The Barcelona/Real Madrid rivalry represents so much more than just football. In the modern day, the game is no less meaningful. The only thing that has changed is the players on the pitch, naturally, goalkeepers included…
This article was originally published on The Goalkeeping Blog.com, now part of the Goalkeeper.com group.
Why are Barcelona and Real Madrid such fierce rivals? It’s not only because they’re historically the two greatest best teams in Spain, and have been for some time. Indeed, Barcelona and Real’s quality and dominance is indisputable, but there are more deep-rooted reasons for the intense rivalry that has entertained millions both in Spain and around the globe for years.
The last El Clásico played before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was somewhat telling of the conflict’s result. Real dominated Barcelona, beating the Catalonian side 3-0 on March 22nd, 1936. Whilst Madrid was the seat of Spain’s then-Republican, socialist government, it represented establishment – values upon which to-be dictator Francisco Franco would come to build Spain post-1939.
Catalonia, meanwhile, was one of the fiercest regions of resistance to Franco. The ‘regional issue’ is long known to be a failing of the Franco’s, namely that he never was able to establish a completely unified Spain, ideologically rather than in practice.
To this day, Catalonia is Spain’s greatest proponent of regional independence. The illegal 2017 Catalonian Independence Referendum was deeply flawed – less than half the eligible electorate voted – thus the over 90% pro-independence result was clearly invalid.
However, it is true that for hundreds of years, Catalonians have felt detached from Spain, and believe they have been let down by Madrid in terms of the tax-spend-invest balance between the region and the government.
In footballing terms, Real Madrid, for decades, have represented everything that Catalonians detest. First and foremost, Real Madrid were allegedly Franco’s team. The Dictator reportedly influenced footballing proceedings to favour Real, especially in the early stages of the regime.
The shady breakdown of Alfredo Di Stefano’s move to Barcelona, seeing the talismanic striker make a shocking U-turn to head to the capital instead was only one example of the mysterious goings-on that appeared to work in Real’s favour during Franco’s 36 year Dictadura.
But whether Franco loved Real Madrid because they were Spain’s best team, or that they were Spain’s best team because Franco supported them, is up for debate.
Real Madrid denied Barcelona a La Liga title for fourteen years between 1960 and 1974. Whether Franco had a sly influence on events in this period hasn’t ever been factually established. However, Real’s dominance over Barcelona existed well before the 60s.
Pre-Civil War (between the founding of La Liga in 1929 and 1936), Real Madrid won 10 of the 16 El Clásico matches played. And, it wasn’t solely the goal scorers that shone in this early period of Spanish football. It was the goalkeepers, too.
The first of these was Ricardo Zamora; one whose story both on and off the pitch is truly remarkable. Ironically, Zamora, despite being renowned for his exploits with Los Blancos, was born in Barcelona. To this day, his legacy lives on.
As the namesake of the Zamora Trophy, awarded each season to the La Liga goalkeeper with the lowest goals to game ratio, Zamora’s goalkeeping gravitas has lived on through the likes of Victor Valdes, Iker Casillas, and, despite not being Spanish themselves, Jan Oblak and Thibaut Courtois.
‘Spain’s most important footballer during the thirties, and one of the greatest in history. Ricardo Zamora Martínez had all the virtues imaginable in a goalkeeper’, is the way that Real Madrid open their tribute to ‘El Divino’ (The Divine One) on their website. Holy he may have appeared, Zamora is remembered for quite literally defying gravity with his infamous reflexes on numerous occasions.
Noted to be also a little mad, one of Zamora’s greatest traits was his larger-than-life personality, unwavering mentality, and ‘nerves of steel’ on and off the pitch.
Zamora is enshrined in Spanish footballing history. Allegedly persuaded by Barcelona’s founding father, Joan Gamper, to pursue the hobby that left his mother furious (with ripped t-shirts and cut knees commonplace in the household), Zamora began to ply his trade with their neighbours RCD Espanyol aged 16 in 1916.
A debut at that age against a star-studded Real Madrid side led by Santiago Bernabéu himself propelled Zamora – still very much a child – onto the national stage. By 1919, Zamora had joined Gamper’s historic set up at Barcelona, and began to flourish as the maverick goalkeeper he became famous for being.
Zamora’s goalkeeping career and the volatile political climate of the early 20th century intertwined more than the goalkeeper may have liked.
Starting for the first time for Barcelona, wearing his trademark cloth cap and turtleneck sweater at the Carrer Industria stadium against an Allied powers international XI, Zamora first became a part of something bigger than football. It wasn’t the first time that the goalkeeper would be associated with war – just over ten years later, Zamora would find himself a Republican political prisoner.
