franco's regime was characterised by an intentional repression towards the defeated. This situation was clearly visible in the punishment and execution. Between 1939 and 1953, 3585 of people were murdered, the thousands of imprisoned or condemned to labour by force, the deflating of civil servants, the persecution of the Catalan language, the elimination of all of the Catalan political and cultural institutions happened, amongst other things. Regional "separatism" was one of the major splits that provoked the Civil war (Payne 85). Separatism refers to the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group, and at the time in Spain, it referred to all the non-Castilian cultures demanding independence. After the Civil War, Francoist were in a frantic 'hunt for the separatist'. All Catalan language references were erased from public access, and hundreds of thousands of books in Catalan were burned in public. Patriotic statues and monuments were smashed. All posters, placards, notices, signposts and labels in Catalan were removed, and people who possessed any of these materials were heavily fined or jailed. In the workplace, Catalan was banned even as a spoken language. A civil servant caught in the act of speaking Catalan risked their lives. Municipal and state teachers suspected of Catalan sympathies were removed from their jobs or transferred to other regions while others more loyal to the regime were 'imported' from the rest of Spain. In the University of Barcelona, all subjects dealing with Catalan culture were abolished, and the purge of the University staff reached levels unparalleled in other Spanish regions. The insituto Estudios Catalans was closed down and replaced with an Insituto Esapanol de Estudios Mediterranos which existed in name only. All symbols of Catalan identity such as the flag and anthem were forbidden. More than 500,000 people fled into exile in 1939, 200,000 of whom came from Catalan-speaking areas and in only 6 days (1-6 May 1939) 266 people were executed after sentencing by summary war councils. (112-113)The persecution of separatists was mainly middle-class, who had campaigned for regional rights. Although anathema to all of Nationalist opinion, they were the particular hate-objects of the military, which was obsessed with the concept of national unity (Rees 26). The impact of post-Civil War and hunt for separatists was enormous. With Franco's cultural homogeneity policies, Spain actually became more divided and this is most clearly expressed in their national sport of football.
The two biggest football club in Spain are Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona. These two clubs represent the biggest entities in Spain and these cities are economically and politically the biggest and most influential in Spain. Befitting the title, these two football clubs are the most successful and richest football clubs in the country, if not the best in the world. However, as football developed and gained more power, it became more influential both socially and politically. As a result, the rivalry between two clubs became more than a trivial sports rivalry clinging over scores and result of games. Moreover, the clubs' huge size of fan bases also allows them to be easily referred as the biggest clubs in the country. In Spain, to many of these fans, football isn't just a sport. Just like FC Barcelona's motto 'mes que un club', which means 'it's more than a club' in translation, football in Spain is a method to an expression of nationalism, strategy of political propaganda, and competition of cultures in Spain. The stadiums in Spain where they played the games were to remind you of cathedrals and were valued in same manner, which emphasizes the significance of sportsmanship in the region as Spain was governed by the Catholic monarchs, thus having a great faith and respect for religion and the cathedrals. Cheers from the fans were frantic, brutal and desperate. This intense rivalry was significantly impacted by Franco's repression policy of non-Castilian cultures, during Franco's regime. Dictatorship in Spain is represented by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. This rivalry between Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona shows a clash of political movements under Franco's regime and his attempt to a cultural homogeneity for Spanish national identity (Conversi 109).
