8 Oct 2012

El Clasico more than just football

12:21 pm on 8 October 2012

Monday's El Clasico ended in a 2-2 draw with two of the world's best players scoring all four goals, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were left in no doubt there was a lot more going on at the Camp Nou than just a football game.

A gigantic mosaic in the colours of the Catalan flag 'La Senyera' indicated the vital league game between Spain's top two clubs also represented a fierce political tradition between the centralism of Madrid and the rights of the region of Catalonia.

One banner amongst the 98,000 fans read simply: "Freedom for Catalonia".

Calls for greater rights and independence have been claimed since the death of Spanish dictator Franco in 1975 who suppressed the Catalan language and culture but recently it has come to a head with the financial crisis gripping the country.

A feeling persists that Catalonia is funding the poorer areas of the country, especially in the south.

An estimated 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona in a nationalist march held on September 11th this year, the Catalan national day.

The date symbolises the fall of Barcelona in 1714 during the War of Spanish Succession and where Catalonia was brought under the control of Madrid.

At 17 minutes and 14 seconds into Sunday's game, shouts for independence rang out around the arena.

For many Catalans, Barcelona is the equivalent of a national team, and under the presidency of Joan Laporta, the club became its most politicised.

On standing down in 2010, Laporta set up his own political party calling for independence.

The current president Sandro Rosell is more of an integrator, but he has been swamped by the strength of public feeling and says that the club will reflect the mood of the people.