Everybody knows this, no one argues with it. It's one of those things that are simply there. A ball is round, Iker Casillas' screams can be heard a mile away and Real Madrid is a franquist team. There's nothing more.
It's a truth that always appears when there's a discussion about football. It doesn't matter whether it is being talked about Florentino's money, the need to sign a new midfielder or about the latest plague of fungus punishing the pitch at the Bernabéu. It doesn't matter. If you are a madridista and find yourself in a room with a fan of a rival club -meaning any other club-, sonner or later they will look at you and spit "some nerve you have being a supporter of Franco's team"
Of course, to this date nobody has offered solid facts that contribute to corroborate such affirmation. They tell us we are Franco's team, and yet they forget Atlético Aviación. They tell us we have five European Cups that were mere gifts to us, and they forget the historical context in which we won them. They assure that the regime backed us, but they forget we had the same problems as the rest of the clubs. An incarcerated president, murdered directives, Old Chamartín destroyed, New Chamartín -Santiago Bernabéu- built by poular subscription to the project.
They forget what doesn't interest them, what doesn't serve them for their poor argumentations. The things they find they can't throw in our face.
Franco's Cups: a lie a thousand times told
The minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich, who knew a lot about distorting the truth, gave us this shocking phrase that will live on forever because of its crudeness and veracity: Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth.
Some attribute to our coach José Mourinho the following reply: A lie a thousand times repeated doesn't become the truth of intelligent people.
And of course, not in our truth.
What is the official accusation? That Real Madrid stole five of their nine cups. Even in the number they start getting things wrong: the cups that Real Madrid won during franquism weren't five, they were six. I still can't understand why the sixth one we did win in a legitimate way, in contrast with the previous five, that we sustracted with malice and shielded by the night from the very headquarters of UEFA. The ways of antimadridismo are indecipherable.
According tho this brilliant argument, the prestige(?) that Francisco Franco enjoyed in Europe allowed him to influence the newly created continental competition in favor of the team of his heart (!).
This is the premise, the leyend and myth. But, what happens if we analyze reality?
The Champions League (European Cup) was created in 1955, backed by the French paper L'Équipe and Real Madrid's president back then, don Santiago Bernabéu. It was precisely the white club the one that conquered in consecutive form its first five editions, earning the right to wear the crest of multiple champions on their jerseys (a sign that now other teams like Liverpool or Milan also wear proudly). Between the years of 1955 and 1960, Real Madrid dominated Europe.
We can't say the same about Franco. The timid support that during World War II Franco had shown towards his colleagues Hitler and Mussolini -Spain did not enter the war, but sent a troop of volunteers, the Blue Division, to fight on the snows of Russia- didn't exactly earned him the favor of the winning side of Europe. For the two following decades, Spain saw itself excluded, not only from the plan for European reconstruction -Marshall Plan- but also from any other international organization -NATO, UN- that had a democratic nature.
Of course, the leaders of the time weren't moved purely by ideals. Towards the end of the 50s, Franco decided to open the regime to the exterior. The new economic measures were joined by a "face wash" for the system, less arms held up high and more beaches for the tourists. All this happened during the climax of the Cold War and nothing interested more the United States than a occidental regime of a well-definied anticommunist policy, a last bastion in an Europe threatened by the 'red devil' In 1959, an historical photograph was taken: General Eisenhower and General Franco, enemy of the fascists and the pseudo-fascist, together in joyful brotherhood. The Cold War -that game of interests- had made it possible. Spain, backed by the United States, entered all the organization it had been denied access to before because of the little detail of being ruled by a dictator. It's no secret that the defense of democracy isn't as relevant when the interests of the powerful are at stake.
But we are talking about Europe, and if what we want to do is prove an alleged influence of Franco in the newly created competition, I'm affraid that's an argument doomed to failure. We are talking about a divided Europe after World War II. To win its first five cups, Real Madrid faced Austrian, Italian, English, Hungarian, Turkish and Soviet teams. I find it hard to believe that the France that was occupied, that England that lost so much, or -even better- the communist USSR would allow their teams to be dominated by Real Madrid because of an influence of Franco that no one can prove. In spite of pompously naming himself the Watchmen of occident, Franco was never anyone outside the limits of Spain. The country was admitted to NATO and the UN because of North American convenience, but no one was willing to grant any other favors to the Spanish dictatorial regime.
However, something really odd is that looking back on the reports of matches that Real Madrid disputed during their first five European Cups you can't find a single reference to scandal with the referees. Simply the clear superiority of a team that had in their line up -thanks to the intelligence of Bernabéu- some of the best players in the world.
