Soccer And Dictatorships: A Love Story

Upon Franco’s eccentric victory in Madrid, he made the city his own. When he arrived, one his first actions was to replace the entire board of Real Madrid with fascist allies. Despite a stadium in shambles, Franco saw the club through toward European supremacy. The Catalan were hardly on board with Franco’s policy. Barcelona’s regional contingents were last to be conquered in the civil war. Their liberal attitude took to the pitch, as a free-flowing F.C. Barcelona XI were one of the most feared sides in all of Spain. Much to their distaste, Franco made the club’s stadium, Les Corts, “Fascist,” to deplete all Catalan pride. When the 1943 “Copa” reached the semi-final stage, Barcelona was drawn against Real Madrid, presenting the perfect chance for Franco to put the Catalan to bed. In the first leg Barcelona drubbed Real 3-0 in the east. The regime’s control of the media showed in the morning papers, as Madrid journalist Eduardo Teus wrote that the Barcelona, “crowd had shown dishonor and disrespect to the nation,” at Les Corts.

The return leg, at the Chamartin, may be the most violent and politically charged sporting event to ever occur. The streets were extraordinarily hostile, as Franco’s officials handed out free whistles, encouraging people to rally against their rivals. Angel Mur, Barcelona’s team masseur recounted the events saying, “We had to change our hotel and even then we didn’t leave it all evening because we were convinced we would be lynched.” The word “lynched” emerges as most powerful word in Mur’s quote, and the Goldblatt‘s entire work. The mobs outside the team hotel displayed the forced hatred of those in Madrid for the Catalan.

Franco’s XI would have to make up the three goal deficit to go through to the final. The general sent Jose Escriva de Romani, the Director of State Security, to the Catalan locker room give FCB “instructions,” surely threatening punishment if they beat Real. Mur portrayed the volatile stadium, saying, “During the game our goalkeeper was so petrified of being hit by missiles that he spent most of the game as far forward from the goal as possible, allowing Madrid players to strike at the net from all directions.” Real Madrid made up the three goal deficit without a problem, running the Catalan out of Madrid with a 11-1 win. Madrid went on to win the Copa, helping the fascist regime maintain power.

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