Short answer: yes.
Long answer: yesssssssss!!!
I’ve known the answer to this for quite some time now. I consider myself a rational sports fan, not easily swayed by emotion, but with football, my rationality takes a back burner to passion. I was not born a football fan, having only started following it after living in Barcelona for some years. I’m more of a casual fan with bouts of rage. I don’t know all there is to know about the sport but one thing is certain. I HATE Real Madrid. I hate everything about them, from their pampered, baby-of-a-superstar, to their coach and to their fans. I hate them more than any other team in sports. More than the Yankees, Dodgers, Lakers, Collingwood Magpies, and Dallas Cowboys combined (the last one pains me to write). Is my hatred rational? Am I simply a product of the rivalry between the two clubs and the two cities? I’ve decided to take a closer look.
The rivalry has heated up in recent years with Real staking a claim to be the 2ndbest side in the world. The 2012 Copa del Rey tie added yet another unsavoury moment to a growing list:
- Mourinho’s dictatorial style, constant excuse making and, yes, even eye gouging, make him one of the most hated managers in football. Even Real Madrid’s former president, Ramon Calderon, likened him to Hitler. His attempt to portray the wealthiest football club in the world as the underdog under siege is ridiculous.
- Sergio Ramos dropping the Copa del Rey under the bus…C’mon!
- Madrid defender Pepe intentionally stepping on Lionel Messi’s hand.
My historical reasons for hating Real Madrid are also numerous:
- Madrid has ruled over Barcelona (and the region of Catalunya) since 1714, permitting varying degrees of autonomy.
- Real Madrid was supported by the Franco dictatorship and the Spanish monarchy.
- The club has been a lightning rod for Spanish nationalism and has always been permissive, if not actively supporting, of right-wing politics.
Early History of Real Madrid
Middle-class men with crazy moustaches founded the club in 1902. In 1920, the Spanish monarchy bestowed the symbol of the crown on the club’s crest; thus ‘Royal’ Madrid was born. The club’s pure white jerseys matched the purity the royal family achieved through selective inbreeding. It was a match made in heaven. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War changed the club’s history, along with everything else in Spain. Many players and functionaries throughout Spain were caught in the fighting. One of Spanish football’s more famous participants was Santiago Bernabéu Yeste, the namesake of Real’s world-class stadium. Unsurprisingly, he fought for Franco’s Nationalists. After the war, it was not business as usual. Many clubs were left in shambles, with players and administrators, dead or missing. And many buildings were destroyed. Real was no exception and the fascist Bernabéu was instrumental for the club; raising capital and growing their profile internationally.
How fascist was Real Madrid? It’s hard to say. The club was clearly tied to the Franco government. The relationship was beneficial to both parties; as the club’s successes grew so did support for Franco’s agenda. Franco’s regime was isolated internationally and used the club to improve it’s standing. The club benefitted from financial ties with the ruling elite. Many photos exist of Real players giving fascist salutes; however it was likely obligatory for the players to show support of the fascist regime at the time. In the 1938 World Cup, Italy famously defeated France dressed as Mussolini’s black shirted paramilitary. Mussolini ordered the players to hold their salutes until the crowd stopped jeering. Does that make the players fascist?
FC Barcelona’s times under the dictatorship were difficult. They too had to rebuild in the post-war era. Under Franco they were forced to change the club’s name from Catalan to it’s Spanish equivalent. And the club was ordered to remove the Catalan flag from their shield. In a famous incident, the Generalisímo visited FC Barcelona before a match against Madrid reminding them “they were only allowed to play due to the generosity of the regime.” Not surprisingly they lost 11-1. Other than this, there is little evidence to suggest that Franco bought players or manipulated outcomes.
The words of ‘ursus arctos’, found on a football forum, best describe the difficulties in knowing what occurred under Franco’s regime:
“Those of us who know something about the history of Spain during the Civil War and the Franco period know that finding irrefutable evidence of the absolute truth with regard to many things that happened during that period (many of which are much more important than football) is an inherently difficult (and perhaps literally impossible) process.”
