Often symbolised as pitting the pride of Catalonia against Spain’s capital, the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid is a match laced with political and social as much as sporting tension.
Even more so this week when the sides face off in Madrid on Saturday lunchtime just over 36 hours after polls will close in local elections in Catalonia that were called over the crisis caused by the region’s drive for independence.
“They have a very strong ideological connection,” political scientist Pablo Simon told AFP.
“On the one side are Real Madrid, who normally can be said to have a more conservative and nationalist fan base.”
By contrast, Simon cites Barca’s ‘more than a club’ motto as being rooted in a sense of Catalan identity.
The sights and sounds of their Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu stadiums reflect that difference.
In Barcelona, Catalan flags, including the independence-supporting Estelada, are commonly flown, while the crowd at Europe’s biggest stadium chant in favour of independence in the 17th minute of each match to mark the fall of Catalonia in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714.
At the Bernabeu, Spain flags are splattered across the stadium, while cries of “Viva Espana” rang around on October 1 in the hours following a violent crackdown by Spanish police forces on a referendum on independence called by separatists in Catalonia.
However, for all their differences, El Clasico and particularly the fear of losing the matchup should Catalonia gain independence, unites both sets of fans.
“It is the derby of Spain and it feels like it is impossible to be neutral,” Sid Lowe, a Spanish football journalist and author of the book “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” on the rivalry, told AFP.
“It is a unifying event. No-one wants to lose this game, even in the event of Catalan independence.”