I’m Eli Mengem and I love football. But even I would struggle to match the passion and intensity we’re going to see in the next few fixtures over my new series Derby Days And what better place to start than here in Spain and one of the most bitter conflicts in world sport El Clasico Whilst El Clasico is not a derby in the traditional sense, in that the two teams don’t come from the same city, it still has all the hallmarks of a classic derby. The intensity, the rivalry and the hatred the two sets of fans have for each other. El Clasico has serious political, social and historical agendas behind its rivalry. So for these guys it’s more than a club and more than a game For us it’s all. It’s all. If we win we have a very good month. People feel the match. It’s a different feeling. The atmosphere, all the people, with the kids it’s nice I think it’s one of the biggest games in the world, really. When the Clasico comes around it is just number one It’s the priority. The clasico’s timeless. Maybe for a clasico there might be five hundred journalists from a hundred countries in the place In the newspapers usually there’s five, six, seven days of twenty page build-up every single day It’s just enormous Even I could not anticipate just how much coverage this match is getting but this rivalry It’s more than just a sporting competition For these two teams their rivalry starts back during the Franco era when both clubs represented much more than just a sporting capacity The simplistic view is of Barcelona and Real Madrid representing left and right on the political spectrum Of Real Madrid being Franco’s team and Barcelona being the democrats, the freedom fighters if you like Franco’s team was Real Madrid and the team of the left, the team of separation, the team of the resistance if you like were Barcelona and Barcelona and Catalunia as a region were repressed under the dictatorship Franco was a piece of shit. He used to like only Madrid. he said to all the teams You cannot bring people from outside Spain Only Spanish people can play in Spain. And then he said to Real Madrid, you can bring whoever you want and we’re going to give them Spanish passports. And the one element that the Catalan people could use to express their ‘Catalanism’, if you like was Barcelona and through FC Barcelona and to a degree that part of it has still remained today They go to the Camp Nou to show their ‘Catalanness’ or to show their pride in what they see as their country or their nation You will see lots of Catalan flags and probably a whole mosaic of a Catalan flag at the Camp Nou on Saturday. On all of the shirts there is always a Catalan flag somewhere. Maybe not always too prominent but a little bit on the collar or on the inside but now this year with our away shirt it’s a full Senyera which is the Catalan flag. The problem is, of course, and this is one of the reasons why I wrote about it, is that some of those identities that we all take as read are not quite so simple, it’s not quite so clear cut A former Real Madrid president a guy called Ramón Mendoza, once described the clasico as a story that’s a myth but that suits us both. And that’s the bottom line. He saw this as a power struggle in which it suited both teams to lie, it suited them to embrace this idea. Why? Because it helped them create a narrative to create a story that eclipsed the rest of Spain and put these two at the head of everything. It’s not only two big cities, it’s also two different ways of understanding the game, and understanding the model, the club model From the outside you can look at Madrid as being the big global commercial super-power They have Florentino Perez and his ‘Galactico’ policy and they just sign up the best players from all around the world. Whereas Barcelona what they say themselves is we have Xavi and Iniesta and even Messi might be from Argentina but he’s come through the La Masia youth system. One way of looking at it is in terms of their two franchise players. You’ve got Cristiano Ronaldo on one side and Leo Messi on the other. Cristiano Ronaldo, the guy who cost nearly €100m that’s a fantastic athlete, that’s very, very direct that runs at people, that’s ambitious, that’s aggressive that makes things happen. And then you’ve got Messi; the guy who came up through the youth system, who appears to be virtually mute. He says almost nothing he appears to be timid. And his skills are all about the technical control, the ability in small spaces. In those two players you have a microcosm of the way the clubs see themselves. We can’t forget that this rivalry is played out on the pitch. So we’re going to head over now to Real Madrid’s training centre, speak to Carlo Ancelotti’s right-hand man Paul Clement and find out just how Real Madrid despite how big they are, prepare for what is essentially European football’s biggest match For me it’s about the game on the pitch We’re working to get the tactics right, to get the right players on the field, to make the right changes in game if we need to to be able to get us an advantage. The fans are going to get behind their team, they are going to make it very difficult for us they are going to put a lot of pressure on the referee with decisions going their way And that’s why going away is so much more challenging. Real Madrid are training just behind me on the grass over there. And there are journalists and cameramen everywhere from all around the world. I’m hearing languages from Russia, China, Germany Spanish of course. And it’s just indicative of just how big this game is to not only Real Madrid and Barcelona, not only to Spain but to the world. Alright, so I’ve just woken up, the sun’s come out for us. There’s a bit of a calm before the storm feeling here in Barcelona but I’m checking media and straight away you know that today is el Clasico day. Every paper is full, the whole thing, twenty-five pages deep of Barcelona and they are dissecting everything. After they’ve got the squads, you’ve got the line-ups the historic moments. You know today is a different day when all the paper is either white or red, blue and yellow. It’s early morning now but I can’t wait until the day moves on and I get to see what el Clasico in Barcelona is all about. This is what makes Derby’s so different. There is a different tension in the air. The game is getting closer and people are getting more passionate. They are singing anti-Madrid chants, there are anti-Madrid flags everywhere. This is Barcelona, Madrid is that way. Get out! Because the colours here are blue, red and gold. This guy just went up to the Barca fans and tried to provoke them. They say there is no passion in this derby, they just jumped him. They made him take his shirt off and everything. Check this out, he’s got his shirt off now. They made a problem for you? Look, he had a Madrid jersey on before and he had to swap it over just to cover the Madrid logo. It’s really heating up. It’s crazy, an hour or two ago we were walking through and there was Barca and Madrid standing together. But the atmosphere has changed. The beers have come out, people are starting to sing in Catalunyan. Their pride in what Barcelona means. And Madrid is banned. The colour white is banned. The logo’s can’t be seen anywhere, the cops take you away. Where have you guys come from? Guatemala. Sweden. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and you’re Tajikistan, all of central Asia. Do you watch el Clasico back home? Yes! We never miss it! You never miss it? Never! Have you come for the game? Yes! Unbelievable. From Botswana, Tanzania, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. This is unbelievable. Alright well now I’ve spoken to Barcelona fans and I’ve spoken to Madrid fans I’ve realised that this el clasico, that I thought was tame in the streets, is not. They hate each other. But the game is penned in, there is one last piece in the puzzle to discover and that’s Camp Nou. It holds ninety-eight thousand people, and it’s about to kick off. I’ve been saying it over and over that’s wasn’t a derby but that’s exactly what a derby provides. To be honest, despite what I heard I wasn’t expecting Barca versus Madrid to have that intensity that Derby’s have but from the second you walk in ninety-eight thousand people holding the placards I heard a screech when Madrid came out that I have never heard before. It was intense, it was passionate, it was beautiful. It showed what football can do. Força Barça, Força Madrid I don’t know. To me Força el Clasico. Because that match, that rivalry, that fixture brings out something beautiful in these people. And just to think, I’ve still got seven more of these to go. So if you enjoyed this, subscribe to Copa90, follow Derby Days and follow me on twitter at @eli4copa90 and follow me round Europe as I discover the passion that only football and its derbys bring out.