The Classic is finally as big as it has always seemed

The Classic is huge, far bigger in reputation than it can ever be in actual import, a kick in the face of logic.

It’s just three points in the standings. The Classic has the same aggregate effect as a match against Rayo Vallecano or Getafe. This is a match that Barca can easily afford to lose, a team that is still in “hold on until January” mode. It’s a match that Real Madrid need to win, to keep from going six points down in the standings, and having the murmurs stalking the halls become something louder.

Why does it seem like so much more? Why do we sit in our chairs, sweating, wringing our hands in anguish, quivering with dread when Ronaldo makes one of his runs, even as we already know it will be ineffective because we have chuckled at just how ineffective he is these days.

It’s the Classic. It’s more. Phil Ball speaks of the remarkable thing called morbo, the extra something that makes the Classic seem larger than life, makes it seem like winning or losing it is the end of the world. It’s history, two great clubs locked in mutual dislike, enmity that spans decades, that permeates everything. Mes que un match, dammit.

What gives this match even more resonance is that in this day and age, football is under attack. From the planned attack at Stade de France to the thwarted attempt in the city of Hanover that canceled the Germany/Netherlands friendly, to the canceled Belgium/Spain friendly, there are people who want to hit the game where it lives: in the vibrant, beating heart.

Football is, as one very smart person called it, the most important unimportant thing in our lives. Groups of ultras battle, conspiracy theories abound, teams kick, scratch and claw in derbies everywhere. Football is war.

And yet, every now and again, even as we fear and detest such reminders, we understand what real life is like and how it can intrude into the things that we love. A sound that might be a large fireworks goes off, Patrice Evra pauses as he is playing the ball, and players hesitate. “Huh?” “What?” And at the end of 90 minutes, everything that has transpired on the pitch becomes meaningless as the Stade de France becomes a sanctuary for terrified, confused people who went to a football match, a friendly, and had a war break out. Even the most eloquent, elegant wordsmiths quail in the face of any attempt to describe what that feeling must have been like.

Football, then, isn’t war. War is war, blood running down a cobbled street as people scream, gunshots punctuating innocents begging for their lives, warplanes raining retaliatory destruction upon a place as the cycle continues.

There was never any talk of any of this forcing the Classic to be called off. What possible security threat could be brought to light that would be capable of derailing this biggest of the derbies, Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona, the club from the capital city vs the club from the autonomous region. Contrasts abound, from the stark white of their home kit to the blaugrana slashes of ours. The coaches are contrasts, one portly bookworm vs the cycling, running, fireball. Even the superstars of each club are diametric opposites, one tall, neatly coiffed and theatrical, the other short, economy shorn and all business.

What the two clubs have in common is the same aspiration. What the two superstars have in common in the same brutal effectiveness. What the teams have in common is the same craving, for the championship. What the fanbases have in common is their undying, fervent support for their warriors, even as we wonder about the propriety of such a word in this day and age. Those who would attack the game view themselves as warriors, fighting for a cause that they believe in. In that context, the athletes who do things of such beauty, who bring us joy and sorrow, would have to be something different, some sort of being that requires a different word.

This is true even at the core of it all, the players who will be facing off on Saturday are dudes at work. Their supporters are accountants, butchers, janitors, wage slaves of various kinds. The players are doing their job. We wonder how they can try to destroy each other for 90 minutes, then Messi and Pepe can swap shirts and quips after the final whistle. But it’s the same reason we can buy a drink for a buddy at a competing firm. They’re doing their job, even as that task is, was and has become such an outsized beast.

Sport is the higher thing in all of us. We hold our breath as a player stands over a free kick, explode in joy as it nestles into the back of the net. It gives humdrum lives meaning, makes a rich man hug and kiss the guy who flips his burgers. The competition is, for the time in which it holds us in thrall, everything. That is, in many ways, the genuine beauty of sport.

On that horrible Friday the 13th, there were other matches being played after France/Germany, matches that we watched to distract ourselves from the horror that was unspooling in real time, affront after affront to our humanity. Involvement in a match meant giving life to that effort to think about something else, to do anything possible just to stop crying at the unspeakable horror of it all, the anonymity of the attacks that united everyone in that awful capriciousness. And football became something else entirely, salve for our wounded souls. The beautiful game could also, for a time, mask pain. Then it can show defiance as “La Marseillaise” rang out, howled in unison as England met France in a meaningless match so stuffed with meaning.

