A strange thing occurred to me on Sunday night. I touched down at Terminal 2 of Barcelona’s El Prat airport to find a sizable melee gathered at Gate no. 41. Tired and eager to get home I was about to ignore it and push past when I suddenly remembered. It was El Clasico on Monday night! This must be the Real Madrid team arriving in Barcelona…
“Es Real Madrid?” I asked one security geezer in my best Spanish, just as a large retinue of sharply-suited men filed into the building and made their way to arrivals. The crowd grew excited and everywhere flashes went off and mobile phones were held up high in the hope of getting some footage of some of the most famous faces in football. Men and women in green security uniforms created a very loose shield around the Real Madrid retinue as the crowds hurried after them shouting encouragement – mixed with some abusive pro-Barca sentiments (presumably by those who like me just happened to be making our way to arrivals at the same time).
I must confess I couldn’t resist quickening my step a little, and maybe even breaking into a light jog at one point (baggage trailing behind), and lo and behold, surprisingly easily, I drew up right alongside Mourinho. He was looking smug as usual but I was pleased to discover even a midget like me could look the pint-sized trainer in the eye. (One can only assume that he was looking less smug on his way to departures… after suffering a humiliating 5-0 defeat and the biggest margin of his managerial career). Just behind Mourinho was Cristiano Ronaldo himself and he permitted himself a wry smile when one blonde air hostess, tracking him with her iPhone, cried ‘Cristiano, que guapo eres!’.
Once we arrived at the airport building (not sure how so many people had managed to get through past customs and right up to the gates!) it was pure mayhem. Kids were screaming and pushing like crazy, desperate for a glimpse of their footballing idols. The players themselves had to basically barge through the crowds to get to the bus, with a little help from the hopelessly underpowered (but gun-wielding) security.
Of course, generally speaking, Real Madrid are the most hated football team on the planet here in Barcelona – the dreaded rivals of Barca FC. But they do still have a loyal fan base… because, as with all the best football rivalries, there is so much at stake than just sport. Real Madrid vs. Barca is about as political as it gets, with Los Blancos representing centralist Spanish government and Spanish pride, and the Blaugrana standing for Catalan independence and national identity. More broadly speaking Barcelona also stand for other separatist regions of Spain (of course areas like the Basque country have their own teams but, historically, only Barca can stand up to Real Madrid making Barca a second team for anyone harbouring a grudge against the central powers of Spain). This political aspect explains the large number of Real Madrid fans in Barcelona. They are the Spaniards living here in Catalonia who are often looked down on by the native Catalans, who no doubt were desperate that Mourinho’s men would put those arrogant provincials in their place!
No such luck for them. The first El Clasico of the season (El Clasico, or ‘The Classic’ is simply the name given for each of the two La Liga meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona) was not a classic by any means from a neutral point of view… it was one of the most one-sided matches football fans will have seen this season! But it was a night of enormous celebrations for Barcelona FC fans who saw their boys play Ronaldo and chums off the park. As Xavi, Pedro, Villa, Villa again and Jeffren netted for Blaugrana, Mourinho was humiliated and Pique held his hand aloft, fingers separated to simple each of the five wounds they had inflicted on their old foe. By the end the Real Madrid players had lost, not only the game, but the plot, with Ramos bitch-slapping Puyol (which was actually quite funny) and getting sent off.
For more on El Clasico, head to our amigos at Barcelona Life, who have more details on the political significance of the game, reports of previous encounters, and some sage advice on getting hold of tickets for a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona match.