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El Clasico By Richard Fitzpatrick

Release date: 16th September, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury

List Price: £8.99
Our Price: £8.09
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In Santander around a decade ago, your reviewer found himself in an hotel on the day of El Clasico, Real Madrid v Barcelona.

During the course of the afternoon, a large reception area and adjacent meeting room were opened up and transformed into one enormous seated area; the hotel bar did brisk business as a gigantic TV screen with huge speakers was rigged up. By kick off, perhaps 1,500 people had descended on the hotel to watch the match.

The atmosphere was electric. Abuse was hurled at the screen; laughter erupted; cries of desperation were heard and almighty roars accompanied the game's two goals. Afterwards, the crowd slipped away. There was no trouble, not even strong words. The whole experience proved a fascinating glimpse of what El Clasico means to Spaniards.

There have been several very good Spanish football-related books written recently. Graham Hunter's Barca is a penetrating and convincing account of life at the Catalan club, while Jimmy Burns' La Roja was described as 'a wonderful blend of politics, history and sports journalism'. To these pair, add Richard Fitzpatrick's El Clasico, a marvellous tale of passion and unprecedented rivalry underpinned by politics and bloodshed.

Barca and Real were at it again last Sunday, Messi and Ronaldo scoring in a compelling 2-2 draw, but there's much more to this duel than 22 footballers.

As the clock approached 17 minutes 14 seconds, so the Nou Camp crowd brandished cards to create a gigantic mosaic of Catalonia's La Senyera flag and shouted "Independencia!", a cry designed to remind the whole of Spain that it was in 1714 that Catalans could last declare independence.

Fitzpatrick understands this match's unique symbolism. It's history is laden with murdered presidents (of both clubs) and player kidnappings, as well as the bloodshed of civil war, Franco-style fascism and the fiercest sporting rivalry imaginable.

At one point in last Sunday's fixture, a banner was unfurled behind one of the goals. "Catalonia - Europe's Next State" it proclaimed. Should Spain's most famous eastern region ever secede, however, you fancy the first thing FC Barcelona would do is join Spain's La Liga in order to ensure the on-field battles with arch-rivals Real Madrid continued. Once you've read El Clasico, you'll understand why.


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