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Football: The History, Rivalry and the Politics explained

Updated on June 27, 2012

The Passion of the fans

The beautiful game explained

The globe’s most watched sport is football; or soccer if you’re from the states. Unlike almost every other sport on the planet football is not only a game, it is not only a well loved sport but a symbol of ones own heritage and belonging. In other sports we have witnessed the franchise up sticks and move cities depending on the generosity of local administrators. Where as Football is rooted firmly in the communities it represents. Football very rarely moves far away from its foundations. A football club is culturally significant and at times politically significant as well. This is not always to the benefit of progressive society. None the less it shows the attachment football has to history.

Ranger and Celtic

Quintessential of that are Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic football clubs. These are two of Scotland’s biggest teams and have both won honours in the various span European competitions. Their fierce rivalry is down to the religious divide as much as a sporting one. As the troubles in Northern Ireland intensified and along with limited career opportunities, Glasgow began to see a plethora of Irish Catholics arrive in search for a better life. Glasgow at the time had a thriving ship building industry. Celtic then became a symbol for those with a Roman Catholic background and Rangers tends to draw support from the Protestant community. The conflict is described as a sectarian one which derived from Native-Immigrant tensions. Indeed both sets of fans still sing loyalists and republican songs sourced from the troubles in Ireland. Even at Rangers and Celtic games you are more likely to see a Union Jack or an Irish Tri-Colour than a Scotland flag. This is not a comment on the morality of it merely a comment of how football has a deeper attachment to its followers.

Barcelona and Real Madrid

Another example of this, and perhaps the most famous one, is the Barcelona Real Madrid rivalry. Barcelona came to fruition as the result of the strong feeling of local pride and identity felt in the Catalonian region of Spain when the Spanish Empire was in Turmoil. Throughout the Spanish Civil War, led by the dictator Francisco Franco, saw Madrid become a symbol of the Spanish establishment. Franco, incidentally openly supported Real Madrid. Catalonia had a more tolerant and free thinking culture which Franco disapproved of. Catalonia wanted to become a state in its own right and in response Franco banned their flag and oppressed the Catalonian language. In fact with in the walls of the Nou Camp was one of the few places the Catalan language was openly spoken after the ban. Barcelona became regarded as a freedom fighter against Franco’s dictatorship and Real Madrid remains an “Establishment” club. This subject I can only touch upon in a short essay for the history is deep and rich. That said it is another perfect example of how important football is to many people as we all strive to keep our own identity. Athletic Bilbao is another Spanish club the fought against Franco’s fascism; the man who allowed Hitler to bomb the Basque town of Guernika. To this day Athletic Bilbao only allows players with Basque connections to play for the club.

In Summary

In truth I’ve only scratched the surface of both of these rivals. I have barely even scratched the surface of all Soccer rivalries. You have mega derbies in River Plate Boca Juniors, Roma Lazio… too many to mention. The point is that Soccer/Football is ingrained into those who support it as the clubs are part of the local history and culture. This is what separates Football from other sports.


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