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The Politics of Rivalry

Last weekend, Real Madrid slipped by Espanyol on a goal in the 89th minute to slide into a first place tie with Barcelona in Spain's Primera Liga.

Barca could have held on to the league lead they have maintained through most of the season by beating lowly Betis, but that game ended in a draw.

You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?

Think Red Sox — Yankees. Think Dodgers — Giants. Think Michigan — Ohio State...or Celtics — Lakers, back when the Celtics and the Lakers were both good.

But those comparisons only begin to tell the story of one of soccer's most brilliant rivalries.

Real Madrid was Francisco Franco's team.

F.C. Barcelona is the pride and joy of the plucky and proud Catalan people.

During Franco's reign, the soccer stadium was the only place Barca's supporters could wave their banners, sing their anthems, and celebrate their heritage without fear of persecution.

If the Yankees had been supported by Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Sox had been the team of Senator "Clean Gene" McCarthy, Yankees — Red Sox would be more like Real Madrid — Barcelona.

If the Yankees were the pet team of robber barons and raging facists while the Red Sox were backed by nurses and humble craftspeople...well, you get the point.

Beyond that, Real Madrid is associated with monarchy. Real. Royal. Kings and queens. "Off with his head!" "Let 'em eat cake." Arbitrary entitled outrages of that sort. F.C. Barcelona is associated with virtue. Barca's players wear jerseys that say "UNICEF" on the front. Other teams collect millions of dollars from the corporations advertised on the clubs' uniforms. Barca pays UNICEF millions of dollars for the privilege of promoting the non-profit charity.

All this may auger nothing in this "crazy world of ours," as Rick, the Humphrey Bogart character in Casablanca put it. And by the way Rick would certainly have been a Barcelona supporter, whereas Major Strasser, the pig, would have roared for Real Madrid...But perhaps especially in a crazy world, doesn't it behoove us to support that which is righteous against that which is vile?

Good has four games left to play. So does evil. Viva Barca.

This program aired on May 17, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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