Since the explosion of Real Madrid and Barcelona on the world stage, at a time when both were attracting some of the biggest talents anywhere in men’s football, El Clásico has taken on a new dimension. For those outside of Spain, the derby is about watching two of the best teams in the world go head to head, with even neutrals tending to have a favourite when the two clash. Yet for those in Spain, especially those polarised between Madrid and Catalunya, the matches played between Real and Barca are about identity, about the endless internalised battles Spain has struggled with for far longer than this tie has been a classic. Indeed, the rivalry - or hatred - was forged at the inception of Spanish football and tonight in Barcelona, a fresh page has been written.
El derbi femení
So, when Real Madrid suddenly had a women’s team, albeit as CD Tacón for their first season in Liga Iberdrola, the bitterest of footballing feuds could claim another branch. Tacón with their nominal history were simply a team, one from Madrid who played in white - the fire and bite that the men’s teams had simply wasn’t there. Yet.
By the time Tacón became Real Madrid Femenino with all the bells and whistles, they were still just a team finding their feet, trying to adjust to the player overhaul and demands of the brutal league. But more beyond, the women’s Clásico had arrived, even if it only carried a spark where the men’s matches were a full blaze. Catalunya and Madrid still sat at opposite ends of the Spanish table but there wasn’t the animosity between the players, maybe frustrations from Las Blancas because of the lopsided nature of their clashes, but after the full time whistle had blown, the rivals were friends once more.
But then there was the match at Camp Nou and the stands were full of fans who had to choke back the bile at the mere thought of Real Madrid. The iconic stadium needed time to fill but even with half the seats empty as the fans trickled in throughout the first half, the noise level was unimaginable. Whether cheering their own team on or taking an audible objection to something the team in white had done, the atmosphere was as partisan as any women’s match had ever been. The ear-splitting noise enough to send those on the pitch into a frenzy, passes misplaced as communication fast dwindled, the cauldron of the stadium threatened to bubble over.
In truth, the match wasn’t like either of the two this month that had preceded it, Barcelona continued to lack the flowing, velvety football they’ve become known for, just as Madrid couldn’t employ their successful press from the first leg. The match became a stand-alone, many assuming it to be dead rubber long before a ball was kicked at the Nou, it boiled down into an attempted, fevered, assault on the other’s goal. The circus-like atmosphere fuelling the delirium.
It was if someone had managed to condense the very essence of football down into a 90-minute helping. It was a match, that although maybe didn’t have the most jaw-dropping football being played in Europe, had just about everything else. From Mapi Leon’s ball into the box that evaded everyone to sail over Misa in the eighth minute to Olga’s well-struck penalty under the most intense booing less than ten minutes later to Claudia Zornoza’s audacious 40-yard chip…even after they went down on the night, Barcelona fought back and managed to score their own sublime goal as well as a truly ugly one too.
It was a match that might even of harked back to those first meetings of the two clubs at the start of the last century, long before football came to be what we know it as today.
There were mistakes a plenty, but it didn’t matter, maybe they even added to the drunken atmosphere; no one quite knowing what was going to come next. It was a match like no other, bathed in a historical Catalan struggle for autonomy, played in a stadium that had seen more than enough Clásicos. Even with the match won and Barcelona having booked their spot in the semi-finals, the fans continued to whistle and hoot into stoppage time as Alexia was booked for an all too clear dive in the box. The wall of noise enough to cure, or cause, tinnitus.
It had been a different kind of Clásico, and indeed, a different kind of women’s match, one that felt so far removed from the norm’ A page to be found in Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga, following on from Luís Figo and a pigs head, rather than any women’s football annals. But for however it felt to be there, as a fan, player, culé or anything else, it had been historical and good God, it had been memorable.