The history of Barcelona v Real Madrid: webchat with Sid Lowe

Sid Lowe was online to discuss his new book, Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona v Real Madrid
• Buy the book from the Guardian bookshop
• Read an exclusive extract from the book

More reading from Sid Lowe

Sid's latest column is now online...

Real Madrid stay in touch after referee's 'robbery' of Elche's point

Despite a hectic schedule of games, César Muñiz became the protagonist in La Liga after his baffling penalty decision

At seven minutes past midnight the police finally arrived. "We've had over 120 mentions about football in the last 10 minutes," ran the tweet from Spain's Policía Nacional. "Remember," it continued, adding a smiley face at the end, "we're here to help you on questions of SAFETY :-)". It wasn't hard to imagine what had happened and it wasn't hard to imagine them having a good giggle down the station: "Hello, police? Yes, I want to report a robbery." Very soon, everyone was reporting a robbery. Here we go again.

It was right in the middle of an 11-day stretch of consecutive games, weeks five, six and seven running into each other. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, with Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to come, and Real Madrid were at newly promoted Elche, back in the first division for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. Cristiano Ronaldo's free-kick had gone through the wall to give Madrid the lead and the clock was ticking away. Carlo Ancelotti had sent on Dani Carvajal and Asier Illarramendi to protect a precarious lead but his side seemed on course for another three points. Continue reading

That's all folks

Thanks for reading and commenting. We will be in touch about the books next week. Check out the extract we published this morning and if you want to buy the book, it's reduced now on the Guardian Bookshop.


Guardian contributor

Ok, thanks everyone, really enjoyed that.

Hope you enjoy the book.

Sorry if I didn't get to your question.

All the best.

Hasta luego,


And remember: Michu's right.

RealDealBillMcneal asks:

Yeah, sounds good and all, but could Messi do it on a cold Wednesday night in Stoke?

Guardian contributor

Yes, of course he could.

But here's the question: could Stoke do it on a hot July day in Seville?

flake asks:

Sid, is the following attribution legit?

"In a good team there have to be two Argentinians, but no Englishmen." - Santiago Bernabéu

Guardian contributor

I'm not sure ... to be honest I don't think so.

Bernabeu was obsessed with buying two players that he never managed to get.


And Bobby Charlton.

Celtiberico asks:

Everyone always talks about the clasico being Castilla versus Catalunya. However, there are many, many non-Catalan Spanish cules. To what degree do you think their support for Barcelona is motivated by non-footballing reasons - provincial resentment of Madrid, or a reaction to the (to my mind, inaccurate) perception that Real Madrid were "Franco's club" or the sporting wing of the PP?

Guardian contributor

It depends when they chose to support and why ... normally that decision is purely lúdico ... it is only later that it becomes 'rationalised' as a socio-political one. I would agree with Laporta to some extent when he says it is a nonsense to attack Barcelona's increasing catalnism under him as somehow disrespectful of Barcelona's non-catalan fans. Those fans know what Barcelona is and on one level at least, probably on more, accept that. Maybe even embrace it.

Yousif Nur asks:

What do you think is the biggest misconception regarding the Clasico?

Guardian contributor

The Spanish Civil War. Catalonia versus Castille? WTF?

Dhesp2000 asks:

John Carlin refers to the galacticos period as "the wild romanticism of the original Perez model". Would you agree with that description?

Guardian contributor

No. I see some romance ... but I also see cynicism.

dominicg asks:

Do you cover the infamous 1943 Clasico in your book? The one that Real Madrid "won" 11-1? I'd say that THAT was possibly the real start of the rivalry?

Guardian contributor

Yes, I meet the last survivor of it.

getdfunkout asks:

Hi Sid. Why do Barcelona seem hell bent on not buying a defender who can defend?

Guardian contributor

God knows.

Bonkers, isn't it?

mohster asks:

Are Real Madrid funded by the Royal Familia of Spain?

Guardian contributor

Javi Marcos writes:

Barcelona won more cups with Franco than Real Madrid. He helped them with the sales of the lands when they would build Nou Camp (BOE, 2735/1965, 14 August 1965). Barcelona as an institution rewarded Franco with two medals for his help. And Barcelona and Cataluña, always governed by conservatives parties (CiU), was not really anti-Franco. After all of that stuff, why people say Franco hurted the FC Barcelona?

Guardian contributor

Good point ... and that plays a part in what I talk about in the book, in challenging some of those assumptions.

A key point to make here: when it comes to popular identities and constructing an image, myths matter even when they are myths because they inform people's opinions of themselves and others.

Pippov asks:

Did the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) ever have any links with FC Barcelona?

Guardian contributor

They tried to, but Barcelona out-manoeuvred them in 1936

Footballmood asks:

How is it possible to get for the reality there when each party has its own storytellers for decades? And congratulations for the book, hope to read it very soon!

