Last Tuesday night the city of Barcelona packed into every bar, café and room that had a television in it to watch their team come from behind and beat Real Madrid 2-1. You may have been at one of those bars and you may have seen the mobs of people marching down Las Ramblas chanting the name of one of the cities unofficial patron saints, Lionel Messi, after the victory.
You were probably stricken by the amount of local support for a single sporting event but what needs to be considered is that when Barcelona and Real Madrid meet on the field it’s not only one of the biggest sporting rivalries in the world, fetching thousands of euros per ticket, it is also one of the few sporting events that transcend sports completely.
What make the meetings between these two teams so significant are the political origins of the rivalry dating back to the establishment of the Franco regime in 1936. Franco’s hard right wing nationalist stance called for complete cultural hegemony throughout the nation of Spain. Being the capital of the Catalan region and home to the proud gatekeepers of Catalan tradition, the city of Barcelona became a national beacon for cultural and political freedom and their soccer team was transformed into a political and cultural vehicle.
Once in power, Franco turned Madrid into the epicenter of his oppressive nationalist regime and, in effect, turned every match between Barcelona and Real Madrid into a virtual proxy war.
So this Wednesday night when you make it out to whatever packed bar or café you can get into to watch the game, remember what this game means to the people of Barcelona and the entire region of Catalonia. To many still, it’s more than a rivalry between two clubs, it is a struggle for independence and that’s what turns this soccer match into more than just a game but a cultural event.