Expecting a tame affair - and pigs may fly

a
 

SOCCER:As Monday’s El Clasico looms, RICHARD FITZPATRICKsets the scene for what is the most eagerly awaited match in the Spanish season

EIGHT YEARS ago, almost to the day, Real Madrid travelled across Spain to play Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia, in their annual league fixture at the Camp Nou. As the team’s coach negotiated its way to the stadium some of its windows were smashed by Barcelona fans, a foretaste of the toxic reception the players could expect once they took the field.

After 75 minutes of play, the teams were still scoreless, the match a dour, stultifying affair despite the presence of several Galácticos on the pitch, including Luís Figo, possibly the most reviled man in Barcelona’s club history. The Portuguese man spent five years with the Catalan giants, but in the summer of 2000 he left them to play for Real Madrid, their despised rivals; he was, in Barcelona eyes, the worst kind of traitor – a pesetero, a money-grabber.

Stepping up to take a corner, objects rained down on him. Not that this was unexpected. The last time he played at the Camp Nou he was ordered not to take Real Madrid’s corners. In the same tie two years earlier, as had been dutifully recorded by the referee in his notebook, coins, three mobile phones, several half-bricks and a bicycle chain were thrown at him while he lined up his corners.

This time it was worse. For two minutes, play stopped while himself, team-mate Roberto Carlos and Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez, a World Cup hero during the summer, swept missiles off the pitch. Carles Puyol, who will captain Barcelona for the match on Monday, remonstrated, to no avail, with his team’s fans to stop their assault.

Finally, Figo swept in his corner, a looping effort that was tipped over the bar by Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Bonano. Another corner, from the other side of the goal, beckoned. Figo trundled over to take it, but after another few minutes of clearing debris, the referee abandoned play for 16 minutes.

Along with water bottles, lighters and beer cans, Figo had been assailed by a glass bottle of JB Scotch whisky and the head of a suckling pig, which, strangely, was in keeping with the sight of him at the corner flag, helplessly prey to flying objects as if he were a petty criminal pilloried in an Elizabethan marketplace.

The match has become known as the Derby of Shame, one of several flashpoints in the fixture’s storied history. Whenever the two clubs meet – at least twice a year – it’s the highpoint in club football, pitting the world’s two biggest clubs against each other. Going on several studies over the last decade, including one by the University of Harvard in 2007, Real Madrid’s global fanbase was put at over 228 million; while an annual survey of 17 countries by the consultancy Sport + Markt during the summer found Barcelona to be the most popular team in Europe.

The pair have a stranglehold over affections in Spain, too, notwithstanding their own cities. While traipsing around the country, particularly in the south, one of the first things you’ll notice when you wander into a pub is the presence of a Real Madrid team poster or scarf draped on a wall. In fact, an internal study conducted by Real Madrid a few years ago found there are more Real Madrid supporters in Seville than there are for the two city’s fierce rivals, Sevilla and Real Betis, pooled. Can you imagine if Chelsea had more supporters in Manchester than United and City combined?

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have supporters clubs, or peñas, littered around the country. Funnily enough, Real Madrid’s largest peña outside of the capital city is in the Catalan city of Terressa, Xavi’s hometown.

The colour, though, from the Barça-Madrid rivalry, as it’s known in Spain, comes from complex historical antecedents. Futbol Club de Barcelona became a haven for Catalan separatists during the 40-odd years of the Franco regime, which outlawed, amongst other repressive diktats, the speaking of Catalan in public. For proud Catalans, the only place where they could wave a Catalan flag – the striking band of yellow-and-red stripes of Puyol’s captain’s armband – in public was at the Camp Nou.

The cross of Sant Jordi, Catalonia’s patron saint, adorns the club’s crest. During Franco’s time, Catalans were forbidden to christen their sons with Catalan names, of which Jordi is one; Jorge being the accepted Spanish version of George. Johann Cruyff, who joined the club in the summer of 1973, two years before Franco died, nearly caused an international incident when, in February 1974, he named his only son Jordi, who, of course, went on to play for Barça and Manchester United.

Although antimadridista sentiment is as strong as ever in the Camp Nou, the simple, appealing narrative of their left-wing past has become muddied over the last couple of decades, as the hardcore element of their fanbase – embodied in their most prominent hooligan peña, the unofficial Boixos Nois – is now a mix of neo-fascist skinheads, Spaniards and separatists.

“Boixos Nois began in the early 1980s as a very strong, left-wing Catalan nationalist group, but with the years they have changed,” says Carles Viñas, a historian at the University of Barcelona who has written several books on hooliganism and is a lifelong socio (member) with Barcelona.

“Now they are Catalan people, right-wing Spanish people and Casuals, the most hardcore crew who are racist and neo-Nazis. During Joan Laporta’s presidency , they threatened to kill him because he banned them from the stadium. Earlier this year, a lot of them were jailed for drug trafficking and extortion. They make up diverse elements, but when they go to other stadiums for Barcelona matches, they stay together. They say, ‘Don’t worry – now we are all from Barça. No politics. You are safe’.”