In 1956, Real Madrid lifted their first European Cup, in Paris against Stade de Reims. Arthur Ellis, an Englishman was the referee for the match. 3-4. Real Madrid came back from being 2-0. Di Stéfano, Marquitos and Rial, twice, scored. The second goal of Stade de Reims was scored from an offside. The referee anulled a goal for each team.
A final played in France, against a French team. And the sports daily L'Équipe assured after the match "Di Stéfano is the most complete player we've ever seen. He completely eclipsed Kopa"
Would L'Équipe say that hadn't the match been clean? I doubt it.
I won't bore you -even more- with the result of every single match. But I have images and facts from most of them. I was only able to find one controversial fact: during the second European Cup, in the final against Fiorentina, the Italians complained that the penalty that opened the can was commited outside the box (you can watch it here, 1:40). Apart from that, I can't find anything that leads me to thing that Real Madrid received help in their road to five European Cups. Not only I do not find reasons, but those defending the theory do not provide supported facts. In fact, the main representative of their cause -the video they are quick to wave in their defense- is a lamentable documentary in which it is assured that Beckham was stolen from Barcelona.
Another argument in favor of the claim that Real Madrid won fairly its first five continental competitions is that, generally, antimadridismo chooses between talking about theft or simply dismissing the competition as "easy" back then. It is true that most of the rivals Real Madrid faced -Stade de Reims, Beskitas, Fiorentina, Niza- are not teams that we relate with football power these days, except from sporadic aparitions made by Milan and Manchester United. However, they were really the strongest sides of the time: Eintracht Frankfurt, a team that Real Madrid beat by seven goals to achieve it's fifth cup had hammered (twelve goals) Glasgow Rangers in the previous round. For the antimadridista that still insists on dismissing as mediocre teams the whites' rivals, we'd have to remind them that Real Madrid reached the final after defeating Barcelona. Nothing more.
Franco's pets: between legend and instrumentalization
It will be useful to go back to 1939. The war was over, the country was devastated and Franco has become the Generalísimo of dying and starving people. As we saw in the previous article, Old Chamartín had been destroyed and only the fidelity of its fans saved Real Madrid from disappearing. After the Civil War, Franco did not return the team its crown and the title of "Real. He didn't care about that. He prefered favoring the other great team of the city, that one that very fraternally had denied Real Madrid permission to play at the Metropolitano -permission that it did grant to other teams from the capital-, the team that had been born from the fusion of the old Athletic de Madrid with members of the Air Army: Atlético Aviación.
It's important to highlight that Francisco Franco, in fact -and according to testimonies from the time- didn't like football. Franco wasn't a fan of Madrid, or Atleti, or even Barcelona; but Franco was, in contrast with what propaganda now says, an intelligent man -well, more than intelligent, cunning-. Enough to comprehend the power of attraction, union and distraction that a spectacle as passional as football meant. Bread and circuses.
Franco favored Atlético, Franco favored Real Madrid and, shockingly, Franco favored FC Barelona -with the rezoning of the old terrains of Les Corts and the swift nationalization of Kubala-. As some sort of twisted medieval king, the dictator was interested in having a champion that personified him; but it was impossible that this champion could stand in victory if it didn't have a rival worthy of him against which it could battle. Barcelona -symbol of catalanismo- was the perfect "nemesis" to be defeated time and time again by Atlético or Madrid. Franco couldn't let the blaugrana club dissappear.
The first years of the regime weren't positive at all for Real Madrid. The club didn't win any leagues until the year 1954, and not a single Cup of the Generalísimo (now Copa del Rey) until 1946. However, it was Atlético Aviación, Barcelona and Athletic de Bilbao the teams that shared leagues and cups during these black years for the club of Chamartín.
We have to take note of that. If Real Madrid was the team of the regime, Franco's pets -a name we often hear from the mouths of complete ignorants-, how did the merengue dictator let 'his' team lose every single trophy available from the end of the war until the year 1946? How did he allow the team 'from the working class' to acquire supremacy over all other teams during the first years of his regime, and Barcelona years later during the mid-40s? Why did Athletic de Bilbao, a team in which only Basque or Navarre footballers can play, conquered the Cup of the Generalísimo seven times during the first half of franquismo, the harshest one, the most repressive time?
