Rivals

True to his word, Miguel followed it up with a post which has me thinking a bit both on why I started following Barça as well as the greater implication of what it means to take part in a rivalry.

I’ve told my Barça origin story before but I haven’t been completely honest about it. I’ve always had an affinity toward the underdog and a tendency to avoid the most-popular choices. When I chose to be a Barça fan, it was with the full knowledge that the team I was choosing was somewhat dysfunctional and carried a lot of historical baggage. Yes, it was also a successful big club with big stars, but it wasn’t the big bandwagon club.

This is also due to soccer’s relative unimportance in America at the time. But I really came of age as a fan during the Gaspart years and learned a lot about how the club is expected to sabotoge any success and can break the hearts of its fans in the cruelest ways possible.

Where Real Madrid was the Yankees, Barça was the Red Sox.

While this analogy still holds, it means something completely different now than it did before 2004. I kind of miss the previous world even though I enjoy the current one where the former ne’er-do-well teams are now yearly contenders and the former top dogs have had a long run without ultimate success despite their payrolls.

In short, I miss the Real Madrid from the early 2000s. It was nice to have a rival which I respected and which I knew would approach the game in the correct manner. There were no players I actively hated for how they played the game* and I looked forward to the clásicos even though I was never at all confident of a result.

*The Figo situation was about betrayal, not about playing style. I understand the fan anger but I do not condone the pig tossing and abuse.

It was an honor to be able to call them our rivals and contrasts greatly with the current situation where there is so much bad blood between the players and in the press that it’s almost impossible to stay above the fray. All of us risk getting pulled into the trap of fanaticism and hate and it’s getting to the point where many of us are actively wishing to avoid playing our rival.

It’s not even too much of a good thing. It’s just too much.

Some of my thinking may be helped by the fact that I’m not Catalán and so do not understand the history and hatred which resulted from the Franco years. Barça is not a proxy for any of my politics. But most of my sense of what a proper rivalry is comes from my college years.

Stanford and Cal are rivals, but they don’t hate each other. Not really. The rivalry cuts across all aspects of the universities—sports, Nobel Prizes, Robber Barons, etc.—and most of the people associated with the schools realize that maintaining a rivalry like this requires mutual respect. It’s no great achievement to do better than something which sucks. The quality of your rival should push you to do even better.

Which means that I root for Cal whenever they’re not in direct competition with Stanford and appreciate Cal’s academic achievements since I know that they’ll force Stanford to keep pace.

Where’s the fun in a rivalry dominated by hate and cheating? It’s far more enjoyable to be better because you were pushed to do so.

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One response to “Rivals

  1. Pingback: Sporting Integrity | n j w v

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