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El Clasico - The Origins of Football's Greatest Rivalry

Common scene in the modern-day Clasico. Handbags.

Since 1902, Barcelona and Real Madrid have locked horns in a footballing battle played with far more at stake than just team glory. On Saturday it will be no different as Barcelona and Madrid players will contest the 223rd meeting between the clubs from Castile and Catalonia. Recently the derby has prompted heated debate over who holds the greatest players, who is the most successful and has been frequently disrupted by melees, fracas and handbags from both sets of players. But why the intense rivalry from two clubs 300 miles apart? And how did it earn the name "El Clasico?" 

The Barcelona, Madrid rivalry is not purely a modern day phenomenon, the divisions between their respective areas within Spain, Castile and Catalonia, have been culturally at odds for over 500 years. The Spanish Inquisition established in 1481 joined the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon together for the first time in a collective force to bring about a form of religious cleansing to the Iberian Peninsula. However, within Aragon was the Principality of Catalonia, a state culturally opposed to Castilian customs. On the other hand, The Spanish War of Succession in the early 16th Century brought with it the first purge of Catalan culture despite their support in the war.

As aforementioned, the first meeting between the two clubs was in 1902 in the King's Coronation cup. A 3-1 victory for three-year-old Barcelona against the only two-months-old Madrid. It was not until 1920 that Madrid adopted the "Real" before the name of its city by King Alfonso XIII, a supporter of Los Blancos. Until the formation of La Liga in 1929, the only time the clubs met was in the Copa Del Rey, due to both playing in regional leagues. In 1916 the two sides even played out a 6-6 draw with the infamous Santiago Bernabeu scoring Madrid's sixth.

The footballing rivalry was of course riddled with historical differences, but often these were forgotten and not taken as seriously in the early 20th Century. However, in 1936 the relationship between Real Madrid and Barcelona would change forever.

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the political opinions of the far-right en-capturing many European countries like Italy under Mussolini and Germany under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. In Spain the fascist group led by General Franco seeked to take power in a military coup, much like their Italian counter-parts. A number of Barcelona players actually took on an active role against Franco's military coup, alongside players from Athletic Bilbao. Spain was to be fought over by the Nationalists led by Franco and the Republicans (mainly from Catalonia).
Republicans during the Spanish Civil War
Real Madrid are often viewed by Barcelona citizens as on the right of the Spanish political spectrum, indeed the "Real" or "Royal" promoting the Nationalist/Monarchist ideology. Los Blancos after the War would soon affiliate themselves on the side of Le Generalissimo, despite Madrid originally being a Republican city. In keeping with the political views of manager-come-president, Santiago Bernabeu however, Real Madrid would accept a Nationalist way of governing. The football matches post-Civil War between the Spanish giants were often heated and led to violence between fans. The Franco government even telling the Barcelona players they were lucky to even be having the chance to play Madrid in 1943. The revelation doing nothing for Barca's confidence, resulting in an 11-1 defeat.
Alfredo Di Stefano

Between 1943 and the modern day the rivalry at a footballing level was stoked by events like the transfer of Alfredo Di Stefano in 1953. Alfredo would sign for Madrid instead of Barcelona and proceed to become one of football's greatest ever players, forging an unforgettable partnership with Hungarian Ferenc Puskas. The Champions League semi - final win for Madrid in 2002, dubbed the "match of the century" also heating up the derby. Barcelona would gain revenge in 2011 where a Lionel Messi inspired team would win 3-1 on aggeragate.

The present institutions of Barcelona and Real Madrid are seen to represent the opposites of the political spectrum with Catalonia seeking a referendum on independence in the near future. Despite the ending of Franco's dictatorship in 1975 Catalonia has kept with its aim of a republican nation separate to Spain and its own sense of patriotism not the King Juan Carlos I but to the Catalan culture and flag. The Catalan traditions were crushed and prohibited under Franco, including the red and yellow striped flag. FC Barcelona being the most prominent symbol of Catalonia and the most purged institution by Franco.

Barca fans unfurl the World's largest Catalan flag.
In the modern-day, El Clasico or "The Classic" has been described as a "re-enactment of the civil war" with the matches during the 2010/2011 season often concluding with numerous fracas on and off the pitch. The 7 matches (if you include the Spanish Super Cup at the start of the 2011-12 season) resulting in 8 red cards. The arrival of the controversial José Mourinho adding fuel to the fire and highlighting a sour relationship with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola. It has been Barcelona with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi who have dominated recent games between the two but the pendulum could be about to swing in Mourinho's favour, with player like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Spain's World Cup winning Captain Iker Casillas leading the charge.
Modern day rivals and future legends
Saturday's match will no doubt be another played at 100 miles-per-hour. Barcelona have a point to prove following Wednesday's 3-1 humiliation at the hands of Mourinho's Madrid. The current Blaugrana seemingly lost without the guidance from Pep's heir Tito Vilanova, currently recovering from a tumour in his salivary glands. It is easy for the average football fan to take all this in to account and say "Barcelona and Real Madrid hate each other". For 90 minutes maybe, but despite all the history and modern day tensions the power of football to unite was seen last season during Real's touching tribute to liver cancer sufferer, Barca left-back Eric Abidal and more recently Tito Vilanova.
Animo Abidal - Some things more important than football

 Will there be scraps? Probably. Will there be goals? Most definitely. Is "El Clasico" still the world's greatest rivalry? Without doubt! 

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