What does it mean to be a nation’s second city? If New York is our first, which is our second? Boston? Los Angeles? Washington, DC? Chicago? Does it have to do with being, as I suppose the name would imply, the city with the second largest population? Wikipedia provides a nice list of countries and their largest and second largest cities (notice all the largest cities with emboldened names; those are each nation’s capital). Or maybe it has to do with influence or culture or wealth or history. A nation’s second city has generally separated itself from the also-rans—perhaps it is also world-famous. But it is always inferior, always the underdog—especially in sports.
What does second city status mean to Barcelona? Why does the Barcelona-Madrid sports rivalry (courtesy of Futbol Club Barcelona and Real Madrid Club de Fútbol) reach hysteric heights (or is it depths?) each time the two teams face off, as they did in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal?
In Spain, as in other countries, municipal and provincial identities translate to sports affiliations. However, in Spain, unlike in other countries, historical political divisions neatly correlate with sports affiliations. Each time 95,000 Catalans fill the Camp Nou to take in a Clásico the stadium collectively recalls the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalists’ (led by General Franco) aerial bombardment of Barcelona, and an almost half-century of subjugation at the hands of the Madrid-based (and Madridista) government. Real Madrid, with its all-white strip—and of late, its physical tactics—begets recollections of the White Terror.
Last Wednesday, Barça had a two-goal lead going into the second half. Moreover, Barça has dominated Madrid in recent times, winning nine, drawing three, and losing one match against their eternal rivals in the last three years. Madrid scored twice in the second half, and a hush fell over the stadium. Hands were wrung, nails were bit, and hearts pounded as Barça nervously defended its position in the competition’s semifinals (Barça won 2-1 in Madrid two weeks ago in the tie’s first leg, but aggregate scores are decisive, with away goals used as the tiebreaker).
An educated viewer, in those last twenty minutes, could feel the fragile confidence and psychological advantage of the Catalan supporters strain. Sports pundits like to write about the psychological advantage this Barcelona team has over its counterparts, but what is more interesting is the ingrained underdog identity of Barça’s Catalan supporters.