Fear and Loathing in La Liga – Barcelona vs Real Madrid
By Sid Lowe
Yellow Jersey Press – £14.99
A raggle-taggle and somewhat discerning traipse through the long chequered history that is Barcelona and Madrid football clubs, this very readable book sheds all shades of sagacious light on what surely has to be, one of the, if not the fiercest of football rivalries anywhere in the world. Sure enough, football rivalry – an unwritten and relentlessly hopeless law unto itself – whether it’s Spurs and Arsenal, Ajax and Feyenoord, or Celtic and their former pet-hate, Rangers (the dystopia of the last, surely having been the most annoying and pathetic of them all, simply due to its fundamental myopic religiosity), has always made for colourful reportage, refereeing and downright thuggery.
Yet when it comes to the football rivalry between the capitals of Catalonia and Spain, it needs to be acknowledged that it is fundamentally politically based, rather than deeply entrenched within the tedious quagmire of blatant religiosity or out and out hoolganism.
To be sure: ”It’s Messi vs Ronaldo. It’s Catalonia vs Castilla. It’s the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs Franco’s fascists. It’s majestic goals and mesmerising skills, red cards and bench brawls. It’s the best two teams on the planet going face to face and toe to toe. It’s more than a game. It’s a war. It’s Barcelona vs Madrid […]. Only, it’s not that simple.”
Of course not that simple – these things never are; which is where this book comes in.
Fear and Loathing In La Liga – Barcelona Vs Real Madrid, is everything its title suggests and perhaps a whole lot more besides. Which is to say its nineteen chapters are as equally accountable as they analytical in their (at times, perplexing) persuasion. Absolutely no footballing stone between these two clubs has been left unturned – be it political or historical, due or undue. Or otherwise.
For instance, in chapter Two ‘The Night Before’ (nothing to do with the Paul McCartney song of the same name), the book’s author Sid Lowe – the English, Madrid-based columnist and journalist, who is a veritable authority on Spanish football – writes: ”’mès que un club is famous and it is everywhere: more than a club. It is not just a slogan, it is a declaration of principles […]. Francoism was transposed on to Madrid, the Catalan sociologist Luis Flaquer noting: ‘You couldn’t shout ”Franco you murderer” on the streets so people shouted at Real Madrid’s players instead. It’s a psychological phenomenon.”
Indeed it is. And continues to be, which in a roundabout kind of way, only partly accounts for some of its rumbustious and ever quizzical fascination: ”If the rivalry is partly explained by their success, their success is partly explained by the rivalry. Anything you can do I can do better. The relationship is symbiotic: they are necessary enemies, feeding off each other, trying to outdo each other. ‘Like cathedrals in the Middle Ages’ […]. ‘If Barcelona didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them,’ Madrid president Florentino Pérez once claimed […]. ‘Madrid and Barcelona are like two sides of a scale,’ says the Catalan midfielder Xavi Hernandez. It is impossible for both to be up at the same time, even when they’re both successful. Few recall that while Madrid won the first five European Cups, Barcelona won two league titles and the Copa de Generalisimo, a better domestic record than their rivals over the same period. Madrid’s triumph was Barca’s failure, for all their disputes at home, European competition that has marked them and continues to do so, acting as the ultimate arbiter.”’
With a selection of black and white/ colour photographs that date back to the thirties, these 406 pages constitute a very worthy footballing read. Replete with a varied, comprehensive Bibliography, Fear and Loathing In La Liga sheds more than interesting light on a quintessential rivalry that continues to intrigue and occasionally ignite, as well as inadvertently inform.