A brief history of El Clásico, Part I

A brief history of El Clásico, Part I

In a new series, each month totalBarça’s Jason Pettigrove will examine one of the many facets of FC Barcelona’s intriguing and storied history. In the first edition of the series, Barça’s long standing rivalry with Real Madrid is examined through the many scorelines and story lines of El Clásico throughout the years. Part 1 looks at the first matches between the two teams, as well as some of the changes that took place for Barça and El Clásico following the Spanish Civil War.

El Clásico – ‘The Classic’ to give it it’s literal meaning. A football match quite unlike any other. Catalonia’s finest against their heavyweight Castilian counterparts.

Steeped in history and mired in political posturing from both sides, the matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have even been described in some quarters as ‘a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War’.

El Clásico is genuinely a match made in heaven for the football fan. Second only to the Champions League Final in terms of worldwide popularity, it’s a fixture that has played host to some of football’s greatest names throughout the ages: Bernabeu, Alcantara, Samitier, Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento, Cesar, Suarez, Kubala, Fuste, Pirri, Cruyff, Maradona, Butragueno, Sanchez, Bakero, Laudrup, Suker, Raul, Zidane, Casillas, Rivaldo, Romario, Koeman, Guardiola, Stoichkov, Hagi, Figo, Ronaldo, Beckham, Ronaldhino, Xavi, Iniesta, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi.

Despite being 600 miles apart, Barça and Real are joined together by virtue of the cities being the two biggest in Spain, and the clubs being amongst the best supported, richest and most powerful in world football. Furthermore, as is well documented, Barça are proud representatives of Catalanisme throughout the world, whereas Real are viewed as a team that best represents Spanish nationalism.

The intensity and conflict surrounding the fixture can be traced back to the 1930s. In 1936, within a month of the start of the Spanish Civil War, General Francisco Franco’s troops arrested and executed (without trial) the then FC Barcelona President Josep Sunyol i Garriga.

By April 1939, as Franco came to power and his planes had bombed the Republican resistance in Barcelona, he outlawed all regional dialects and customs, including the Catalan language and expression of identity. The proud flag of Catalonia, the Senyera, was torn down, and Barça were banned from using the flag on their crest.

The dictator would also force the club to change its name. Club de Futbol Barcelona was the Castilian derivative for a club that was the proud standard bearer for Catalonia. Such vile acts were bound to foster deep seated ill feeling toward Franco and his associates. Even so, Catalan was still proudly and freely spoken at Barcelona’s Les Corts ground and later the Camp Nou.

Esteemed football scribe Simon Kuper once noted that “he [Franco] created an environment in which Real Madrid, the team of the capital, could thrive.”

“Dictators tend to concentrate their resources – generals, secret police and bureaucrats – in their capital cities. Todo se cuece allí – everything is cooked there, to borrow a culinary expression.”

“During the Franco era Real Madrid’s palco, the VIP box, was always full of people who gave the orders, the country’s decision-makers in policy and economics.”

The anti-Catalan feeling was never felt more than when Barça players were forced to give the fascist salute during the national anthem at the beginning of the 1942 Cup Final (alongside similarly aggrieved Athletic Bilbao players – shown below), the uproar completely understandable. Ironically, Barça’s 4-3 win came at Madrid’s Chamartin ground.


When Franco gave Real’s players the Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows in 1955, awarded for their success in the Copa Latino (a forerunner of the European Cup), cules everywhere were in no doubt as to where the dictator’s loyalties lie, especially given that Barça had won the trophy themselves twice before and were not similarly decorated.

Folklore would also have you believe that Franco influenced referees and, by association, the results of El Clasico games. Having read that Franco had little more than a passing interest in football per se, it’s stretching the imagination a little too far to believe that these stories are nothing more than tales that have evolved throughout the generations to further the persecution complex of the Catalan people. Try telling that to any cule though!!!

The slogan ‘més que un club’ (‘more than a club’) was not used at Barça until the Presidential speech by Narcís de Carreras in January 1968, but one can be sure that Catalans will have viewed FC Barcelona as such long before then.

The first meeting between these behemoths of Spanish football actually predates the Franco era by some 30+ years. It was way back on 13 May 1902, in the Semi-finals of the Copa de la Coronacion, a friendly tournament which was the precursor to the current Copa del Rey. The match was played at the Hipodromo in Madrid and it was the visitors who emerged victorious. Barça’s founder Joan Gamper was on target along with team mate Steinberg who weighed in with a brace. Madrid could only manage a solitary effort through Arthur Johnson.

The blaugrana certainly had the edge over their rivals in their early meetings. History tells us that before the first official league game between the two on 17 February 1929 (a match that Real won 2-1 incidentally), that 20 friendlies were played and all were either won by Barça or drawn.

Barça’s early home games were played at L’Escopidora (Industria) which is pictured below and it was here on 18 February 1920 that Barça destroyed Real 7-1, due in no small part to Alcantara’s hat trick.


As well as another 7-0 drubbing by the blaugrana, in the space of two days (March 19/20) in 1927, Barça walked away from Real’s Chamartin ground with wins by 5-1 and 4-1. The picture below shows Chamartin bottom right with the foundations of the Nuevo Chamartin (later to be renamed the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu) in the centre of the picture.


Astonishingly, in the 33 friendly matches played, the last of which was at Camp Nou on 11 September 1991, Madrid only managed 4 wins, although 2 of those will be remembered as ‘Classic Clásicos’.

Chamartin witnessed a wonderful 5-1 Real triumph on 25 November 1934, however the 4-3 victory away from home on 30 August 1959 at the Ramon de Carranza, with 2 goals by the great Ferenc Puskas and one each form Gento and Di Stefano, would be a game that would be talked about for some time afterwards.

Perhaps the pick of the early El Clásico matches was an official Copa del Rey Semi-final 1st replay in 1916. The 6-6 draw included three hat tricks – Belaunde and Bernabeu for Madrid, Alcantara for Barça. Bau, Mallorqui and Martinez completed the scoring for the away side.

Those cules old enough to remember will probably point to the war time friendly game at Les Corts on 15 September 1940, which resulted in a 5-4 win for the hosts, as another early highlight.

You can see Les Corts pictured below on its opening day, 20 May 1922, when a Catalan XI played out a 2-1 win against Scottish side St. Mirren.The second picture shows Les Corts to the right and the familiar build of the Camp Nou to the left.

les corts

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which the more recent editions of the Clásico will be in the spotlight.

For totalBarça’s coverage on Clásicos over the past several years, click here!

Image Credits: Diver and Aguilar, estadiosdeespana.blogspot.co.uk