Who would've known 1943's Copa del Generalísimo would be the catalyst for the kind of mind games and roughhouse tactics that would last to this day?
Much has been talked of the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s Madrid versus Republican Barcelona. The rivalry itself is older than anyone who will read this piece but there were certain things that escalated the rivalry. It was said by a Madrid official that “If Barcelona did not exist, then Madrid would have to invent them” Most of it happens to be true but there was a game played on the in the Spanish Cup, then known as the Copa del Generalísimo and now known as the Cope del Rey, on June 13th, 1943 that would be the catalyst for the kind of mind games and roughhouse tactics employed by the likes of Jose Mourinho et al years later.
The scoreline, 11-1, was said to be “as absurd as it was abnormal” but the game was played in the strangest of circumstances. It was before the Bernabeu stadium was built and the match was held in Chamartín Stadium in Madrid. Death threats for those unwilling to join in in the abuse of the Catalan club and it’s players were handed down by Franco in an effort to stamp Madrid’s authority on Spanish football.
The background to the game was that Barcelona has won the first leg 3-0 and a famous journalist, Eduardo Teus (Madridista), at the time wrote of Madrid’s lack of conviction, among other things, in an effort to ignite the Madrid players and fans. I am not sure if you have read the newspaper, Marca, recently but it contains undertones of the kind of partisan views that Marca now regularly runs with. Teus wrote in an effort to rile the Madrid fans to boiling point. Few would disagree with the opinion that he did so in spectacular fashion.
Barcelona president Piñyero sent a letter to Madrid in the hope that it would ease tensions before the second lef but the letter not only didn’t help but it incensed Madrid officials so much so that there was never any coming back and Madrid officials encouraged Madrid fans to join in the taunting of Barcelona. (Although there were no pigs heads thrown, it was still remarkably tense).
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The Barcelona fans had whistled the players and booed and were eventually fined for their actions in the 1st leg and in return, the Madrid fans or officials (nobody is sure) handed out whistles with every ticket purchased in an effort to cause unrest within the Barcelona squad. The noise happened to be so loud that Barcelona manager, Angel Mur, commented that he thought his eardrums were actually going to burst.
It was tradition at the time for both captains to visit the referee before the game but on this occasion, the referee went to Barca’s dressing room, the ref had been handed down a threat to unsettle Barcelona. What was said is unclear and undocumented but it was certainly noted that he didn’t come bearing the kindest of words for the visiting Barcelona players. There are also stories that the Secretary of State entered the dressing room with a gun in his hand in order to frighten Barcelona before the match but the story of the referee has been more widely accepted as the truth.
Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Lluis Miró, was so afraid of being struck by one of the hundreds of coins being thrown that he barely stepped inside his own penalty box. They threw all kinds of objects in an effort to injure or scare the keeper.
By the time the game started, Barcelona had already been informed by security that they would lose and had been called “red separatists” and “dogs” to their faces. They had been antagonised that many of the players wondered whether they should step onto the field at all. After a dodgy first 30 minutes where they lost a man to a ridiculous red card and went 2-0 down, their fears upon walking out onto the field were confirmed and they wished they became disillusioned at the spectacle that was taking place. By the time the half time whistle blew it was 8-0. Barcelona players stopped playing and the game was building up to be the heaviest defeat in El Clasico history.
Just to give you a taste of the kind of control that was Franco was exerting on both football and the media. Juano Antonio Samaranch, a leading fascist journalist, who was a card carrying Francoist party member his entire life who still believed in fairness in sport was banned from writing and never wrote another word for 10 years after he wrote of the injustice that was carried out on the night.
In a dramatic twist of fate, Real Madrid went on to lose the final to Athletic Bilbao and would not win La Liga for another ten years, almost as a form of punishment for what happened on that day in Madrid against Barcelona.
The game has surprisingly little written about it and despite the scoreline, Madrid don’t seem particularly proud of the game and have mentioned it little in their history. Barcelona have probably mentioned it more as their role as the oppressed would have more upside than that of Madrid as the oppressor. Due to the fact that there are no photos and little or no living memory of the event, it will remain a mystery what actually happened but you can safely say that the 3-0 Barcelona win followed by the 11-1 hammering by Madrid was where El Classico really and truly began in the football rivalry that it is today.