Not that there would be many of them travelling to away games anyway. It is one of the conspicuous features of La Liga matches – the minuscule number of fans who travel to support their team, owing to the vastness of Spain, regular kick-off times of 10pm and, most confounding, the fact that fixture dates, spread from Saturday to Monday, are usually only finalised eight days beforehand. Of the 98,700 fans in the stadium at Monday night’s match – the game, controversially, is taking up the graveyard slot of the league’s jornada, or Match Day, 13 – perhaps only 200 or 300 of them will be from Ultras Sur, Real Madrid’s hardcore posse, whose every move will be shepherded by 500 Mossos d’Escuadra, Barcelona’s police.

“Spanish football culture is quite different,” says Dr Ramón Spaaij, a Dutch sociologist who spent six years studying football hooligan fans in England, the Netherlands and Spain.

“There’s not really a hardcore group of fans who go to all the away games, which creates a more relaxed atmosphere. Even though people might be Barcelona fans, in their daily lives, they might live alongside Madrid fans at work; maybe in the family as well. It’s very much a fluid spectator identity rather than fixed, aggressive masculine identity in terms of defending territories, with the exception of the small cores of hooligan fans. It’s quite a different away culture than in England, for example.

“I had a season ticket for West Ham United. It was the same guys travelling – 2,000 or 3,000 of them – every week to every away game. There was very much a sense of solidarity and group identity; going to the match, and for some maybe having a fight; whereas with Barcelona v Real Madrid, if you’re talking about anti-social behaviour, it’s much more about verbal abuse, even racist abuse sometimes, although nowadays both sides have got so many foreign players that that is generally less the case.

“There’s a lot of fireworks and missile throwing. There’s a lot of gesturing. There’s a lot of provocation. There’s a lot of intimidation and shouting and yelling. When they lose, there’s crying. It’s all very emotional, but it’s very ritualised in that it doesn’t often spill over into physical violence.

“It’s hard to say whether that’s because there’s not many opportunities because there are fewer away fans who are well policed or is it because that’s all there is, that ritualised aggression is enough for them?”

When the teams kick off at 8pm (live Sky Sports 1), a lot of that Barça aggression will once again be channelled at a Portuguese man, and it’s not Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s free-scoring winger, who has clocked up 14 goals in 12 league games so far this season, one more than his electrifying counterpart at Barcelona, Lionel Messi.

Unbeaten in the league, Real Madrid are eight points clear of third-placed Villarreal, and one point ahead of Barcelona, in a contest which looks, already, as if it’ll surpass, in the words of Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, the “f***ing barbaric” two-horse race of last year.

Masterminding Real Madrid’s assault is José Mourinho, the team’s “Galactico on the bench”, signed off-season for close on €100 million when factoring in his salary, those of his retinue and the pay-off to his predecessor, the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini.

Mourinho steered Inter Milan past Barcelona in last season’s Champions League semi-final, despite his side only having 16 per cent of possession in the crucial second-leg. The manner in which he took off on a celebratory run, finger in the air, around the Camp Nou after the final whistle, his path temporarily stopped by Barcelona’s miffed goalkeeper Victor Valdés, still rankles, as does his badgering of them, as only he can, since returning to football in Spain.

For Mourinho learnt his trade in Barcelona. Locals love to recall the late spring evening he addressed Barcelona’s faithful after a Copa del Rey victory in 1997 in a city-centre square. It was the first of four years Mourinho spent at the club as a translator-cum-assistant coach. Clutching the microphone on a balcony, his breast aflutter, he gasped: “Today, tomorrow and always I have Barcelona in my heart.”

And pigs will fly.

CROSSING THE DIVIDE FIVE WHO MADE THE LEAP

JOSEP SAMITIER

During 13 years with Barcelona, “Pepe” scored 326 goals, after which he moved to Real Madrid for a couple of seasons. Known as The Lobster for his kicking style, he led a playboy lifestyle and passed the Spanish civil war playing football for Nice.

A consummate charmer, he managed to eke out a career working as a scout for both clubs, being involved in the two big signings of the 1950s – bringing Laszi Kubala to Barcelona and Di Stéfano to Real Madrid.

A buddy of Franco, he used to chide him about his corpulence. “My General, you’ve put on a bit of weight,” he’d say, tapping him on the belly.

BERND SCHUSTER

Known as der Blonde Engel, the German spent most of the 1980s with Barcelona. A mercurial talent, he enraged most of his managers – and a chunk of the club’s fans – at the Camp Nou, including Terry Venables, so not all were dispirited to see him leave for the Bernabéu in 1988.

He later managed Real Madrid, helping them to defend their league title in 2008, his attacking brand of football in marked contrast to his predecessor’s, Fabio Capello’s style. Ironically, he retired several months later from the club after suggesting publicly his team had no chance of defeating their great rivals in the upcoming Barça-Madrid match.

