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History behind the World’s preeminent football match: The El Clásico

El Clásico is the name of any football match between rival Spanish football clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The El Clásico is one of the biggest club football matches. The first El Clásico match was on the 13th of May 1902 under the Copa de la Coronación where Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-1. Copa de la Coronación was a football competition in honour of the coronation of Alfonso XIII of Spain. It was an unofficial competition.

1902 Copa del la Coronación The trophy on display in the Athletic Bilbaomuseum


The rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been strongly politicized according to Wikipedia. In the 1930’s Barcelona had developed a reputation as a symbol of Catalan identity, opposed to the centralizing tendencies of Real Madrid , where Francisco Franco started a coup d’etat against the democratic second Spanish republic, the president of Barcelona, Josep Sunyol who was also member of the Republican left of Catalonia and deputy to The Cortes, was arrested and executed without trial by Franco’s troops. Most citizens of Barcelona opposed this regime and gained their motto Més que un club (more than a club).


THE 1943 Copa del Generalísimo semi finals

The 1943 Copa del Generalísimo semi-finals on 13 June 1943, Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 11-1 at home in the second leg of the Copa del Generalísimo now Copa de Rey having been renamed in honour of General Franco.

The first leg ended a victory for Barcelona where Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-0. Real Madrid complained that the referee Fombana Fernández was bias and all three goals were allowed unfairly, the home supporters also whistled Real Madrid throughout the match. Barcelona was accused of using rough house tactics and Fombana allowed them to. Barcelona’s Josep Escolà was severely injured in the first half by José Maria Querejeta’s stud. “The ground itself made Real Madrid concede two of the three goals, goals that were totally unfair” said former Real Madrid goal keeper Eduardo Teus. A campaign began in Real Madrid, Barcelona player Josep Valle recalled: “The press officer at the DND and ABC newspaper wrote all sort of scurrilous lies, really terrible things, winding up the Real Madrid fans like never before.”

Barcelona fans were banned from traveling to Madrid. Real Madrid fans were given whistles, some were handed their tickets alongside whistles. On the day of the second leg, the Barcelona team were insulted and stones were thrown at their bus as soon as they left the hotel. Mariano Gonzalvo said “Five minutes before the game has started, our penalty area was already full of coins.” Barcelona goal keeper Lluis Miró rarely approached his line, he was thrown stones when he did. “They were shouting: Reds! Separatists! A bottle just missed Sospedra that would have liked him if it had hit him. It was all set up.” Said Francisco Calvet.

Real Madrid went 2-0 up within 30 minutes. Barcelona’s Benito Garcia was sent off after the third goal after he made what Calvet claimed was a “completely normal tackle”. “At this point, they got a bit demoralized”, recalled José Llopis Corona, Real Madrid former left back. Real Madrid scored in 31,33,35,39,43 and 44 as well as two goals ruled out for offside, making it 8-0 before halftime 74,85 and 87 making it 11 goals for Real Madrid. Barcelona was able to score a consolatory goal in the 89th minute. Former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Juan Antonio Samaranch wrote “In that atmosphere and with a referee who wanted to avoid complications, it was humanly impossible to play. If the Azulgranas had played badly, the scoreboard would not have reached that astronomical figure. The point is that they did not play at all.” Both clubs were fined 2,500 pesetas by the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

Di Stéfano’s transfer

Di Stéfano in his 20’s scored hundreds of goals for Riverplate in Argentina and then Millonarios, Columbia.

He had caught the attention of the two biggest Spanish clubs which wanted him by all means. Barcelona agreed terms with River Plate and got Di Stéfano on a flight after they came to an impasse with Millonarios, they believed River Plate owned the legal rights to Di Stéfano’s player registration.

Real Madrid reached an agreement on a transfer for Di Stéfano with Millonarios (this was the club Di Stéfano was playing for at that time).

Both clubs claimed legitimate ownership of the player and FIFA had to step in. FIFA decided that both clubs shared the forward for the next four seasons, taking two seasons each. Barcelona’s board rejected FIFA’s offer and sold their ownership right to Real Madrid.

Messi vs Ronaldo

The rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo has been the most competitive player rivalry in El Clásico. Both players are their clubs all time top scorers. Within 2009 and 2018, many records were broken by both. The rivalry of both is portrayed by lots of goals scored by both players and awards won by both. It is believed that both players have the biggest football fan base in the world. Ronaldo left Real Madrid as their all time highest goal scorer in 2018 while Messi left as Barcelona’s highest goal scorer in 2021.

Match Statistics

Real Madrid and Barcelona have played a total of 283 matches (with exhibition matches), Real Madrid winning 104 matches, scoring 458 goals and Barcelona winning 117 matches, scoring 492 goals, both team have made 62 draws. In competitive matches, both teams have played a total of 249 matches, Real Madrid winning 100 and scoring 415 goals while, Barcelona winning 97 and have a total of 408 goals.

Biggest win

The 1943 Copa del Generalísimo remains the biggest El Clásico win with Real Madrid defeating Barcelona 11-1.

Highest scorer

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has the highest number of El Clásico goals of 26. He is followed by Real Madrid’s Di Stéfano and Cristiano Ronaldo with 18 goals each.

Most appearances

Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi made the most El Clásico with 45 each.

Most clean sheets

Barcelona’s Victor Valdes have the most number of El Clásico clean sheets of 7, followed by Barcelona’s Andoni Zubizarreta, Real Madrid’s Francisco Buyo and Iker Casillas with 6 each.

Other Statistics

  • Most assists: 14 - Lionel Messi.

  • Most matches won: 21 - Francisco Gento.

  • Most matches lost: 20 - Sergio Ramos.

  • Fastest goal: 21 seconds - Karem Benzema.

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