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In a country where football is more than 22 guys chasing a ball

If you have ever heard clichés about Spain, one of them is definitely that here football is not just a game, it is a R E L I G I O N. Spanish football fans are among the most fervent in Europe, probably second only to Italians (this is coming from a girl who has to put up with her Italian male friends and their detailed accounts and ferocious discussions of every bloody game since the beginning of time.)

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Every year twenty teams, representing each a specific region of Spain, compete in La Liga, considered one of the most prestigious and competitive football leagues in the world. All of them can count on the support of thousands of avid fans, but two in particular stand head and shoulders above the rest and have a huge international following. You must have certainly heard about Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (also called Barça, and please note that it only refers to the club and it is NOT an abbreviation or a cool/hispanic way of calling the city of Barcelona). The rivalry between these two teams is so intense that any match between them even has a name (and a page on Wikipedia), that is “El Clásico” (The Classic).

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A quick research on Google will reveal that El Clásico is much more than just a game: the rivalry dates back to the 1930s and has deep political roots. To put it very simply, Barça represents the symbol of Catalan nationalism, and indeed its slogan goes “Més que un club” (More than a club). Back in 1936, Franco arrested the president of Barcelona, who was also a member of the Republic Left of Catalonia, and executed him without trial. Thus, you can imagine how angry were the fierce Catalans who saw defeating Real, representing the centralizing force of the Spanish government in Madrid, as a way of taking revenge. This was just the beginning of an entire saga that lasts till today, and for anyone eager to learn more about it, I refer you back to the fantastic Wikipedia page mentioned above which explains thoroughly what is considered “the greatest football rivalry in the world”.

Today, Barça still represents Catalonia’s struggle for independence: in fact, it is not unusual to see Barça fans wave the yellow and red-striped Catalan flags and hold up banners at the Nou Camp proclaiming that “Catalonia is not Spain”, while Real Madrid fans respond by waving the flag of Spain and singing Viva España (Long Live Spain)!

One last fun fact about the two enemies is that their supporters even have names: the fans of Barça are known as “Culés” (Arses), as at one of the club’s first stadiums, supporters used to sit on the outer wall watching matches, and what passers-by could see when looking up from the street was a row of backsides, which prompted the nickname. The supporters of Real Madrid are known as the “Merengues” (Meringues), because of their distinctive white kit which resembles the famous dessert made from egg whites and sugar.

Now, after this brief-not-so-brief introduction, let’s move onto actual business: I had never thought my first reflection would have been on the “GO TEAM!” card, but last Saturday I found out that the two teams were going to face each other in the first El Clásico of the season that evening, and apparently this match was eagerly awaited (or at least, I read so on the web) for the return of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who had been banned for biting an opposing player at the World Cup (am I the only one who is still laughing at this?). Of course, I could not miss it (and let’s admit it, girls: Spanish football players are among the hottest in the world. It is more like watching a fashion parade of muscles and sweat!). Now, just sit back and enjoy the show!

So, a reflection after this experience is that I’m still not sure why people support one team or another. “Because it is the best football team in the world” is really not an answer, or at least it is not for someone totally ignorant about football. It seems like many support a team because of the upbringing by their football-fanatic fathers, so I believe a love for a team in this part of the world has less to do with the players’ technical skills and more with emotional bonds and childhood memories.

And that’s all (for now), folks! Hasta luego!

Tharusha, from Granada (Spain)

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