MICHAEL LAUDRUP

Raúl reckoned Laudrup to be the best he ever played with, and he’s played with a fair few Galácticos in his day. Laudrup is manager of Real Mallorca, who are mid-table in La Liga at present. He won four league titles on the trot in the early 1990s with Barcelona,

Laudrup was fed up with manager Cruyff and did the unthinkable and joined Real Madrid, helping them straightaway to wrest back control of the league title; although not before being substituted on his first appearance back at the Camp Nou, so unsettled was he by the hostile reception he received.

LUIS ENRIQUE

Born in Gijón, Luis Enrique played for Real Madrid for five seasons before departing for Barcelona on a free transfer. Initially sceptical, Barcelona’s fans took to him wholeheartedly, delighting in the way he used to kiss the Catalan shield on his shirt whenever he scored against Real Madrid; indeed, he finished his career at the club as captain of the side.

A veteran of three World Cups for Spain, his international career is remembered for an incident in which he head-butted Mauro Tassotti’s elbow, causing him, apparently, to lose a pint of blood from his face.

These days he works as coach to Barcelona’s B team.

LUÍS FIGO

Just before Figo returned for his first match at the Camp Nou since moving to Real Madrid in the summer of 2000, Marca, a Spanish paper, published a picture of his ear with the caption: “Figo: Te van a calendar la oreja” (Figo, they’re going to make your ears burn).

And so they did, hurling everything bar the kitchen sink at him whenever he attempted to take a corner, while several thousand supporters waved giant copies of the 5,000-peseta note with his face superimposed on it, along with the line, Figo, pesetero.

CLASSIC EL CLASICOS

1943

During the 1930s and 1940s Spanish football wasn’t the duopoly it is these days. Over those two decades, Barcelona and Real Madrid won only six league titles between them so when the sides met in the 1943 semi-final of the Generalissimo’s Cup, renamed in honour of Franco, there was a lot at stake.

In the first leg, Barcelona, playing at home, won 3-0, a displeasing result for the General, a noted Real Madrid fan. Before they took to the field in the second leg, the Director of State Security, José Finat y Escriva de Romani, dropped into the visiting team’s dressingroom. “Do not forget,” he cautioned, “that some of you are only playing because of the generosity of the regime that has forgiven you for your lack of patriotism.”

Three of the team – Raich, Escola and Domingo Balmanya – had left Spain during the Civil War and so, possibly, avoided the fate of Barcelona club president Josep Sunyol, who was shot dead in the mountains outside Madrid by Francoist forces in 1936. They weren’t keen on having their files “reconsidered”.

Eight-nil up at half-time, Real Madrid won the match 11-1.

1953

When the 1953-54 season kicked off, Real Madrid hadn’t won a league title in 20 years. They had, though, after over a year of shenanigans, managed to nick the signature of Alfredo Di Stefano, their current club president, from Barcelona in possibly the most famous football signing saga in history.

Di Stefano was the ½“brainiest player” Bobby Charlton ever saw. He scored over 800 competitive goals in his career, an incredible haul given the leagues he played in. He bagged four of those in his first Real Madrid versus Barcelona match, a 5-0 drubbing in the Spanish capital.

The match came two weeks into the season, by the end of which Real Madrid won back their coveted league title.

1960

With a team led by Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, the pot-bellied Hungarian who was known as Cañoncito Pum! (Little Cannon Bang!) for his ferocious shot from a standing position, Real Madrid won the first five contested European Cup finals.

In the second round of the 1960-61 tournament, they met Barcelona. Leading 2-1 from the first leg at the Bernabéu with three minutes to go, English referee Arthur Ellis ignored a linesman’s flag for offside when Sandor Kocsis broke through, but whistled for a penalty when he was fouled. The spot kick was converted.

It was the first time Real Madrid had not won a home tie in six years of European Cup competition.

In the second leg, another English referee, Reg Leafe, disallowed four goals, three of them Real Madrid’s, which, from archive footage, seem to have been perfectly valid goals.

After the game, the Real Madrid president sulked: Leafe was Barcelona’s best player.

Boo hoo.

1974

Shades of Di Stefano – the marquee player of the day, Johann Cruyff (left), was almost signed by one side, only to be taken by the other, this time going to Barcelona, for a record-breaking £922,000. In his maiden season with the club, he helped the Catalans to a first league title in 14 years.

During his first visit to the Bernabéu, he bestrode the pitch like a colossus – setting up three goals and scoring another at the end of a trademark slalom through the opposition’s defence. Incredibly, when the referee blew the final whistle, the score-line read Real Madrid 0 Barcelona 5.

2005

Barcelona won the league title in 2004. Taking the stage in front of adoring Barça fans at the Camp Nou, Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o, discarded after several fruitless years on the books at the Bernabéu, chanted: “Madrid, you bastards, salute the champions.”

Several months later when Barcelona visited the Bernabéu to play a Real Madrid team with Raúl, Zinedine Zidane, the Brazilian Ronaldo and David Beckham in its ranks, a section of home supporters made monkey noises whenever Eto’o got on the ball, but he silenced them with a first-half goal.

Ronaldinho added two to make it 0-3, and played with such mastery he drew applause from some of the more enlightened Madrileños present.

a