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El Clasico on hold as Catalan independence movement disrupts La Liga

Thursday 24th October 2019
Political tensions in Catalunya spooked La Liga into postponing El Clasico.
Political tensions in Catalunya spooked La Liga into postponing El Clasico.

El Clasico has been postponed and there is no doubt which club is happier about it. The last time Real Madrid beat arch-rivals Barcelona in a league fixture was in 2016. On that night Cristiano Ronaldo’s 85th-minute strike wrapped up the three points for Real despite Sergio Ramos' red card just two minutes before the goal.

The win in Catalonia successfully avenged a 4-0 defeat at the Bernabeu when a Messi-less Blaugrana ran riot. The following August, Madrid won both games in the two-legged Spanish Super Cup. Since then, they have failed to register a win over Barca, losing 15-3 on aggregate in the last six meetings.

Barcelona's ascension coincides with two recent events, the first being the Catalan referendum on independence.

Tensions between Spain and Catalonia came to a head in 2017 when the Generalitat (the Catalan government) unilaterally declared independence from Spain after a referendum which was deemed undemocratic by the country’s central government and returned a result 90% in favour of separation. The Castilians weren't wrong. The referendum was not sanctioned nationally like Scotland’s 2014 vote on independence. Thus, many who would have voted ‘no’ didn’t bother voting at all.

On the day of the vote, the Guardia Civil [Spanish police] arrived in Barcelona en masse to close polling stations in a bid to prevent the referendum.  Violent scenes between independentistas and the authorities ensued. Much of the police brutality was ignored by the national press who painted the Catalans as troublemakers.

In the aftermath of the referendum, former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has since been ousted over corruption claims, dissolved the Catalan government and ordered the arrests of many of the politicians involved. This included Generalitat leader Carles Puigdemont who, two years on, remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

The second event came later but significantly added to the Merengue's woe. Cristiano Ronaldo departed.

In 30 Clasicos, Ronaldo scored 18 goals. His exit left Los Blancos depleted in attack and they have failed to fill the muscular hole left by CR7. In his final Clasico, Ronaldo scored in a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in May 2018 but Barcelona went on to win the league by 17 points.

The semi-autonomous region of Catalunya is part of Spain's geographically although the Catalan nationalist catch-phrase, 'Catalunya is not Spain', suggests there is little more to the relationship. There is truth to their belief. The culture and language are completely different. British tourists, uninitiated with the complex, vitriolic relationship Catalunya has with Spain, travel to Barcelona, locate the nearest flamenco bar and think they are soaking up the culture. When they drink sangria by the pint, they naively imagine they are gulping the very essence of the place, doing as the Romans do. 

Both Sangria and Flamenco intrude into a culture whose symbols, butifarra and castanyers, are often drowned out by the overbearing clack of castanets.

Catalans are fiercely patriotic. Recent news about the fate of their imprisoned politicians was unpalatable. On Monday,15th October, the nine separatist politicians, imprisoned and awaiting trial since 2017, were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in jail for sedition. Among them was former Vice-President Oriol Junqueras who, as well as sedition, was found guilty of misusing public funds.
 

Reaction to the sentences was widespread outrage. Thousands of pro-independence campaigners took to the streets in protest. Once again, the Spanish police response was predictably heavy-handed. Barcelona finds itself mired in a state of near-war. Saturday should have been the season's first Clasico but La Liga's decision to postpone the game alleviates pressure for now.

It is not an unprecedented call from La Liga.  After the aforementioned referendum in 2017, Barcelona's match with Las Palmas was called off over fears of civil disobedience.

The decision is probably a wise one.  Talk of moving the game to the Bernabeu, away from the unrest's epicentre of the trouble would only produce more anger and further drama.  If the game had been moved to Madrid, Catalans would have motive to mobilise in the capital. One can only imagine the chaos that would have played out.

Barcelona, as a club, heavily supports the Catalan movement. Given the turmoil, Barcelona will be determined to continue their Clasico dominance when the sides do finally meet.

Real Madrid is the Castilian king's team and formerly Generalissimo Franco's. Seen as a symbol of Spanish oppression, every victory over the side is a blow for independence, even if merely symbolic. Making Barcelona supporters wait is a small victory for Spanish nationalists.

Zinedine Zidane and his made over squad will count the delay as a blessing. It's an opportunity to strengthen before facing their nemesis. Throw in week's loss to Real Mallorca and Zizou can only be relieved at the reprieve. When the time comes, however, they know their opponents will be charged by 99,000 Cules who have been waiting to vent their anger on the team of their enemy.

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Dan Whelan

Dan is currently working as a columnist for Plymouth Argyle's award-winning programme, The Pilgrim.  He covers a variety of footballing topics but specifically enjoys writing about the inner-workings of the football fan.

He does this by drawing on his experiences following Argyle and his observations of the behaviour of supporters in both their natural environment (the terraces) and their technological playground (Twitter).

 


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