In 1943, Atlético Aviacón entered a downward spiral (1947 they adopted the name of Atlético de Madrid). One of those natural cycles of supremacy and downfall we football fans are very used to. Just as that happened with the neighbors, Francisco Franco returned, with incredible timing, the title of Real and the crown -a honor granted by Alfonso XIII (only Real Madrid and Real Betis hold this title in a legitimate manner in Spain)-, to our club. The relationship between Franco, the Republic, and the Monarchy -the Royal Family was still in exile- is complex and difficult to explain. It will suffice with saying that it can't be denied that it was a nice gesture, even more so if we take into account the fact that Real Madrid would move on to be, by the hand of Santiago Bernabéu, a completely monarchic team.
With Real Madrid revitalized with the energic presidence of Bernabéu and the arrival of Di Stéfano, Franco had his new champions, the substitute for the now weak Atlético Aviación. The team that, in the search of the European Cup, would travel accross the whole continent showing a more kind face of the franquist regime. Do not get confused though: Franco did little more for Madrid.
Propaganda often claims that Di Stéfano was stolen by Real Madrid -with the help of Franco, of course- when his signing for FC Barcelona had alreadt been closed. It is in fact true that Don Alfredo reached an agreement with the Catalan club and it is also true that he wore their jersey in two friendlies and trained in azulgrana.
[Ladislao Kubala y Alfredo Di Stéfano]
The case of Di Stéfano is a confusinc and complex matter that I will try to condense in a few lines: the rights for the player, because of a matter that is of no relevance here, were shared by two teams, River Plate and Millionarios. Barcelona agreed the buy with one of them, but forgot to pay their part to the other. Real Madrid did the exact same with the other club. A final salomonic measure was taken of allowing Alfredo Di Stéfano to play one year with each team but Barcelona rejected the decision. Real Madrid then, had open way to buy the remaining rights of the player. Then, Di Stéfano became in probably the most important player that ever wore the jersey of our club, arguably one of the three big names together with Maradona and Pelé. You see Franco anywhere? Me neither.
Where the franquist authorities did act was in the case of Ladislao Kubala, mythical player for Barcelona whose quick nationalization on behalf of the regime allowed him to formally sign for Barcelona. To be nationalized he had to be baptized previously. His godfather? The then president of the Spanish Football Federation. Kubala acquiring citizenship didn't only benefit Barcelona however because later, Kubala would defend the colors of the Spanish National Team.
I won't go further into the various scandals and thefts that -for one part of the other- spattered the never-ending years of franquism. I find really odd that, in those years, any victory by a large margin of Barcelona or Athletic over Real Madrid is often labelled as just, but if the opposite thing happened, immediatly names of referees and police officers going into the azulgrana dressing room, pistol in hand come into the picture. About the awful chronicles of the scandal of Chamartín -a match that Barcelona lost 11-1 at the Bernabéu, in which allegedly an inspector from the General Direction of Securty threatened with death the players- there's versions for and against it; and because I still haven't found proof that point in one direction or the other I remain neutral in this matter. Us madridistas have to accept that such abominations were plausible, but what we cannot allow is to stop remembering that Real Madrid can also claim to have been subjected to scandalous refereeing in the years of Franco: In 1960, Barcelona eliminated Real Madrid from the European Cup, with no less than four anulled goals, all legal, to Real Madrid by the referee Leafe. No, we will not talk about theft. But it is odd that Madrid gets four anulled goals, in the stadium of its greatest rival in a competition they had 'bought'.
As a conclusion to this muddy subject, I will use the words of Phil Ball, a Canada-born British writer living in San Sebastián, not a madridista and I dare say objective, who has written one of the best books about our team: Tormenta blanca: la historia del Real Madrid (published originally as White Storm: 101 years of Real Madrid).
In the end it is impossible to draw a firm conclusion on the question of whether Franco did or did not "help" Real Madrid. The expression in itself lacks significance in practical terms, and was only manifested in the general sensation that on the pitch, specially at the Bernabéu, referees were threatened or bribed to benefit Madrid. But, where was the line drawn between illegal intimidation and the simple fact that all big teams such as Madrid have to represent a large part of the country because of the simple reason of playing in the capital? Almost all countries have similar stories to tell, but not many countries have an issue such as the Madrid-Barcelona
Barcelona has never accepted Real Madrid's hegemony as a genunine footballistic fact, an attitude that, madridistas insist, is the result of the "victim complex of the region".
It's in the nature of both clubs, of course, and of Spain to a certain degree, to give no quarter, to show no mercy nor admiration for the enemy. With this premise, Real Madrid is a cheater and a minion of fascism and Barcelona a sore loser, a spoilsport with a victim complez. The fact that neither of these two topics is true is irrelevant. Spaniards like to agree with this traditional vision, while the rest of the world draws a no less perverse conclusion: that Madrid is the "bad guy" and Barcelona the "good guy".
