Spain has been my favorite international team to watch over the past six years or so, and from a pure soccer/football point of view, I was very happy to see them win yesterday. My friends and I have been debating over the past month of the World Cup to what extent should politics and history matter in choosing a team to support. For the liberal, humanistic, cosmopolitan types I tend to be around in NYC, Spain seems relatively unproblematic based on current and recent history. Many in Spain’s most cosmopolitan city, Barcelona, would disagree, however, as I discovered when I was in Spain for the 2008 World Cup.
I was thrilled that my honeymoon to Spain coincided with the group stage of the ’08 Cup. But low and behold, when Spain’s first game of the our visit came on, my wife and I couldn’t find a single Spanish bar showing the game (we eventually watched it in an Irish one with not a single Spanish fan). I was quite confused.
Luckily, I happened to have brought with me Franklin Foer’s excellent book How Soccer Explains the World, though sadly I didn’t read it until after leaving Barcelona. In its excellent chapter on the soccer club FC Barcelona, it explains how during Franco’s reign, support for FC Barcelona was the only allowable expression of Catalan identity, Catalonia having been the greatest bastion of democratic opposition to Franco’s fascism (as greatly documented in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia). The rivalry between the two best Spanish sides, FCB and Real Madrid, became must more than a sporting rivalry (just as Baca’s saying, “mes que un club” or “more than a club” implies), it was a continuation of the Spanish Civil War. In conversations with people I met, I learned that Catalonya is still fighting for its cultural, lingual, and political autonomy, and that even thirty years after Franco, it was a place where nationalistic support for the Spanish time was not likely to be seen.
As Spain progressed in this year’s Cup, I was very curious if things had changed, or if any of this would be brought out in the American press. Sadly, I didn’t see this story told anywhere until finding a couple great pieces in a soccer blog today. Here is one from yesterday that calls into question claims of Spain playing for the entire country. And here is one from today on the Catalan newspaper claiming that Barcelona’s style, not Spain, won the cup (seven of Spain’s starters play for FCB, and six of the starters are Catalans). Both include great photos of Spanish newspapers, along with English translations of the headlines. FCB’s website this morning led not with Spain winning the cup, but with Barca’s “Iniesta wins the World Cup.” Here is an article from a London newspaper which explains more.
There is definitely a great history class lesson or two that could come from these documents that could relate to the Spanish Civil War, Franco, Nationalism, or Identity. I’m thinking it could lead with a question, like “Is everyone from Spain Spanish?” or “Why would some in Spain be upset Spain won the World Cup?”
Update: Some more links and resources