On Friday evening Spain’s equivalent of the FA Cup, the Copa del Rey, should be played at the Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid. I say should because at the time of writing the political authorities in the region of Madrid want the game postponed because of the poor state of the pitch. It was apparently damaged in a recent Coldplay concert.
Whether it goes ahead on Friday or at a future date no Spanish team will be involved. Instead we see the giants of Cataluña FC Barcelona take on the might of the Basque region, Athletic de Bilbao.
It is traditional for the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, to attend the match and present the trophy. It is now almost a tradition too when teams from regions of Spain who want their independence to greet the presence of the king with abusive chants and banners.
Certainly that was the even case when the Spanish monarchy was popular in the country. Now with the corruption trial embroiling the king’s son in law, Iñaki Urdangarín, and the monarch being under fire himself for going on a holiday to shoot elephants (during which he injured himself) when his country is in dire straits could lead to even former loyal Spaniards hurtling abuse. ‘The King is a Dumbo’ might be an appropriate slogan.
Barcelona and Bilbao are not new comers to this trophy having won it 25 and 23 times respectively. The Madrid stadium will be packed with Basques and Catalans and although they are there to watch the beautiful game it is also a chance not to be missed to loudly underscore their people’s demands for nationhood on nationwide TV.
Our chief minister, Fabian Picardo, is a keen soccer fanatic but on this occasion I doubt whether he will be sharing a fish supper out of old copies of La Razón with Spanish dignitaries in the Royal Box. However make no mistake at this football fest Gibraltar will be the elephant in the room.
The decision by UEFA, albeit forced on it by the Court of Arbitration, to allow Gibraltar to go forward for election to the ranks of European soccer nations has put the cat amongst the pigeons in Madrid. Of course Spain objects to Gibraltar doing anything, be thankful breathing is allowed although Madrid will insist its Spanish air, but on this occasion the implications are far wider.
Spurred on by Gibraltar’s success with UEFA the action groups for Basque, Catalonian and Galician national teams wants Bilbao’s and Barcelona’s fans to back the cause in Madrid on Friday. The fans are supported by the separatist parties in the three currently autonomous Spanish regions who see having a national team as a symbol of nationhood.
In the past the Spanish FA, ordered by the Spanish Government, has made it clear that if Gibraltar joins UEFA it would boycott all international and European club competitions. Other UEFA nations have in the past backed Spain’s stance but the court ruling gives them the get out they were looking for.
I always understood that both FIFA and UEFA would act swiftly against any country where the government started calling the tune in football matters. That seems to not have been the case with Spain, at least in the past. Whilst the Spanish FA might withdraw its international teams would its club sides follow suit. Would Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Bilbao and so on boycott the rich pickings of European leagues and cups just because Gibraltar had joined UEFA’s number? I very much doubt it: their fans would riot.
This leaves the Spanish government and football authority in a place they do not want to be. Their threats will no longer carry any wait, Gibraltar will be a UEFA footballing nation and worst of all the campaign to have Cataluña, Basque and Galicia national sides alongside the Spanish team will gather pace. I suspect as you read this Rajoy, King Juan Carlos and the Spanish FA bigwigs are busy digging up the Vicente Calderón pitch.