current events

When Goliath wins

J.M. Aznar, ex-president of Spain whose land reform inflated the housing bubble and Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid club president and construction magnate

José María Aznar, Florentino Peréz (l-r).

Fate decreed that the Champions League final and the 2014 elections to the European parliament are both being held on the same weekend. I doubt very seriously that the parallels between the two are lost on anyone who’s been paying attention to either.

But just in case, allow me to explain.

Last night two Spanish teams (more specifically, two teams from Madrid), Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, disputed the final of the Champions League, the biggest and most elite tournament in European football. For those who are  unfamiliar with the narrative between these teams, it goes something like this:

Real Madrid (as the name, ‘Royal Madrid’ implies–the King himself Juan Carlos I is a supporter, not coincidentally) has throughout its history been seen as an upper-class team, ‘posh’ if you will. They also bear the unfortunate stigma of having been the official team of the dictatorial Franco regime. Even after the death of the Caudillo, they remain the ‘establishment’ team par excellence.

As for el Atleti, their English-language Wikipedia page sums it up admirably:

“On the other side, the Rojiblancos were always characterized by a sentimiento de rebeldía, a sense of rebellion, although during the early Francisco Franco years, it was Atlético that was the preferred team of the regime, albeit forcibly[…]

“Such perceptions have had an important impact on the city’s footballing identities, tapping into the collective consciousness. In this vein, Atlético fans were probably the originators, and are the most frequent singers, of the song ‘Hala Madrid, hala Madrid, el equipo del gobierno, la vergüenza del país’, “Go Madrid, go Madrid, the government’s team, the country’s shame.”

(One would be remiss, though, not to point out the shadier parts of Atleti’s history, namely the 16-year presidency of Jesús Gil, mayor of Marbella and one of the most famously corrupt politicians in Spain’s long history of corrupt politicians.)

In any case there was no small amount of drama in the duel between the two Madrid clubs last night on the international stage of Lisboa’s Da Luz Stadium, with Real Madrid seeking to capture their tenth European title and Atlético seeking their first, a perfect capstone to their Cinderella season. Real Madrid versus Atlético de Madrid: the team of €100-million transfer deals for players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (seen by many as absolutely criminal given Spain’s current economic situation) versus a much more modestly financed squad (though, truth be told, none of the players on the Atleti side are what you’d call poor, either).

Powerhouse versus underdog. ‘Establishment’ versus ‘sentimiento de rebeldía’.

Real Madrid won, 4-1.

Inevitably, I find that the result of last night’s match has colored my perception of the European elections being held today. As we speak, Spanish voters are casting their votes for the European parliament, and turnout is projected to be abysmal–I, for one, didn’t get the feeling as I accompanied my wife to the polls (she can vote, I can’t) that many people were turning up for what the media often calls ‘la gran fiesta de la democracia’.

Whether that’s down to general skepticism about the European project or perhaps a huge collective hangover after last night’s match, who knows. Maybe people feel as though their vote doesn’t matter. That the major parties have the game rigged in their favor, to the exclusion of smaller grassroots platforms. That no matter who they vote for, the die has been cast, the tide of rampant globalization unleashed and Europe as a whole doomed to backslide into 21st feudalism. That the bigwigs of industry and finance will continue doing whatever the hell they please, regardless of what the great unwashed have to say about it.

Or at least what photos like the one above suggest to my mind, anyway. Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that tonight when they announce the elections result, we’ll be told that–just like last night–Goliath won.

 

 

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