The world’s biggest football rivalry stems from an oft-ignored political backstory: Real represented General Franco – the right-wing dictator who ruled Spain with an iron fist from 1936-1975 – while Barça represented the Democrats.
Catalunya, particularly the city of Barcelona, was repressed under Franco’s regime. To the city’s people, these matches were, and to a degree still are, a way to stick it to the man. Now imagine watching this epic face-off at the two-tiered Santiago Bernabéu stadium, packed with over 85,000 people, singing, screaming and crying – to a point where players can’t hear their teammates mere yards away. That is what the El Clásico is about: It’s not just a football match; it’s a (civil) war, minus the bloodshed.
Smack in the middle of one of Madrid’s traffic arteries rises the stadium’s greying façade, overdue a facelift and in the process of getting one by 2020.
But you’ll want to visit the Bernabéu before its architectural botox. There’s a Spartan ruggedness to it, which is fitting given that it’s hosted the best players from every generation who’ve donned that famed Madrid armor.
The April 23 fixture could very well be the title decider of the La Liga season. What’s more, you don’t need to worry about exorbitantly priced tickets either: With the financial crisis in Spain, you might be able to score them for as little as €80.