Football in the Post-Franco Era
With the passing of the dictator in 1975, Spain began its ‘transition to democracy’. It was a tumultuous time rife with political murders, bombings, an attempted coup, and fragmentation of the Spanish ‘unity’ the regime had imposed. Under these conditions fascist reactionaries seethed. In 1980 a group of hardcore Real Madrid fans founded the Ultras Sur, one of the most violent, right-wing groups in Europe’s hooligan plague. Much has been written on this group, most famously a 2003 book titled ‘Diario de un Skin’. An investigative journalist infiltrated Neo-Nazi groups in Madrid and soon found himself in the company of the Ultras Sur. He claims the group organized ‘hunts’ of supporters of other football clubs and non-white fans in and around Bernabéu Stadium. Furthermore, he states that the Ultras and the Hammerskins, a Neo-Nazi group, are nearly indistinguishable from one another. The book is sensationalist and was expanded from a television report, written with profit in mind, but should not be discounted all together.
The Ultras Sur own website dances around the question of fascism. It says they became politicized after being attacked by communist extremists but does not explain their political position. Furthermore their website states that many of their members may be skinhead in appearance and ‘take pride’ in the colors of the Spanish flag. But the website fails to claims that the group are Neo-Nazis. The website contains an amusing link to images of member tattoos. Most are variations on the Real logo or crest, some with the founding year. Other tattoos are Viking-themed. One of the photos shows a Viking carrying a Spanish flag. I’m no historian but I’m pretty sure the Vikings never visited Madrid (no navigable river) and didn’t have access to Spanish flags (not adopted until 1978). Other supporter sites have members displaying white pride imagery and Neo-Nazi numerology. It’s not hard to establish the link between the Ultras Sur and extreme right politics.
Real Madrid’s connection to the Ultras Sur brings the club under further scrutiny. There is no evidence of the club distancing themselves from them. In fact, there is evidence that the club giving them preferential treatment, free tickets, contact with players and services that the average fan cannot access. Real relished in Estadio Bernebéu’s reputation as one of the most difficult places to play in Europe. And intimidation by the Ultras Sur was one of the main reasons that the stadium was deemed difficult to play at. Non-white players were racially abused and treated to monkey calls. Ronaldo (the fat one, not the faux-hawk one) claims to have received abuse from the Ultras Sur while playing for Real. It’s hard to suggest that Real encouraged it but at no point have they appeared to frown upon it, let alone try to stop it.
Fascism in Football Today
Right-wing politics and football fans have a long history. Many clubs have fans that they are less than proud of. Given Spain’s history of fascism, and the clubs former links with the regime, you would think Real would try to, at the very least, eradicate any outward sign of it at the stadium. Regrettably, they have not. At no point, past or present, have they distanced themselves from fascism, while passively reaping the benefits. Nationalism is generally accepted in football, but fascism is not. Real dances around their relationship with fascism in much the same way as the Ultras do on their website. Tacit acceptance of their ties with fascism is on display on any given match day at their stadium.
What conclusions have I drawn? The club’s influence on the modern game is undeniable. Dream teams and international club competition are part of the club’s legacy. So are its links to the longest lasting fascist dictatorship. But are they evil? Every movie has its villain and Real fits perfectly into that role for me. Mourinho is like Chaplin’s comical spoof of a dictator. Cristiano ‘everyone hates me because I’m rich and beautiful’ Ronaldo epitomizes everything I hate about the modern sports world.
Luke Skywalker is no one without Darth Vader. And who would Indiana Jones be without the Nazis? Just another sexist, macho, racist idiot (see Part 2….Okee Dokee, Docta Jones) with nothing to rail against. And if FC Barcelona didn’t have Real Madrid to defend good from, who would they be?