It is this feeling that puts the Classic in perspective. It is a match that is bigger than life even in ordinary circumstances, this colossus that has Import. But on this Saturday, it’s also a well-timed symbol. People want to attack the game that we all love, uniting fans in a way that transcends club ties and regional affiliations. So it is fitting that the grandest match of them all happen, right on the heels of horror. There is no better way to spit in the face of so much ugly than with a grand spectacle, glitz, glamour and fury as the two best football teams in the world square off.

To the winner goes three points, bragging rights and something to talk about for a time. To the loser goes second guessing and loss of a psychological edge. But both teams, the supporters, the actual world that gathers to watch, win something else, something substantially more significant. We all get to affirm that there is beauty in triumph over destruction and malice, beauty in life going on, sublime delight in saying to those who want to attack that which we love, here is the biggest, grandest thing that we have. You fight with bombs and bullets, we fight with love and beauty. And for a day, after all the previous times in which the Classic has only seemed larger than life and bursting with symbolism … on Saturday, this will all be true.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

11 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    November 18, 2015

    Oh poor Leo it s 2013 all over again!Zlatan will win ballon d or after playoff games for Euro 2016!

  2. barca96
    November 18, 2015

    Hardly had time to log in for the past few weeks. But I just wanted to share this. I’m watching a rerun of Colombia Argentina. Dybala got punched in the back while he was dribbling and shielding the ball.

    At first it looked like play acting but on the replay it can clearly be seen that the Colombian punched him in the back while chasing Dybala.

    • November 19, 2015

      Yes, that was a clear punch on the back. We saw something like that from Deigo Godin too, sorry if am wrong with the player name, in one of those Atletico Barca match.
      Dybala’s confidence surprised me to say the least. Wish he was in the team for some time.
      Also Argentina has got an excellent CB in Funes Mori. The interesting thing is how easily he seems to bring the ball upfront, even dribbling quite easily. I would love to see him in Barca.

  3. luisthebeast
    November 18, 2015

    I did not see that but i just watched the uruguay-chile goals and i hope Bravo dont make ever again what he did in the last two goals!Especially in the third goal is shocking for his experience what he did!I am happy for Argentina because if they did not won Leo would have heavy pressure for their remaining games!Also Brazil seems to find a way to be solid and win games at home easy!General speaking South America qualifiers is by the far the best,every game is a fight and i believe that only 5 teams for WC is unfair for them!Btw the next Euro will be a joke with 24 teams and most of them playing so crap football!!I am glad my country will not be there because we play so crap too!!!

  4. raj
    November 19, 2015

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  5. Son
    November 19, 2015

    Any update about Roketic? it will be good to have him atleast on the bench. Our bench look so thin.

  6. luisthebeast
    November 19, 2015

    Haha so Isco is ok to play against us??But i remember he was injured just before Spain friendly against England!!Wow some magic they have there!!And Ramos is ok too??What a surprise!!And offcourse that amazing human being with the name Benzema will play!!Who cares about blackmails??Sports have nothing to do with justice!!I hope Ronaldo Bale Kroos Modric e.t.c are well rested!!Great!!Just great!!I love Spain!!

  7. ooga aga
    November 19, 2015

    Wonderful piece kxevin. Thank you. I reckon others appreciate it too even though they don’t acknowledge it, unfortunately.

    I hope what happened in Paris won’t happen again but i am not super optimistic. I agree we need to keep on keeping on.

  8. luisthebeast
    November 19, 2015

    224 people died because a terrorist attack with bomb in a plane.I guess what happened in Paris,also happened to Russian people.I wonder why the Russian NT did not played anywhere.Just asking.

    • November 20, 2015

      The world reacts differently to disasters, depending on the race and nationality, I have learned. When the Russian disaster happened, it was not very clear that it was a terrorist attack, but even when it was, within few days, the reaction was quite muted. Very similar to the huge no. of deaths in Turkey recently, which is the same when it happens almost every day in Iraq – since the invasion, and currently in Syria. In Palestine even 2 year old infants are killed point blank. But there is no reaction. So you see it all depends on the value of the nation/religion. I say this, inspite of France being my second country, my wife is French, and Paris is the city we love. But many French friends have been afraid of something like this happening for sometime now, ever since France has behaved like another puppet ally of USA.
      Am sorry, I know we should not discuss politics here, but I feel terribly sad at the present state of world.

  9. ChaoticReaper
    November 20, 2015

    It’s not just 3 points. Since Real Madrid is usually our only competitor, it also takes 3 points away from them. Not the same as a win against Getafe because Madrid can also win against Betis the same weekend with no change in the standings.

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