His career crossed the Barcelona/Madrid barrier in terms of both football and politics. In 1936, now playing for Real, Zamora put in perhaps the most iconic performance of his career in the last El Clásico before Spain descended into bloodshed and authoritarianism. Some claim the save that Zamora made from Josep Escola on the dusty surface of Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium ‘is the most remembered save in Spanish football’.
Between his spell at Barcelona and his heroic El Clásico save in ’36, Zamora was reputed for more than just his goalkeeping antics. Known to be ‘adventurous’, so to speak, off the field, stories of Zamora frequenting Barcelona’s nightclubs with teammate Josep Samitier were well documented.
Madness and Zamora went hand in hand. The Spaniard played an entire match with a broken sternum against England in 1929, punched an opponent at the 1920 Olympics, seeing him sent off and, post-game, arrested for smuggling Havana cigars across the Belgian border. The same cigars and bottles of Cognac were equally enjoyable pastimes for Zamora; he allegedly smoked three packets of the former every day.
Ricardo Zamora experienced the Madrid/Barcelona divide both on and off the football pitch. A regular starter for the Catalan XI throughout the 20s, he was awarded the Order of the Republic medal by the then-President of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939), Niceto Alcalá-Zamora.
However, his exploits for Real saw him frequently accused of rejecting Catalan nationalism, and thus upon the commencement of the Spanish Civil War, he was arrested and imprisoned by the sitting Republican government. Franco and the Nationalists had attempted to use Zamora’s rumoured murder by Republican forces as propaganda.
The alleged homicide turned out to be false, but Zamora was duly incarcerated at the Presó Model de Barcelona.
Reports of how Zamora escaped prison vary in their nature and their accuracy, but it has been widely documented that the goalkeeper’s celebrity status saved him from the hangman on more than one occasion – and the blade of a rather angry socialist, who was seconds from impaling Zamora with his knife before realising that the murder he was about to commit would be against his own team’s legendary shot-stopper.
An intervention by the Argentine Embassy allowed Zamora to flee to France in exile. There, he reunited with Samitier, and spent a season with OGC Nice between 1937 and 1938. It was on the French Riviera that he would finish his playing career, however, returning to Spain upon the Nationalist’s victory in 1939. Franco awarded Zamora with the Great Cross of the Order of Cisneros, a medal honouring ‘political merit’ according to the regime.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Zamora was both infamous and also almost mystical. His name and reputation preceded him, so much so that when Joseph Stalin received news of Niceto Alcala-Zamora’s appointment as President of Spain in 1931, he allegedly proclaimed ‘Ah, the goalkeeper’.
With Zamora’s legacy living on through the trophy named after him, the goalkeeper remains entrenched in Spanish culture – for better or for worse.
Following Barcelona’s 3-0 win at Les Corts in the first leg of the newly named Copa Del Generalísimo (after self-proclaimed Generalísimo Francisco Franco, a title connoting the highest military rank possible to hold) Semi-Final, the Catalan side arrived in the capital on June 13th. The first leg had been played in an intensely hostile atmosphere, with Real players booed and hissed at every time they received the ball. From a historical perspective, it’s important to look into the significance of the ’43 Semi-Final.
For Madrid – in football and government – a defeat to Barcelona would simply be too much of a humiliation, physically and symbolically. As historian Joan Barau explains, ‘the game was to be much more than a sporting duel. It was all about teaching Barcelona a lesson and humiliating a club like no other that represented a way of thinking differently’. In fact, Barcelona had won the competition a year earlier making the prospect of defeat even more embarrassing.
The ten or so years immediately following the Civil War, namely between 1939 and 1950, were some of the darkest in Spain’s history. Franco had to ensure that power was maintained, and it is believed that around 200,000 people were killed between 1940 and 1942 alone.
Historian Paul Preston noted that ‘he [Franco] wanted to be seen ‘not only as the saviour of Spain but also as the saviour of Europe from the spread of Communism’. It was the latter that eventually endeared him to the international community. As the Cold War escalated, the United States established diplomatic relations with Francoist Spain upon the signing of the Pact of Madrid in 1953; France and Britain had recognised Franco’s dictatorship from 1939.
Spain began to settle (in the context of the previous twenty years) in the 1950s. They joined the United Nations in 1955, and, mainly thanks to the ‘Spanish Miracle’, ‘the years 1951-75 were characterised by rapid industrialization, urbanisation, and demographic growth. There was a tremendous increase in tourism, foreign investment and trade. Productivity and living standards rose appreciably’.