Guardian contributor

Exactly ... I talk a lot about not just the history of the two clubs but the way they have (or have not) constructed their histories.

AlannaExists asks:

One of your introductory quotations is that of Michu choosing Oviedo over Madrid or Barcelona. Why did you choose that particular quotation for the beginning of your book?

Guardian contributor

Because I thought it expressed something that the book risked not expressing: that there are fans of other clubs, there are those who do not care much for either of these teams and only love their club.

Also, it is there as a way of counterbalancing Machado's quote about there being two Spains. Yes, there are two Spains and that can be scary (and is reflected in the civil war of course). But there are also those that do not fit into either Spain.

I also put the quote from Michu in almost by way of apology: I am sorry to have given my attention only to these two and not to the other clubs in Spain who I have tried always to report on over the years. They matter as well.

And then of course, Michu nails it, from my personal perspective.

he says in four words what I don't manage to say in 450 pages.

noikeee asks:

Sid, I realise this is something that will be covered in the book but can you give us a quick answer - just how far back in history does the immense bitterness of this rivalry go? Was it kickstarted by Alfredo di Stefano's transfer shenanigans in the 1950s? Was it related to the Civil War previously? Or just a natural clash between the two biggest cities in Spain that was always there, as soon as football started?

Guardian contributor

It is a long answer yes ... but maybe 1943, or 1953, could be seen as starting points

LemmyCautions asks:

Sid, how accurate is the legend of Patrick O’Connel, an Irish working class lad, who is giving the credits for saving Barça in mid-1930s, during the Spanish Civil War?

Guardian contributor

he plays a very significant role yes. but he alone certainly does not save the club. He does though put Angel Mur in as physio and thus set up one of the most important spiritual generations at the club.

WestSideStories asks:

What defines Barcelona and Real Madrid? And do you think what defines these two clubs comes into conflict when they play against each other?

Guardian contributor

that is the central question at the heart of the book ... what defines these clubs? what are they? who are they?

And of course it's not simple.


What are your thoughts on the domination of Madrid and Barcelona in regards to the percentage of overall supporters each have in Spain? I believe that around 60% of football fans in Spain affiliate themselves with either Madrid or Barcelona which cannot be healthy for the game as a whole. What are the effects of this for the clubs lower down in the league pyramid? How are they coping financially with the drain of their traditional support base or have these smaller clubs found ways to solve this problem? P.S. I just cited your book on the JAP in my PhD thesis!

Guardian contributor

Brilliant ... now, THAT's a book, hahaha!

60% is about right yes ... the impact is of course huge


Firstly what is your overriding emotion (fear? joy? euphoria? arousal? hunger?) now that your labour of love is now out there to be dissected/lauded/slagged-off/misinterpreted? Did you ever think, "you know what, this just isn't worth it?"

Secondly, having spent a career passing judgment on footballers/athletes, how does it feel having your peers review and pass judgement on you?

Guardian contributor


And it's horrible. Which is one of the reasons why I always try to empathise (which is also a key tool for historians) and not just slaughter.

TylerDurden08 asks:

Real Madrid has always been criticised for the way the club is run and their buying of new players while Barça are always praised for their academy. Why have Madrid not been able to rectify this over the years?

Guardian contributor

I'm not sure I'd say "always" but this is one of the questions I have raised in the book: why haven't Madrid sought to present an alternative? Not so much on the academy question as on the politics etc ... I think they have missed an opportunity to offer up an alternative 'narrative'

Guardian contributor

Thanks everyone ... Can't hang on very much longer ... sorry I couldn't get to all your questions ... I'll have a dash through now to see if there's any subjects that have not been touch yet and answer a few more before signing off ... Here goes ...

Amitai Winehouse asks:

Sid, do you think it's healthy for a footballing nation to be so indelibly drawn across one footballing battle line, or do you think ultimately the Barça/Real rivalry will damage Spanish football?

Guardian contributor

I think it is a reality ... but I think you're right: there's definitely an unhealthy element to it.

ElCashico asks:

Hello Sid. Congrats on the book release. The term 'El Clasico' confuses me slightly. At first, from what I know, it referred to the matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league. But then that was later changed and we use the term even when they play against each other in the Champions League and so on. Isn't this indicative of how powerful these two clubs are considering the change was for marketing needs?

Guardian contributor

More than anything else, it's been ripped off from Argentina.

Not so long ago it was el derbi

Calvin Jake Ferguson asks:

Why is it that Barcelona and Real Madrid don't sign British players more often? Or more commonly, why do hardly any British players choose to go and play in Spain?

Guardian contributor

Most people in Spain will tell you that British players are rubbish, sadly.

Malcolm Stoney

Hi Sid, Have you ever met Ronaldo? If so, is he a 'winker'? Cheers!

Guardian contributor

Cristiano? Yes. I like him a lot. There's a sharpness and charisma about him that I think people don't always see.

