Recently a reader pointed us in a direction of football blog The Equalizer, particularly to a four part dissertation exploring the political identities that seem to have become a significant part of the club images of both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Chris, the author of the work which specifically asks ‘to what extent can Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona be considered to have been political institutions in Spain during the twentieth century?’, has kindly agreed for totalBarça to re-post some excerpts from his articles. You can read the full pieces by clicking on the following links for the 1st (Introduction), 2nd (Barcelona), 3rd (Real Madrid), and 4th parts (Conclusion).
From Part 1: The beginnings of both clubs
While Spain may have struggled with its own identity during the early years of the twentieth century, Catalonia had become the country’s most developed region and, according to Juan Linz (1973) cited in Hargreaves (2000, p.26), felt aggrieved at being held back by an inefficient state. Having modernised relatively quickly in political and economic terms (Hargreaves: 2000, p.26), football had taken hold among the Catalan middle classes and the expatriate population who were enjoying the fruits of a significant economic boom (Burns: 1999, p.72).
Indeed, such were the favourable economic conditions of the time in Barcelona that the city’s premier football club was founded by wealthy liberal expatriates. The man credited with the foundation of FC Barcelona, Joan Gamper (the Catalanised version of his original name, Hans Kamper), was a Swiss businessman who was extremely sympathetic to the cause of Catalan nationalists. As the official history of the club explains, Gamper became fully integrated in Catalonia, both speaking and writing Catalan and immersing himself in the regional culture (FC Barcelona: 2011).
As Jimmy Burns (1999: p.84-86) points out, the first years of Barcelona’s existence as a club coincided with the ‘great leap forward’ of political Catalanism, the team quickly coming to be projected as ‘Catalan’ in nature and linked to the liberal nationalist movement in the region. In this sense, politics has always been at the heart of FC Barcelona, its birth into a time of immense political change having an inevitable impact upon its image and perceived loyalties.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, is a club that, rather than being formally created, evolved out of pre-existing institutions. In 1897, the year before Spain’s imperial crisis, a group of students at the city’s Institucíon Libre de Enseñanza began to play organised games of football under the name of ‘Foot Ball Sky’ (Ball: 2002, p.46). It was this club of relatively wealthy, well-educated and middle-class members (several of its players had arrived in Spain having completed degrees at Cambridge University) that is now recognised as the forerunner to Madrid FC (Ball: 2002, p.46/47).
As Phil Ball points out in Morbo (2003, p.117), the club was hardly borne of humble origins, links with the aristocracy being present from the very beginning. Indeed, Foot Ball Sky’s original treasurer was Conde (Count) de La Quinta de La Enrajada, an Oxford graduate and member of the upper echelons of Spanish society. More strongly connected to the establishment than FC Barcelona, Real Madrid’s social institutionalisation could be said to have been rubber-stamped by the awarding of royal patronage by Alfonso XIII in 1920 (Ball: 2003, p.117).
In 1902 there was a schism amongst the members of Foot Ball Sky, a player by the name of Julián Palacios leading a splinter group and becoming the unofficial president of the newly-formed Madrid FC. The club’s official history holds the date of Real Madrid’s foundation to be 6th March 1902, rather grandly going on to state that it went on to become “the banner of the incipient Spanish football scene” (Real Madrid: 2011).
While Ball (2003: p.115) sensibly warns against the cliché of painting Real Madrid as an exclusively right-wing club, he does concede that it has a more of a claim to being an integral part of the national fabric than any other sports club in Spain, it being long since associated with the Spanish ruling classes.
From Part 2: The most politically significant moment in Barça’s history
In 1928, with the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera entering its twilight (Payne: 1999, p.35), a Catalan by the name of Josep Sunyol joined the FC Barcelona board and also became the president of the Federation of Associated Catalan Football Clubs (Burns: 1999, p.96). The founder of the newspaper La Rambla (Burns: 1999, p.96) and a political figure who saw a position on the club’s board as a means to enhance his public career (Ball: 2001, p.99), Sunyol was arguably the key figure in synthesising sport and politics in Catalan civic life.
Indeed, it was whilst en route to a political meeting that Josep Sunyol met his death (Burns: 1999, p.108) in what could arguably be held to be the most politically significant moment in the history of FC Barcelona. Shot dead in a car displaying the Catalan flag as he drove through a mountain region controlled by Falangist troops on 6th August 1936, Sunyol’s execution was an event which David Goldblatt (2006, p.302) believes saw the connections between the football club and political Catalanism strengthen yet further.
As the official history of the club itself claims, Sunyol was the ‘martyr president’ (FC Barcelona: 2011) and a figure now seen as the primary casualty of the club’s politics, whether those views had emanated from it or been projected onto it from outside. While Sunyol’s execution doesn’t draw FC Barcelona any closer to an orthodox definition of a political institution, at the conclusion of the Civil War the Franco regime issued a statement which revealed that it clearly saw the club as a centre for political activities. “For a time [Sunyol] was president of Barcelona football club, and was responsible for the clear anti-Spanish line which the club adopted” (Burns: 1999, p.110-111).
Sunyol’s murder has been said to be the event which defined FC Barcelona as the socio-political vehicle it is today. As Phil Ball (2003: p.99) has written, “Sunyol’s death is now seen as the truly defining moment of the club, the desecration of an ideology in bud, of cultural separatism, independence, the right to autonomy. It proved that even then, Barça was more than a club, and this sense of historical continuity affords some comfort to the current bearers of the flag.”
From Part 3: Something that may surprise you about Real Madrid, and a bit about the ‘Socio’ model
Indeed, during the civil war Real Madrid’s president had been Colonel Antonio Ortega, a man committed to Communist ideology, a member of the Socialist Party executive, an officer in the ranks of the left-wing militia and a public opponent of General Franco (Bolloten: 1991, p.486-487). In a remarkable chapter in the club’s history it’s previously highly exclusive facilities were thrown open to the public, membership fees were slashed and the Chamartín stadium became a centre for Soviet-style displays of proletarian sporting endeavour (Goldblatt: 2007, p.302). In a series of political gestures completely contrary to the right-wing ideology the club is commonly thought to have always held, Real Madrid became a hub for the organisation of Madrid’s socialist community.
In 1992 the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) ruled that all professional football clubs whose finances showed a negative balance had to transform from members’ associations into Sports Public Limited Companies (SADs), a policy which left only four clubs immune from change and able to continue as institutions essentially owned by their members; Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna (UEFA: 2009, p.108).
As a 2009 UEFA report on the feasibility of a continentally representative supporters organisation explains (2009, p.112), clubs which are run as members’ associations are owned by their socios (paid-up members) and their non-profit nature forces the club to re-invest any profits or revenues gained to commercial activity back into the club. Furthermore, the board of directors is constantly held to account by the members, being required to receive authorisation from the club’s general assembly upon any sale or acquisition of property or economic rights with a value equal to or greater than 20% of the budget, and for any commercial agreement with a length that exceeds five years (UEFA: 2009, p.112).
With 156,000 and 96,000 members respectively (UEFA: 2009, p.112), FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two biggest sporting members’ associations in Spain and are inextricably linked to both local and national politics through the arrangements of their ownership structures. Indeed, written into the legal framework of both clubs is the agreement that, in the event of liquidation, any remaining assets must be donated to public institutions; either the municipality government or government of the autonomous region in which the club is based (UEFA: 2009, p.112).
Thanks again to Chris and The Equaliser for letting us share some of their work.