Overwhelmed by misleading information -and by certain questionable facts- madridistas have always accepted that our team was used by Franco for merely propagandistc reasons. The noble club, on its trips to the rest of that 'hostile' Europe was the best ambassador of a regime that wished to show -with or without a reason- that they weren't as bad as they thought. We accept that Real Madrid became the main team of the country and more so of the capital, and that because of this it became a fervent defender of Spain. You should not be mistaken: if Atlético hadn't entered in decadence, they would have been the chosen ones. And I have absolutely no doubt that the Generalísimo Franco would have prefered a team of strong military roots to extend its power across Europe in a sort of metaphorical conquest.
But it was Real Madrid and there is no sense in denying that. We don't. Of course, franquism has little to do with the fan that goes to the Bernabéu today, or contemplates his or her team via satellite two thousand kilometers away. But it is part of the history of our club and just like we reject what is unfair, we accept what is in fact true.
Not all teams to the same. Real Madrid -and Atlético- prefer not talking about it, which is to some degree understandable. What is a lot more hard to understand is to have a team not only cover up deliberately their history, but that they also dare to attack other rival teams with weapons that they too have stuck on their backs.
It is normal that the fans argue. It is normal -disgusting, but normal- that the colors of two teams are defended by newspapers which compete to see which one can reach higher levels of sensationalism and subjectivity. What isn't normal or common is that the very directives of a club slide into the mud with accusations more suited for the latest article of Sport.
Madridistas can complain about the lies of Calderón, or Florentino's spendning sprees. We can complain about the inutility of Valdano and Pardeza's invisibilirt. But, since the now deceased president Mendoza danced to the rhythm of "polaco el que no bote" for the last time, never has a directive of Real Madrid declared something openly offensive about Barcelona.
At least, not as offensive as the following:
"...it is an imperiaist model, and it also has certain airs of arrogance that, to be honest, has its origins on mere luck". Joan Laporta, when he was still president of FC Barcelona.
"I have a very good relationship with Mourinho and I appreciate him, but I don't like him going to Madrid, and for this I wish him no success there. I hope he takes them to the second division", Joan Gaspart, former president.
"But, on the other part, Spaniards are so pig-headed that you can't have any will to be an unionist", Xavier Sala i Martín, when he was still economic vicepresident of Barcelona. Here's the original source and the reaction of the "pig-headed" people he refered to but were also Barcelona fans.
"Spaniards are chorizos because of the mere fact of being Spanish", Joan Oliver, when he was general director of Barcelona (original declarations in Catalan here, 0:40)
The least important thing are the insults. What is really irritating is that overwhelmingsecurity on their moral superiority. I think that many madridistas are willing to admit that Barcelona is a great football team, with a style that -we can like more or less-- is admirable in the way it's worked on since very early ages. What we are not willing to take are moral lessons.
Most likely you all know what més que un club means. Barcelona's motto reminds us that they're not only a team of football, but that in their very roots some amount of politics are involved -because of this it's particularly funny that many culés abhor mixing football and politics when what their have on their sleeve is a political declaration in all norms-, the defense of a way of life, of Catalonia's traditional values and all else. Everything to this point, it is true, is respectable. What can be sad is trying to go further, and to that they've had to modify some of their history.
Their official website, on their motto.
FC Barcelona is "més que un club" in Catalunya, because it's the most representative sporting institution of the country and one of its best ambassadors. Also, for different reasons, FC Barcelona is more than a club for many people in the rest of the Spanish state that saw in Barcelona a firm defender of the rights and democratic liberties.
A firm defensor of the rights and democratic liberties.
Effectively, in this photo we can appreciate Barça's president, Agustín Montal, defending the rights and democratic liberties by the handing over of the club's gold medal to the dictator Francisco Franco.
No, easy. Franco doesn't have a gold medal from FC Barcelona
He has two.
In 1971 and 1974 Barcelona directives offered the club's gold medal to the dictator. The first one as a thank you for the financing that the National Delegation of Sports had granted to Barcelona to build the Palau Blaugrana and the Palau de Gel. The second one -the only one acknowledged by some culé media- supposedly because of a suggestion made by Joan Gich -the third man in the photo above- in that time national delegate of Physical Education and Sports. In the year 2002, some culé outlets tried to make the club officialy revoke the medal: Barcelona's response was that, being conceded by obligation, it wasn't registered in the Libro de Actas. What Barcelona forgets to justify is that Joan Gich wasn't an anticulé posed on discrediting the club or place it under the dictator's boot. Joan Gich, an avid franquista, was from 1958 to 1969 general manager and secretary of FC Barcelona. They also forget that, in spite of our supposed allegiance to Franco, Santiago Bernabéu had the nerve to do what they, in their democratic vocation, didn't: he denied Franco the medal of Real Madrid.