FrankieQ asks:

How is the Clasico rivalry viewed in regions of Spain outside of Madrid and Catalonia? Is there passion for the fixture, with football neutrals each having their own favourite? Or is there annoyance at the dominance of these two giants and the saturated coverage the rivalry receives?

I would be very interested to know as I am going to study in Zaragoza soon, which is relatively equidistant to Madrid and Barcelona! Thanks!

Guardian contributor

this is one of the most striking features of the rivalry: almost everyone else, even if they support Real Oviedo or Sporting Gijon, has a natural preference for RM/FCB and cares who wins.

BUT I think that is shifting a bit.

gestapoed asks:

I've read that Barcelona were close to signing Gerd Muller and only when they were not able to get him, they went ahead with getting Cruyff. How much truth is there to it? Also, if they had managed to get Muller, was there ever a possibility that Cruyff could have joined Real Madrid, provided they were ever interested in Cruyff?

Guardian contributor

Honestly not sure about Muller ... but Barcelona always wanted Cruyff and battled for almost three years to get him. Madrid wanted him too and ajax sold him to Madrid, or tried to -- which is why Cruyff was so determined to go to Barcelona. "No, *I* decide"


What lasting effect, if any, do you think the Guardiola-Mourinho rivalry will have in the foreseeable future in the context of the Clasico rivalry?

Guardian contributor

Hard to judge that but at the moment it seems huge ...

I'm interested to see if Mourinho might have helped create, for the first time, a kind of Barca-/Cruyff-style 'entorno' at Madrid

Articuno asks:

Wow, congrats Sid. I saw the pic of all those books you did research on to compile 'Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona v Real Madrid'. Personally, I think it will do very well. My question to you: what inspired you to write 'Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona v Real Madrid'? Was it something you've always wanted to write? Or have the recent El Clasicos aided the development of this book?

Guardian contributor

Thanks. A combination of being asked, originally being reluctant, giving it some thought, thinking: 'actually, I might be able to make this work and be worthwhile ... ' I was determined that if I was going to do it, I would do it properly ... archives, interviews etc ... I enjoyed researching it immensely. Writing it was a bit harder though!

edodd asks:

Does Estella (sorry if names wrong) prefer Barça or Real

Guardian contributor

She prefers tennis balls and bones


Sid. Are there any examples of the two clubs getting along, or at least working together against a common enemy? Or has it always been a negative relationship?

Guardian contributor

Yes, and I try to bring these out in the book because I think it's important to show the nuance, the fluctuation, the shifts ... this is not a linear story ...

So, Bernabeu intervening with the Hungarian government to help Kuabala meet his mum for first time in a decade, for example ...

DanKelly84 asks:

Loved the extract this morning, and looking forward to to getting hold of the book itself. What impact do you think the ownership model of the two clubs has had on their rivalry? El Presidente v El Presidente. When sports and politics mix, consequences can be ugly.

Guardian contributor

Yes, I think it reinforces that political element, adds to populism (theoretically) and instability, which feeds into the whole theatre of it.

Hardik Vyas asks:

How much of this great rivalry is merely staged by the media fronts of Madrid and Barcelona? Are they largely responsible in instigating uncalled drama with pre-derby stories? How much are they responsible in infuriating the already polarized opinions across the divide?

Guardian contributor

there's an interesting bit from Mendoza in the 1980s talking about how it's all a pantomime that's profitable for the clubs ... I' not sure that's entirely true but of course it plays a part.

HeavyMedic asks:

Can you envisage another Spanish team being competitive (trophy-wise) in La Liga in the foreseeable future? The economic dominance of Real & Barcelona is so strong as a result of TV rights and marketability it seems nigh on impossible for a realistic rival to emerge. Sevilla, Valencia and Malaga have all attempted it through various means but fallen short. Is there a realistic alternative out there?

Guardian contributor

cooldudehenry asks:

Who would you have in a combined RM/Barca XI best of all time?

Guardian contributor

Wow, what a question ...

It needs some thought that one ...

Kubala, Di Stefano, Puskas, Alcantara, Messi, Samitier, Ronaldo ...

kayakking asks:

Which stadium do you prefer from a journalistic point of view, the Bernabeu or Camp Nou?

Guardian contributor

The wifi works better at the Bernabéu ...

cooldudehenry asks:

Do you think that, with Barcelona so successful with their academy players and Real Madrid breaking transfer records again, the two clubs are driving each other down opposite ideological paths? Barcelona seem determined not to spend money when they need to (on a CB), and Real seem to be refusing to give youth a chance (Morata)? Will we ever see a home grown player established in the RM starting 11 again? And would the Barca fans be angered if their club ever followed RM with Galactico signings? Congrats on the book too, always enjoy listening to your opinions on Spanish football. Thanks!

Guardian contributor
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