Before the second leg of the game, one of Real Madrid’s own ex-goalkeepers, Eduardo Teus, had written a rather inflammatory piece for newspaper Marca. It had piled pressure on Real Madrid to react, riled their fans to do likewise, and unsurprisingly angered most, if not all, Barcelona fans.
El Clásico goalkeeping had already played an unsuspecting part in the trouble.
The scoreline at the end of the second leg read Real Madrid 11-1 Barcelona. Reports of threats made by Franco’s security forces to Barcelona officials and players were never substantiated, but it was clear that Barcelona simply didn’t see the point in trying. For what reason, we don’t know for sure. Yet, it’s important to remember that at such a time, there were things far more valuable than a football trophy.
One of the most memorable points of the tie was Barcelona goalkeeper Lluis Miró intentionally handing Real Madrid’s attack the ball, allowing them to score. They decided not to take the chance for reasons unknown, but by that point in the game, Barcelona and Catalonia had been humiliated sufficiently to Franco’s liking.
Any venture towards his goal line saw Miró struck by coins and bottles, one of which allegedly nearly killed him. To this day, the 1943 Copa Del Generalísimo Semi-Final between Real Madrid and Barcelona remains the murkiest sporting reminder of dark times in Spanish history.
On February 19th, 1959, El Clásico was first televised to football fans across Spain. TV sets reportedly sold out across cities, with the prospect of seeing Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas playing in real time simply too good to miss out on. Real faced a Barcelona side led by Helenio Herrera in the capital.
Herrera is most widely known for his triumphs with Inter Milan and the Catenaccio style that he implemented in his teams.That day, however, it was the home side that were resolute. El Clásico goalkeeping was on show to the nation, with two reputed shot stoppers standing between the posts on that chilly February day.
Starting in goal for Real Madrid was Argentine Rogelio Domínguez; his Catalan counterpart, Antoni Ramallets. Standing at 1.90m (6’2), Domínguez was one of the taller goalkeepers of his era. Unlike Zamora or Miró, however, Domínguez is the first goalkeeper covered in this article so far that is pictured wearing goalkeeper gloves.
He made 85 appearances for Real Madrid, starting in their 1959 and 1960 European Cup finals – both of which Madrid won. Whilst Domínguez is remembered as an excellent, imposing goalkeeper, however, Ramallets’ name is perhaps known more widely in reference to Spanish and El Clásico goalkeeping.
The number of appearances that Ramallets made for Barcelona is disputed. Some sources list 288. Others count all the way to over 500. Nonetheless, Ramallets won five Zamora trophies and 18 major honours at Barcelona between 1947 and 1960, and has gone down in history as one of the greatest Spanish goalkeepers to ever live.
Like the namesake of the trophy he became attached to, Ramallets did make appearances for the Catalan XI during the same period in which he was entrusted with the national number one jersey. No stranger to performing on the big stage, Ramallets truly established himself during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. During the tournament, he earned the title ‘El Gat de Maracanã’, Catalonian for ‘The Cat of the Maracanã’.
Spain’s 1-0 victory over England in Brazil saw Ramallets deny the likes of Stan Mortenson and Stanley Matthews. It was after the Spaniards’ win that Ramallets was truly recognised on the world stage, bringing a new brand of goalkeeping onto the scene and causing Spanish fans to hark back to the days of Zamora. The cat-reference nickname that his tournament exploits earnt him is in fact thought to have been initiated by the famous Spanish sports journalist Matías Prats Cañete.
Known as a ‘smart’ and ‘elegant’ goalkeeper according to sources, Ramallets was a rather different stopper to Domínguez. Whereas the latter utilised his huge frame to great effect, the former’s agility and bravery served him well. Such ‘elegance’ is evident in the minimal video evidence readily available of Ramallets in action. In fact, a striking feature of such videos is the modernity in his play.
The Barcelona stopper’s movement and technique aren’t dissimilar to the more refined styles we may see today. Ramallets also allegedly used to water his hands before playing to create grip – despite being pictured wearing gloves, it wasn’t a regular occurrence.
It is believed that Ramallets’ decision to retire was influenced by the own goal he scored in the 1961 European Cup Final. A looping header towards the far post was inadvertently touched home by the Barcelona goalkeeper, putting Benfica 2-1 up in a game that they’d eventually go on to win 3-2.
Away from football, Ramallets continued his theatricals on the silver screen. He starred in 1950s Spanish films such as Los Ases Buscan La Paz, and Once Pares De Botas.
As Spain moved into the seventies – the decade of Franco’s death – El Clásico goalkeeping only got better. Spanish football fans had already witnessed two of their country’s greatest ever goalkeepers within twenty years of each other, playing for two of Spain’s footballing giants. Could El Clásico goalkeeping give us more? Most definitely…