When, on the 19th of June, 1943, Futbol Club Barcelona walked into the Estadio Chamartin – the home of Real Madrid Club de Futbol – few Spaniards could have anticipated what was going to happen. That fateful day the great football club had their backsides handed to them in an 11-1 thrashing that would send shockwaves through the football-mad nation.
You see, this just wasn’t supposed to happen; it was no minor league game – this was, after all, the semifinal of the Copa del Generalísimo (precursor to the modern day Copa Del Rey). More pertinently, the first leg played at Les Corts had seen the Blaugrana toy with Los Blancos as they strode to a commanding 3-0 win.
8-0 after 45 minutes, 11-1 after the 90; there surely must have been something more to that result. And by God, was there ever.
To understand the match and the incredible result, we must go back in time and try and understand just what Spain was going through in the early 40s.
The rise of General Franco
Sport has been intrinsically linked with the politics, society and the culture of civilizations from the dawn of recorded history. As has been man’s thirst for power.
The “great” leaders – the ones who have commanded nations and empires over large swathes of time, have always known how to use sport as a catalyst in this never-ending quest for power. It was no different for Spain in the near post-apocalyptic wasteland that was the early ‘40s.
Enter, Stage (Far) Right, General Francisco Franco.
El Generalísimo had led the neo-fascist nationalist faction in the Spanish Civil War that had overthrown the democratically elected leftist Spanish government and defeated their loyalists – the Republicans.
At the end of it all, in 1939, Franco had proclaimed himself as ruler of all of Spain. In the leader’s own words – "Our regime is based on bayonets and blood, not on hypocritical elections."
When someone claims bayonets and blood as the more reasonable of two options – you know things aren’t all that normal.
It had all started when, like so many of the modern world’s “bad guys”, El Generalísimo looked elsewhere – far away from his roots – in his quest for power. Where the Georgian Joseph Stalin looked to Muscovite Russia, the Austrian Adolf Hitler to Berlin and the half-blood Lord Voldemort to pure-bloods, the Galician saw his power emanating from the heart of Spain.
From Castile, and its famed capital – Madrid.
Madrid vs the rest
You see, the focal point of General Franco’s hatred for the erstwhile Republic had been the granting of semi-autonomy to the nation’s two most important and diverse regions – the Basque country and Catalonia. This, in his (and apparently a lot many more) eyes, had represented a dilution of the Spanish national identity.
Forgetting (or more accurately, ignoring) his Galician roots, he set about crushing regionalism wherever it sprouted, and aimed at establishing the dominance of Castile and the Castilian Spanish dialect over the entirety of Spanish Iberia, concentrating all of the nation’s power in the capital city.
This would mean suppressing the fiercely independent language and culture of the Basques and the Catalans.
That he did with an iron fist.
Soon, with the implementation of any specific regional cultural practice or even speaking of a regional tongue in public punishable by imprisonment, the sole remaining bastions of local pride became the football teams.
Athletic Bilbao (then known as Atlético Bilbao – a direct effect of Franco’s “Castilan-Spanish only” decree) and Barcelona (their famous initials Futbol Club changed to Club de Football at the time), the two great footballing teams of their region, would become as – Barcelona’s motto till date says – “Mes que un club”. More than a club. They would become the voice of a people – the sole (safest, at least) avenues for open rebellion against their brutal oppressor.
Their stadiums became the only places their languages could be spoken without fear, their outlawed flags depicted in their clubs jerseys (Catalonia’s yellow and blue became Barca’s red and blue – the Basques’ red white and green became Athetic’s red and white).
It is in this context that we must look at that infamous Copa del Generalísimo semifinal and the alleged involvement of the hand of El Generalísimo himself.
In the first leg, the Catalan congregation at Les Corts had thoroughly enjoyed the evisceration of the team that represented their great “oppressors”, and had loudly whistled and booed the players in white any time they touched the ball (something that resulted in the partisan government/football federation fining the Catalan club).
By the time Barca had got to Madrid for the second leg, the atmosphere had been whipped up into a fevered frenzy. Ernesto Teus, a famous journalist and a Madridista writing for the ever-partisan Marca, had started it all off with a sharp piece which highlighted Madrid’s lack of conviction and meek surrender to their great regional rivals. The article soon got its desired result, touching a raw nerve in the Castilian psyche and riling the Madrid fans to near boiling point.
So when Barca arrived in Madrid, they were treated – like Carthaginian slaves in an ancient Roman gladiatorial arena – with the blood-curdling screams and whistles of over 20,000 frenetically whipped up Madridistas baying for Catalan blood
It is here that things descended from pretty damn scary to downright chilling. It is alleged that the Director of State Security (arguably the scariest person in an open dictatorship after the dictator himself) visited the Barcelona dressing room and reminded the players there of the Republic’s generosity in letting Catalonia remain a part of the Republic.
Sure, no threatening words were uttered, but, paraphrasing the immortal Godfather – Don Vito Corleone - the best threat is one that does not need to be stated aloud.
The players, apparently (and quite understandably) fearing for their lives as well as their families’ and intimidated by the insanely hostile atmosphere in the Chamartin, stood mute witnesses as Puden, Sabino Barinaga, Antonio Alsúa Alonso, Curta and Botella hammered 11 goals past the hapless Luis Miró – who for most parts of the game was too terrified of the spectators behind his goal (specifically the objects thrown at him, and the imminent threat of a pitch invasion) to stand anywhere near his penalty box.
Enrique Piñeyro Queralt, the Barca president at the time – an ardent Franco loyalist (appointed to the post by the Franco administration for the de-politicization of the club) – got so disillusioned by it all that he resigned soon after the game.
Even more damningly, Juan Antonio Samaranch, a hardline Nationalist and card carrying member of Franco’s Fascist party, a journalist who despite his political allegiances believed in the fairness of sport, wasn’t allowed to put ink to paper for nearly 10 years after he wrote a piece lambasting the behaviour of the crowd and the injustice of the result. (Samaranch would of course move past that to become a Franco favourite, and chairman of the International Olympic Committee, but that's another story).
As it was, after June 1943, Spanish Football – and the great sporting spectacle that is El Clasico – would never be the same again.
Epilogue – When did Madrid truly became Franco’s club?
While El Generalísimo’s shady influence seems evident in the way that events unfolded on that infamous afternoon, it has to be said that Franco only well and truly adopted Real Madrid as his club a long time after that summer – well into Santiago Bernabeu’s presidency (which started the season after the infamous match) and around about the time when Alfredo Di Stefano found himself wearing the hallowed white jersey.
The tremendous successes (especially on the European stage) of the 50s Madrid team were used by Franco as a means of advertising, to the watching world, just how great his rule was for the nation – another example of a leader attempting to bathe in the borrowed limelight of sporting success. In the 1960s, this newfound fondness for the beautiful game would be transferred to the Spanish national team (when they won the European Championship in 1964, that is).
During the 1940s, Franco’s influence, if any, was hardly evident in the results of the Madrid team – during the first 14 years of his reign, they won a grand total of zero league titles and just two Cup crowns. If anything, it was his two greatest enemies, the Basques and the Catalans, that dominated Spanish football at the time – their virulent rebellion manifesting itself beautifully on the unmatchable canvas that is the football pitch.
The year where they “thrashed” Barcelona 11-4 on aggregate, the Copa del Generalísimo was lifted by the true superpowers of the time – the Telmo Zarra inspired Basques of Athletic Bilbao.