El Clasico, by Richard Fitzpatrick

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Forget Rangers v Celtic – an easier thing to do from the coming season onwards – the Manchester derby, Boca Juniors v River Plate; the biggest club confrontation on the planet is undoubtedly Real Madrid v Barcelona.

The name given to matches between the two, El Clasico, is a clue as to how much they grip not only the Spanish imagination but that of football fans worldwide. Richard Fitzpatrick, an Irish journalist living in Spain, is an objective examiner of the complex political and social reasons this rivalry was born and nurtured, unearthing some surprising facts along the way.

For instance Real, traditionally the establishment team supported by the Madrid elite and the Franco regime, were founded in 1902 by two Catalan brothers, and Franco himself is rumoured to have enjoyed doing the pools, winning twice. Barça's role as the embodiment of Catalonia's separatist tendencies fuelled the feuding, but Fitzpatrick is also acute on the footballing differences, Barcelona favouring homegrown players, Real buying up galacticos.

Barça still espouse the tiki-taka passing game pioneered by Johan Cruyff, and in 2008 rejected the idea of appointing Jose Mourinho as manager, saying they preferred "a philosophy, not a brand". With Mourinho at Real and Barça under new stewardship, there should be plenty more fun and games – and feuding – which you'll view with a far more informed eye after reading this engrossing history.

Published in trade paperback by Bloomsbury, £12.99