Sunday, 4 March 2012

Dictators and Football Boots: The story of Spanish Football

Lionel Andrés Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro

When searching for an explosive introduction to any story about La Liga, could there be one more fitting, than simply the names of the leagues two most powerful players?
However, it is important to state that they are but two of a long list of supremely skilled sportsmen plying their trade in sunny Spain. La Liga is now regarded as the best league in the world, despite what you may hear from our very patriotic yet sometimes over-confident cousins across the Irish Sea.

The passion, pace and intensity is now so abundant, especially in the El Clasico games that even the most diehard English footie fan, is now switching channels to watch the Madrilenos and co play the beautiful game.
The emotions on display, the same emotions which fuel the intensity of the games and the ferociousness of the supporters have been created by a special story of a self-destructive country.

Spain is different to most other football loving nations, a scarred, traumatised and divided nation, the very serious (and quite dangerous) political emotions from multiple wars and tragedies have become embedded in the sport. Club teams in the country have clear political allegiances; almost all will fall to either the right or left side of politics, derecha o izquierda. Many teams have a hatred so deep, so rooted in fascism, nationalism; racism that it would make the Old Firm rivalry in Glasgow seem like a feud in a Disney movie.

. Languages, culture, flags are all different in different parts of Spain and the country has always been in danger of splitting into a number of different nations. The dictator General Franco attempted, sometimes by force to commit cultural genocide on these autonomous regions. Languages and individual identity were banned with fatal consequences for those who rebelled. Instead of the one Christian Spanish nation that Franco wanted, these actions only served to divide the country even further. But what has all this got to do with football?

The hatred and anger felt by the Basques and the Catalan has grown and evolved into very distinct political regions and nowhere more is this expressed than on a football pitch.
It was through football that regions expressed their cultural and perceived racial differences. The world renowned rivalry of Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, also known as ‘El Clasico’ has very dangerous and deep rooted political feelings unknown to most of the world.

Barcelona as a team have always been associated with the separatist wishes of the Catalan people, “Més que un club” translated to more than a club is the motto by which fans live their life. More than a club indeed, FC Barcelona is a symbol of a people oppressed by the authoritarian regime of Franco, whose own language was banned with violent consequences for those who disobeyed.

The political ties are deeply embedded in the club and victory or defeat in Madrid or their closer rivals Espanol means more to the fans than anywhere in the world of football, even the violent rivalry of Celtic and Rangers. There is no comparison in sport, the only way to describe how deep rooted the hatred is would be to compare it to that of the Israeli/Palestinian or the Northern Ireland Unionist/Nationalist conflicts. For the fans of either side it truly is a war.

In addition to the rivalry of the above mentioned clubs it would be wrong to forget the other teams in Spain whose hatred is just as serious. The Basque derby between Athletic Bilbao and Real Socidad, there is the constant class struggle of the Seville derby between Sevilla and Real Betis and also the political divide of the Barcelona vs Espanol derby.

So with all these political connotations and attachments to civil wars and dictatorships it is almost understandable the level of ferocity on show at some La Liga games. It is however the reason why the game in Spain is considered the best on the planet, this passion has attracted the greatest players in the world.
Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta, Sanchez, Kaka, are just some of the players who are considered super-human warriors on the front-line of an ever bubbling war of not just football, but of culture, identity and birth-right.

The importance of the game in Spain equals that of family or religion, a reason for living and with the recent domination by both the national and club teams, this passion is only increasing. Spain without football would be like a person without a fiery personality, probably better off but more than likely boring. END

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