El Clasico is as much about Spanish history as it is football. From the start the clubs were seen as representatives of two rival regions in Spain, Catalonia and Castile, as well as of the two cities themselves. The rivalry projects what many regard as the political and cultural tensions felt between Catalans and the Castilians.
During the dictatorships of Primo de Rivera and (especially) of Francisco Franco, all regional identities were openly suppressed (e.g. the peripheral languages were officially banned). So FC Barcelona became more than a club (més que un club) for Catalonia as a defender of freedom and one of its greatest ambassadors. On the contrary, for most of the Catalans and many other Spaniards, Real Madrid was representing the sovereign oppressive centralism.
However, during the Spanish Civil War itself, members of both clubs, like Josep Sunyol and Rafael Sánchez Guerra, suffered at the hands of Franco supporters.
During the 1950s the rivalry was exacerbated significantly when the clubs disputed the signing of Alfredo Di Stefano, who finally played for Real Madrid, thanks to the help of Franco, who transfered him to Real Madrid by “royal decree” after playing three games with Barcelona’s shirt, who was the key in the subsequent success achieved by the club. In 2002, the European encounter between the clubs was dubbed the “Match of The Century” by Spanish media, and was watched by more than 500 million people
Today FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two biggest and most successful clubs in Spain. A 2007 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas determined that Real Madrid was the team with the largest following in Spain. Thirty-two percent of the Spanish population supported Real Madrid, while twenty-five percent supported Barcelona.
Barcelona however is more popular in Europe than Madrid. According to a survey made by the German research agency Sport+Markt in 2010, Barcelona has approximately 57.8 million fans around Europe, while Real Madrid has 31.3 million fans.
The rivalry intensified in 2011 where due to the final of the Copa Del Rey and the meeting of the two in the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona and Real Madrid were scheduled to meet each other four times in 18 days.
Several accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour from both teams and a war of words erupted throughout the fixtures which included four red cards. Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque stated that he was “concerned” that due to the rising hatred between the two clubs, that this could cause friction in the national side.