Title: Fear and Loathing In La Liga: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
Author: Sid Lowe
Place of publication: published by Yellow Jersey Press 2013
First published In Great Britain In 2013 By Yellow Jersey Press
Random House, 20 Vauxhal Bridge Road, London Swiv 2sa
ISBN 9780224091287 (Hardback)
ISBN 9780224091794 (Trade paperback)
Fear and loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, written by Sid Lowe, is an authoritative book on the histories of Spanish La Liga clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid, how they came to be the two biggest clubs in the world, and how their rivalry, political, social and economic situations in Spain influenced them.
The author, Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) is a respected football journalist based in Spain who contributes regularly for the Guardian as well as the best football podcast in Europe, guardian football weekly.
This book review aims to inform the reader the summary of the book, do a critical evaluation focused on its main ideas, strengths and weaknesses, methodology and relevance to football.
Summary of the book
Fear and loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is a historical overview of the two clubs from the 1930s, when both clubs were middling clubs in the league, to 2013, when both clubs can lay claim to being the two biggest clubs in the world. The book is divided into 19 chapters, whereby each club is analyzed in a chapter, and the other club is analyzed in the following chapter.
The book seeks to focus on the clubs from an organizational aspect, looking at influential chairmen and how the changes in Spanish society influenced them, from the Spanish civil war to the general Franco dictatorship, the transition to democracy, and the 21st century where globalization has impacted on finance, free movement of goods, people and services, information and technology and made football and the El Clasico a global event.
The main ideas of this book are as follows: firstly, these clubs have been massively influenced by the changes in society, the world and globalization. The Spanish civil war, the general Franco dictatorship, transition to democracy and finally globalization has impacted on the two clubs, and they have been forced to adapt. Firstly, both clubs had to become owned by members, socios in Madrid’s case, and cules for Barcelona, to evade being collectivized by the communists in the 30s. At every step, changes in society led to changes in the two clubs structures, how they perceived themselves and how they perceived each other.
Secondly, the two clubs are linked to each other by their historical rivalry. While Real “Royal” Madrid sees itself “as a club of gentlemen” and as the biggest club in the world, Barcelona reckons it is “more than a club” and an expression of Catalan nationalism and fight for independence. Other important aspects, such as the alfredo di Stefano transfer fiasco that saw the Argentine declare for Barcelona, then become arguably Real Madrid’s greatest ever player, is seen as having a massive impact in the rivalry.
Thirdly, the success and failure of each club affect the other club hugely. Thus, when one club is doing well, the other must do everything in its power to catch up. It is this jealousy, envy and obsession with each other that makes real Madrid sign Jose Mourinho as manager when Pep Guardiola is winning trophies, that explains Luis Figo’s famous pig’s head abuse after he signed for real Madrid from Barcelona, and impacts how these two clubs behave.
Strengths and weaknesses
The biggest strength of this book is the attention to detail taken by Sid Lowe. The research undertaken to produce this book is breathtaking, from television and video archives, newspaper clippings, interviews with great men from both sides of the El Clasico divide. There don’t exist many books that have the information contained in Fear and loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.
Paradoxically, the greatest strength is its greatest weakness. Too many pages are spent explaining games and events in the 70s and 80s, which might be off-putting to the reader who is more interested in later happenings.
The book also portrays a fair balance of both clubs, one feels the author tries hard, almost too hard, to be and appear to be neutral, especially when handling hot button issues such as the alfredo di Stefano transfer, the Luis Figo transfer, the rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, perceived favouritism by referees and successes and failures of both clubs.
Sid Lowe uses both primary and secondary sources of information to write this book. Interviews with former players, chairmen, coaches, famous supporters of the club provide a wealth of information that cannot be otherwise provided by just reading match reports and club histories.
The result is an impressive trove of information of both clubs and events that might have been bypassed by a less concerting author.
Relevance to football
This book is very relevant to the game; as it lays bare what makes this rivalry so visceral, so key and so important to Spanish football. Without the El Classico, without these two clubs trying so much to win titles, year in and year out, Spain’s national team, and football would be undoubtedly poor.
Anyone who wants to understand why the Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry is so big, why el Clasico is the biggest football match in Europe, why real Madrid keeps signing the best players and is obsessed with the UEFA champions league, the Dutch connection to Barcelona, the importance of greats such as Johann Cruyff and alfredo di Stefano, Santiago Bernabeu and Emilio butragueno, should read this book.
Fear and loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is a masterpiece that richly educated me on the rivalry between the two clubs. While outsiders may sometimes be bemused as to the importance of El Clasico, this book explains why this rivalry is the biggest in world football.
While it is too voluminous and detailed (over 400 pages) and may put off the casual fan, keen followers and students of the game will love the amount of detail and nuance taken to write this book.
For them, I would recommend it as a must read.