With an increased interest in football, naturally Franco used football as a propaganda tool for the new regime to maintain his control and power over the state. He sought to disturb the operations of Barcelona, a symbol of Catalan pride, while supporting Real Madrid, Barcelona's rival from the capital city (Ball 23). This intensifies the rival between two clubs, and football became a political intermediary between the state and society (Crolley, Duke 32). All the football officials were appointed and run by Francoist officials and there was a little room for anyone to be disloyal to Franco. Also, before each game the players lined up on the field held their arms aloft in a salute and sang the Cara al sol, the fascist anthem, and chanted "arriba Espana! Vivia Franco! (= Long live Spain! Long live Franco!)" Many historians from the time recognized the fascist action and said "football had a dimension that was not simply to do with sport, it was the best catalyst for promoting Spanish nationalism" (33). The action sufficed the role in promoting Spain's national image, especially abroad, and as opposition to the nationalist movements within Spain (34). However, to escape harsh revolt from Catalonia, Franco let out a small grant. He permitted any nationalistic action at the game to be proceeded. He let Catalans to talk, cheer and sing in Catalans as long as it stayed and only limited in the stadium. However, despite his intention, Rexach argues that Franco's decision was a mistake. "It's not only the club players making the rivalry intense, it's the political movements, what it represents how the fans of these clubs take the game as. He [Franco] tried to get rid of all regional rivalries in Spain, apart from in the footballing context. He promoted football as a healthy way t for the regions to relieve their tensions, but with Barca, the dictator made a mistake. As the Catalans had no political parties, or regional government, or any right to use their own language, they put all their cultural pride into Barca. At a Barca match, the people could shout in Catalan and sing traditional songs at a time when they couldn't do it anywhere else," (Rexach, National Geographic).
The tense relationship between Catalonia and the nationalist, centralized government was not just a product of post-Civil War resentment but existed even before then. During the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera when nationalist feelings in Spain were repressed, football was the only way people could express their pent-up nationalism (Crolley, Duke 28). The political decisions that existed between the regions during the Civil War were represented in football. The period observed a significant growth in amount of membership of FC Barcelona. Football had become an important means of cultural expression. By joining the club Catalans could show and represent their differences, celebrate their way of life and culture, and give voice to their language (Murray 102). This is why FC Barcelona became "mes que un club," more than a club, to Catalans. As Robert from National Geographic states "...one of the high moments of the autumn of '77 was the welcoming home from almost forty years of exile of its president Josep Tarradellasâ€¦[A]t Barcelona's Camp Nou, that holy temple of Catalanism across town where the tribe had gathered on alternate Sundays throughout the Franco era in symbolic-and vociferous-resistance" (Robert 5), the football in Barcelona of the era represented the symbol of resistance. To Catalans, "the symbols of the clubs, their colors, their nicknames and club songs are of paramount importance" (Ball 193), and to have these banned, it was equivalent to banning their culture.
FC Barcelona presented to embody Catalan culture, and Real Madrid C.F. as Castilian culture, loyal to Spanish Empire. Catalans favoured independence, and held the ideology of separatism while Madrid is seen as the seat of the establishment and the royal family. This split became especially pronounced during Franco's fascistic reign when regional languages like Catalan were officially suppressed. So when El Clásico, the official tournament between FC Barcelona and Read Madrid C.F. came around, a Barcelona's win represented a rebellious victory for an independent regional culture, and a win for Madrid represented the establishment re-asserting its authority (Rees 129). During Franco's regime all aspects of regional identity were vigorously suppressed. Non-Castilian languages, symbols, songs, dances and rituals were forbidden. Across Spain, the streets were renamed in honour of Francoist substitutes and statues were removed if it didn't suit the honour of Franco.
"Death to Catalans!" "Go home, dirty Castilian!" Even today, when these two football clubs, Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona, are against each other at a game, profanities from their fan bases targeted each other. These fan bases from each teams cussing at each other in the soccer stadiums is very commonly accepted. The atmosphere of the game always gets into full swings when these two clubs meet. The rivalry between them exceeds ordinary rivalry of sportsmanship. The rivalry between them is so intense so that most of the cases of their games, large amount of police force is needed in order to control the crowd from any aggression. The history of rivalry has been built up from various reasons that include politics of Spain and trivial history between two soccer teams. Significant cause of this intense rivalry is from the time of Franco regime. (1939-1975) Franco's attempt to a cultural homogeneity after Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) suppressed non-Castilian cultures in Spain, resulting neglect of multi-cultural Spain, and forced assimilation to Castilian, the royal Spanish nationalists. It is quite reasonable to say this majorly caused such an intense rivalry between Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona from Spain.
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