As my time in Spain comes to an end I find myself thinking about the things I love about this country more and more each day. One of the things that I have grown to love especially about Spain is its passion for soccer, or fútbol. Soccer is not an extremely popular sport in the United States, however it is the most popular sport in the rest of the world. When I first came to Spain four years I ago I fell in love with the sport as I watched the Spanish national team win the World Cup for the first time in history. This summer, Spain will be competing for the World Cup again. Although I came to Spain excited to see the national team play in another World Cup, I knew very little about the club teams that exist in cities such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I of course knew of the famous players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, however did not understand just how important and influential these teams are in Spanish culture.
Having grown up in the Chicago area I know plenty about sport rivalries. I was born and raised a Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears fan, therefore instinctively dislike the White Sox and Green Bay Packers. However, after having lived in Spain for the past ten months I have learned that these famous rivalries cannot even compare to the rivalry that exists between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. The argument of which of the two largest Spanish cities is better is never-ending and the rivalry that exists between the two cities’ soccer clubs makes matters even worse. Unlike a normal sports rivalry the animosity between these two cities goes much deeper than just the soccer field. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous state of Cataluña in Spain. Cataluña prides itself on its distinct culture and language that are different than that of Spain although it is part of the country. Strangely enough, over half of the population of Cataluña wishes to separate from Spain entirely and become their own independent country. In addition, during the Spanish Civil War Madrid and Barcelona represented the two different sides of the war. During the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 to 1939, Madrid represented the Nationalists led by Spain’s dictator General Francisco Franco while Barcelona represented the Republicans or opposition. During the war Franco made the language spoken in Cataluña illegal, took away the area’s autonomous rights and bombed the city of Barcelona. To this day the soccer clubs of Barcelona and Madrid remember what happened during the time of the Civil War and both clubs still represent different political views.
However, the animosity that exists between Madrid and Barcelona is not the only great sports rivalry I have learned about this year. Madrid itself has two large soccer clubs, the infamous Real Madrid and the lesser known Atlético de Madrid. While Real Madrid is considered by many as the greatest soccer club in the world Atlético de Madrid, or Atlético, has long been regarded as worst of the two soccer clubs. However, this year Atlético made it all the way to the la Liga Championship, beating FC Barcelona in the final game to win the championship. But, Atlético’s successful season did not end there. Atlético made it to the final of the Champion’s League to play none other than Real Madrid in the championship game. This was the first time in history two teams from the same country had played against each other in the Champion’s League final, and they also just so happened to be two teams from the same city. Madrid went crazy when it found out that its two soccer clubs would go head to head for the most important championship in Europe. Real Madrid, went to the final game having already won the Champion’s League nine times, while Atlético hoped to win for the first time. The game represented more than just a cross-town rivalry. Real Madrid is often considered the “rich man’s” team that is still to this day associated with the Franco regime in Spain and has some of the best players in all of soccer. On the other hand Atlético represents the normal people of Madrid, or the “people’s team.” When all was said and done Real Madrid took the title with the score of four to one and won the Champion’s League for the 10th time in history. Even though Atlético did not win a new standard was set and Atlético put themselves on the map as one of the best soccer clubs in Europe. Despite the rivalry the entire city celebrated Real Madrid’s win and more importantly, Madrid’s win as a city.
I consider myself so lucky to have lived in what many consider to be the greatest soccer country in the entire world. This year I have learned that soccer is not just a sport in Spain. Soccer represents politics views, identity and above all national pride. Although strong rivalries exist between Spain’s greatest soccer clubs the best Spanish players from each team will play together this summer on one team in Brazil for the World Cup. While in the past the animosity that exists between these clubs divided the people of Spain the national teams’ success in the last World Cup united the county for what many consider to be the first time since the Civil War. Soccer is not just a sport in Spain, it is a national pride that has had the power to make a heavily diverse and divided country come together as one. Now, I can only hope that I can see this country that I love so much win the World Cup again this summer.