That wasn't the only honor that Francisco Franco received from Barcelona. In the following photograph we can see him receiving a model of Camp Nou, a way of thanking him for the generous rezoning he did of the terrains of Les Corts -Barcelona's old field-. The man handing it over is Felipe Acedo Colunga, Chief of the Movement in Barcelona and fervent culé.
The people that still have the nerve to accuse us of being "Franco's pets" should not forget one thing: they also sought out a leash.
Haters gonna hate
I could continue stating facts but this would drag on for too long. I coul comment that the ultrafranquist Real Madrid had in its ranks an openly leftist player, the German Paul Breitner, who visitied the royal family exiled in Lausanne, a gesture that at the time meant a certain defiance to the dictatorial regime.
[Real Madrid's first team, Bernabéu, don Juan and our current King, back then prince Juan Carlos de Borbón]
But, what's the point of this? Everything I wrote in these nine never ending pages are actually facts very well known, at least in Spain. Any person with a gram of intelligence and the will to inform themselves can come to the conclusion that Real Madrid had as little of franquista as Barcelona did.
I have observed this debate several times and it always ends being quickly suffocated when arguments like the ones you just read. It's simply impossible to provide a logical response to it. But, in spite of all the times I have witnessed antimadridistas being categorically silenced, most of them have not been convinced. If you have grown with the idea that Real Madrid is the personification of fascism and Barcelona the flag of liberty, it is difficult to change this idea. It's uncomfortable to change an idea. Much better to ignore the arguments -the facts-, shield behind legends with no support and repeat time and time again the same lies that some day end up becoming the truth.
They've told the same story for thirty years. Why change?
Calm, there are plenty of reasons to insult Real Madrid. If it's not Franco, it will be something else. I think I'm not suffering from persecution mania when I declare that Real Madrid is a team mistreated by the media. It is difficult to find a positive note about the club in the open Spanish TV stations. If they lose, because they lost; and if they win, the debate centers on criticizing the player who did worse, the coach, or all of them. A contrast between boring Madrid and modern Barcelona is always being sought after, between the team of millions of euros and the team that was almost a gift. Even the moderate Pellegrini paled right next to Guardiola, that gentleman that never makes declarations out of place (oh, no); let's not even talk about Mourinho, the coach that had the nerve to park the bus at Camp Nou insted of letting Barcelona play as they wanted and surrender to their spectacle, their football reinvented, and receiving three or four gouls with a player down on his ream. Little shame you have, José. Pure arrogance, like that of Cristiano Ronaldo, that player that doesn't know what's humilty; so proud that he would probably build himself a house with his name and number sculpted on the facade.
They will hate us anyway.
But once again Phil Ball has some thing very interesting to say on the matter:
The accusations that Real Madrid is a team favored by referees, that they kept the dictator in power, that they are backed by a corrupt city council and refrain from controlling the neonazi component of their youngest fans, to the true madridista don't matter in the end.
Yes, they don't matter. Because we are fans just like any other team's, because we feel the colors just as them. We love our club and we are not less faithful that atléticos and culés. Real Madrid fans rebuilt the old Chamatín stadium and fans of Real Madrid gave money from their own pockets to build the Santiago Bernabéu: the same president, back then in the 20s and as a kid, painted with his own hands the fences od the old O'Donnell Stadium. We are not less committed than other supporters, we probably makes less noise though. Maybe because we don't feel the need to proclaim we are the best fans in the world, maybe we don't need to be. It is enough with being, simply, madridistas.
With this we end this series of articles in which I've tried to provide certain defense to the overused accussations that periodically we have to stand. Just a note: these pages have been written with the help of virtual newspapers, other books and historical knowledge. I think even though there surely are mistakes, most of what's been exposed isn't at all far from the truth. If I -a fan of Real Madrid- have managed to clear up to some extent these accusations with common sense and somewhat limited information sources I wonder what could an investigator of the club do with access to more information. Maybe if the club did it more people would know how to reply to some arguments. No madridista should be incapable of defending Real Madrid.
I hope I did at least something to fix this, I would be honored if that were the case. Thanks a lot for reading, in English or Spanish and everyone who had something to say.
I hope we keep working in this sense.
Best regards and thank you.
Hala Madrid. lobazul