El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick

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El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick

Category: Sport
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: This is a rare football book in that the football takes a back seat. It's wider in scope than the norm and much the better for it, being well written and fascinating.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408158791

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Nothing divides opinion quite like football and no-one expresses their joy and disappointment like football fans. For many fans, the most important matches of their entire season are the ones against their local rivals; the derby matches. English football has a number of these, but only the matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain have elevated themselves above mere derby status and earned their own name: El Clásico – the Classic.

Unlike most derbies, this isn't a clash between two teams from the same city or locality. Indeed, with many Catalans considering themselves Catalan rather than Spanish, it's not even considered a clash between two teams from the same country by some fans. Regardless, with the two clubs being the best in the Spanish league by some margin and, frequently in recent years, amongst the best in European club football, it's a clash that overshadows all else.

Fitzpatrick lifts the lid on a rivalry that has as much to do with politics as it does with football. Spanish politics is centred on Madrid and Spain was ruled by a dictator in General Franco for many years, which Barcelona feels gave Madrid an advantage with both the football authorities and match officials. It is largely this resentment that seems to have pushed Barcelona to greater achievements and has made the rivalry closer and more intense in recent times, especially as the spending power of both clubs has increased and enabled them to buy the world's finest footballers.

For those fans who thought football politics was about little more than boardroom wrangling, El Clásico is an eye opener. In Spain, football runs along completely different lines to England. Television money isn't equally distributed, the fixtures aren't prepared months in advance and the clubs are run by presidents elected by club members. In addition, due to the sheer size of the country and some strange kickoff times, away fans are rarely present at matches. Apart from the blood and thunder of the 90 minutes, there is little here that the average English football fan will be entirely familiar with.

But what is here is very well done indeed. The differences may have caused me to read some sections with raised eyebrows, but thanks to the quality of both writing and research, I had to keep reading. Fitzpatrick had access to many notable figures from both clubs, from fans to players to club officials and they frequently talk about more than what happens on the pitch. As a 30 something football fan, many of the names were immediately familiar and their views were elevated way above what you experience from the average post match interview on Match of the Day. In a country where football and politics are almost inseparable, the players appear equally adept at both.

I came into El Clásico expecting something a little more recent and more focussed on football matters, but I discovered that the rivalry runs far deeper and further back in time than I imagined. Spain is a culture shaped by its civil war, heated emotions and casual racism and El Clásico, as an integral part of that culture, is steeped in them all. As a perfect summation of that rivalry, this means El Clásico is also filled to the brim with these things. The Spanish attitude towards racism is shocking to a nation that has seen a current international and former captain in the High Court recently charged with that, but it's always a fascinating read.

This is a book for the slightly more knowledgeable fan, one who could debate the benefits of 4-4-2 against 4-3-3 rather than just abusing the players from the stands. It's a book for the fan who can recall the beautiful game before it became all about money and image rights. It's an eye opening book and how football can be at the very heart of a culture and can be, to paraphrase the late Bill Shankly, not just a matter of life and death, but more important than that. Any fan of the game will start reading for the football, be enticed deeper by the quality of writing and research and enthralled by the depth and scope of El Clásico.

Fans of English football may feel more at home with England 'Til I Die - A celebration of England's amazing supporters by David Lane

Buy El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry by Richard Fitzpatrick at Amazon.com.


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