Sport is packed with rivalries: Australia vs England in cricket, Federer vs Nadal in tennis, Ali vs Frazeor in boxing, and India vs Pakistan in just about every sport you can think of. But there are some rivalries that are more than just about sport, or where the sport itself is literally a battlefield to fight over other differences. And in this regard, perhaps there is no rivalry as fierce as the one they call ‘El Clasico.’ The rivalry between those two giants of football, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Of course, they are among the biggest clubs, not just of Spain but also the world. But the rivalry runs far deeper than that. Barcelona is based in Catalonia, a region that considers itself to be different from Spain, and indeed often asks for independence from the country. Real Madrid on the other hand, has been associated very closely with the Spanish establishment, and most disturbingly so with the rule of General Franco, who is associated with a number of human rights abuses, many of them in Catalonia. The clash between these two teams therefore is not just about football, but about culture, about social structures and even nationality. Small wonder that matches between them have been dogged by controversy and violence, and many supporters of the two clubs consider beating the “enemy” more important than winning the league or other titles.
It is this long and bitter rivalry that Richard Fitzpatrick documents in El Clasico, a book which gets its title from the label attached to matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
And he does a wonderful job of it too. There have been other books on the rivalry but they have tended to focus a little too much on the football itself. Fitzpatrick, however, brings in the social element to the rivalry as well. He walks the reader through the origin of both clubs, how the Franco years soured relations (perhaps irredeemably), and how things stand today. In many ways, he served us a slice of Spanish history even while he talks about the football.
For, of course, while the author uses history and culture to provide a context to the rivalry on the pitch, the football is not ignored. He talks to former players and coaches and members of staff about famous matches and incidents. There are famous press conferences, including Jose Mourinho’s allegations of conspiracy against Real Madrid, incidents like the throwing of a pig’s head at Luis Figo when he moved from Barcelona to Mardid, and much more. If there is a slight flaw, it is in the fact that the focus generally is more on the modern era than in the past. Diego Maradona’s much-publicised Barcelona tenure does not get much of a mention and there’s not much space for legends like Emilio Butrageno and Hugo Sanchez. There are also no detailed stats for the number crunching types.
Still, Fitzpatrick deserves credit for capturing the essence of Real Madrid vs Barcelona, history and all, in a surprisingly slim volume – the book does not even span 250 pages. Hard core football fans might have wanted much more football. But if you are a neutral and wonder what the fuss over “El Clasico” is about, this is a book to read. Actually, it is pretty much a must-read for anyone who wants to read about one of the greatest rivalries in sport.
El Clasico: Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Football’s Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick is available on Amazon
Get your copy of El Clasico from Amazon at https://www.amazon.in/El-Clasico-Barcelona-Footballs-Greatest-ebook/dp/B008BJ3L6M