In Spain, a rivalry deeper than sport manifests itself on the football pitch when FC Barcelona and Real Madrid face off. Historical political divisions between these two teams add weight each time the two teams face off. Bill talks with author Richard Fitzpatrick about his bookEl Clasico: Barcelona v. Real Madrid: Football’s Greatest Rivalry.

Bill’s thoughts on El Clasico: Barcelona v. Real Madrid: Football’s Greatest Rivalry

The simple version of the story of the rivalry between Football Club Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the world’s wealthiest, most popular, and most accomplished professional sports franchises, is that the former presents a sanctuary for those who would shout out their opposition to bloody tyranny, while the latter is a haven for fascists loyal to a murderous dictator.

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The above is the opinion of Bill Littlefield, who is an unabashed–some might say unbalanced–supporter of Barcelona.)

Though the simple version is not absolutely without merit, the facts of the matter are more complicated. As Richard Fitzpatrick points out in El Clasico, there are supporters of Real Madrid living in Catalonia, the region of Spain where FC Barcelona might well be expected to rule absolutely. There are also lots of Barcelona supporters who have no interest in the politics that have been historically associated with the football club. They do not go to games to wave Catalan flags or to demand independence from Spain. They go to see what wonders Leo Messi will next perform. Likewise Real Madrid can claim fans who regarded Francisco Franco as a monster when he was alive, as well as fans who’ve never heard of him.

Much of El Clasico is about the 21st century aggregations of the two teams and the magnificent rivalry represented by the men currently playing for or managing them. Among the author’s discouraging discoveries is that racism is sometimes apparent at Barcelona’s home games even today, and that the authorities in Spanish football and the media reporting from games have been less willing to acknowledge and confront that issue than their counterparts in the U.K. have been.