Spanish national coach Vicente Del Bosque asked that the national anthem be respected ahead of the Copa Del Rey final in the Nou Camp in an interview with Spanish TV, saying “we should respect and not jeer the national anthem”. Barcelona football club has long been a centre of Catalan identity, where the club literally wears its colours on its sleeves – the striped red and yellow symbol on the blaugrana jersey is the flag of Catalan independence. Saturday night’s clash between Barca and Atletic Bilbao will take on an extra political dimension with the Basque side representing another region with ambitions of independence, it is a breakaway derby of sorts.
The King of Spain may find a chorus of protest whistles directed at him and the establishment he represents during the wordless anthem, perhaps the only time the Basque and Catalan fans will agree on anything for the entire evening. Historically, Barcelona have tried to win the cup once known as the Copa del Generalisimo as an act of defiance against Franco’s dictatorship, but the cup competition has waned in importance with the increased prestige and lucre of the Champions League.
Speaking of history, the last time Atletic won anything was when they won this very trophy against – yes – Barcelona, in 1984. These were different days for Bilbao, already crowned league champions and feared for their uncompromising style, they had reached heady heights. A certain Diego Maradona played for Barcelona in that game and taking umbrage to some rough treatment from Andoni Goikoetxea – better known as the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’, at losing 1-0 and at some inciteful gesturing, he headbutted the Bilbao defender Sosa and elbowed another player in the face, kicking off the mother of all post-match brawls that looks like something directed by Stephen Chow
Not many give Bilbao a fighting chance tomorrow night however, with another Argentinian bewilderer leading the line for Barca and with two defeats and 7 unanswered goals in the league, the Catalan giants are firm favourites. 50,000 Basque fans are reported to be descending on the Catalan capital, 12,000 without tickets, to see a final featuring two of the most successful clubs in the history of the competition: Barcelona have won the cup 26 times and Atletic 23.
When the whistle blows – the referee’s that is – the politics will be forgotten and only one question will matter: Will Barcelona take a step towards a historic treble, or will Atletic Club win their first piece of silverware since 1984?