El Clasico is arguably the biggest regular football fixture on the planet. Player Development Project Lead Researcher, James Vaughan was fortunate enough to experience the rivalry himself in early 2017. The legendary Barcelona vs Real Madrid fixture got James thinking about the history of his adopted home in Catalonia and the way it has shaped FC Barcelona. In this two part article, we follow James’ match-day experience and find out how Catalan and Barcelona history and social construct interlink.
I emerge from the metro in Badal and start the 10-minute pilgrimage to Camp Nou. I walk in a daze, amazed that I have one of the 99,354 tickets (See Figure 1) for today’s game; another 650 million spectators from 185 countries will tune in and watch over the airwaves.
I’ve lived in Barcelona for nine months and watched games at Camp Nou but I never thought I’d experience El Clasico in the flesh, and with good reason. In the months leading up to kick-off tickets sold for thousands of euros. However, this year Barça’s form wavered (the worst start to a season since 2007) and slowly but surely Madrid extended their lead in La Liga, so suddenly with game day looming tickets appeared online.
I’m walking with a friend who bought his ticket on a re-sale website for almost 350 euros! Somehow I got my ticket for half that price on Barça’s website that morning. Half of 350 euros is still an embarrassing amount to pay for a football match, but we justify our extravagance by reminding each other: “It’s the Classico!”
Outwardly I smile at the reassurance but inwardly I’m empathising with Barça’s founding father Joan Gamper. Establishing the club in 1899, Gamper championed the values of amateur sport but lived through its professionalization, resenting money’s growing influence. It was an influence that shaped Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century and continues to shape our society today… I become lost in thought, brooding on this idea as we continue our walk towards Camp Nou.
According to MARCA (a Spanish sport newspaper with an estimated daily readership of 2.5 million) these clubs have spent over a billion euros on the starting 22 players! The obscene spending reminds me of Barcelona’s indiano families at the time of Joan Gamper. It was a time when families like the Güells wrote blank cheques to commission extravagant houses and the famed modernist masterworks of Gaudí, Domènech and Puig materialised on Passeig de Gràcia. As the city’s extension emerged, in neighbourhoods like Eixample, inequality boomed and Barcelona’s workers were left to endure the cramped, disease-ridden “old city” where life expectancy was as low as 26. Increasing inequality saw social tension soar and Barcelona was nicknamed “the fiery rose”. From these volatile conditions emerged a civil war and eventually a fascist dictatorship.
A recent exhibition – L’1% C’est Moi by Andrea Fraser – at Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the sentiment captured at a recent Woman’s March suggest that gross inequality and fascist rhetoric are re-emerging today. L’1% C’est Moi highlights the relationship between increasing art funding and today’s growing worldwide inequality. As financial inequality booms, artistic endeavors receive greater funding. Are footballers the 21st century’s version of the modernist architects? Is Messi the new Gaudí? Are football’s elite benefiting from a growing inequality?
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