The fourth and final part in the serialisation of my dissertation ‘To what extent can Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona be considered to have been political institutions in Spain during the twentieth century?’, this instalment brings together my research and draws a number of conclusions as to the extent of the two clubs’ political involvement during the twentieth century. I have also attached the bibliography at the bottom as a point of interest.

If you haven’t yet read parts onetwo or three yet then just click on the links and they’ll take you through.


Having assessed the arguments both in favour and against the popular notion of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona as political organisations in conjunction with the relevant academic literature, I believe that I am in a position to deliver a relatively clear conclusion to the questions at hand.

While the dissertation has dealt with the relative political influence of both of these world-famous football clubs, the other major issue in question was whether or not there is grounds for a broadening of what we are able to classify as ‘political institutions’ within the contemporary study of political science. For generations scholars have tended to view political institutions in the relatively rigid frame of constitutions and the power which is handed to the various arms of government in that context. The definitions have undoubtedly broadened over time to encompass local governance and other organisations not historically thought of as a direct part of the formal mechanics of government (Hague & Harrop: 1982, p.82), but whether we can stretch the parameters of those definitions to include what are traditionally recognised as socio-cultural institutions – albeit with strong political linkages – is still open to question.

In the cases of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the final and most difficult question which needs answering is just to what extent their supposed political allegiances come from within the clubs themselves or, alternatively, whether those civic identities are instead projected onto them by outside agents. At the heart of this problem lies the dichotomy between organisations and institutions, the differences which determine just how politically conscious and influential the clubs were.

Essentially we have been asking whether or not Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were actively and consciously used as extensions of political parties and regimes, having political agendas wilfully bestowed upon them, or if they instead were established with little by way of an agenda and instead were instead manipulated by individuals looking to exploit their popularity for political ends.

In the instance of FC Barcelona I have concluded that attempting to fit the club’s political life into the frame of a political institution is problematic, particularly when we consider that the political views and activity with which the club was associated throughout the twentieth century has not been that of the government. Associations with Catalan politics throughout the history of the club are plain to see, Josep Sunyol’s ambitions of a political career bringing the club close to the cause of Catalan nationalism and the struggle against centralism (Burns: 1998, p.100-101).

While the club’s associations with Catalan politics are still strong (former president Joan Laporta has recently become a member of the Catalan parliament representing Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència), I do not believe the political linkages that surround the club are strong nor ingrained enough for it to be considered a political institution.

Indeed, with the founding principles of the club being ‘apolitical but always prepared to stand up for the human rights of Catalans’ (Burns: 1998, p.100), my final comment on FC Barcelona is that it is first and foremost a sporting organisation which has been used as a vehicle for the political elements of Catalanism. Rather than being an extension of Catalan political parties, I believe the evidence points to FC Barcelona being used as a figurehead for what is essentially a liberation struggle as opposed to an orthodox and constitutionally-defined political endeavour.

Where Real Madrid is concerned I believe there to be more of a case for classification as a political institution, the club being linked to and involved with more formalised elements of governments and regimes. Once used as a municipal facility by the Spanish socialist movement (Goldblatt: 2007, p.302), an event which tallies with the view of political institutions usually held by rational choice theorists (Shapiro et al: 2006, p.32), the club was also strongly linked with the Franco regime and has typically been associated with fascist ideology.

The evidence suggests that the Franco regime used Real Madrid’s success as an advertisement for the supposedly positive aspects of fascist Spain, but the extent to which the club and its chiefs – most notably Santiago Bernabéu – were able to influence policy is unclear at best. The club was almost certainly used as a propaganda machine by the regime, its players and administrators regularly lauded by Franco, but other than the well-documented personal views of Bernabéu there is little to suggest that the club was consciously political for the majority of the twentieth century.

The debate over the extent of the political nature of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will continue for generations, fans and historians on both sides of the argument perpetuating the republican v fascist polemic line, but my final conclusion is that the whole issue has become very much over-simplified within the popular narrative. As Phil Ball (2002, p.86) has written, though FC Barcelona has come to be associated with Republican heroism and Real Madrid with fascism, these images are inevitably gross simplifications, the issues at hand being far less clear-cut than they have been framed in the media over the decades.

Although various elements of both clubs fit with broad academic definitions of political institutions I believe a reasonable deduction is that the two clubs are primarily organisations (as opposed to institutions) run in a generally democratic fashion which have had political agendas projected on to them by a small number of interested parties rather than being founded with political purpose ingrained into them. The popular debate will continue, but I do not believe that there is enough accessible evidence to suggest that either Real Madrid or FC Barcelona can be held to be political institutions in the context of an orthodox academic understanding of political science.


Sources listed in order of use:

Allison, L., 1986. The Politics of Sport. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Crolley, L. and Hand, D. 2006. Football and European Identity: Historical narratives through the press. Abingdon: Routledge.

BBC Business, 2010. Real Madrid top football rich list for fifth year. Available at: <;

Ball, P. 2001. Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football. London: WSC Books.

Ball, P. 2002. White Storm: The Story of Real Madrid. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company.

Grew, R. 1978. Crises of Political Development in Europe and the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hague, R. and Harrop, M. 1982. Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. China: Palgrave Macmillan.

Colomer, J.M. 1996. Political Institutions in Europe (Second Edition). London: Routledge.

Lijphart, A. 1977. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Explanation. New York: Yale University Press.

Gandhi, J. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press.

North, D.C. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maravall, J. 1978. Dictatorship and Political Dissent: Workers and Students in Franco’s Spain. London: Cambridge University Press.

Burns, J. 1999. Barça: A People’s Passion. London: Bloomsbury.

Payne, S.G. 1999. Fascism in Spain 1923-1977. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.

de Ventós, X.R. 1991. The Hispanic Labyrinth: Tradition and Modernity in the Colonization of the Americas. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Hendrickson jr, K.E. 2003. The Spanish American War. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Payne, S.G. 1987. The Franco Regime 1936-1975. London: Phoenix Press.

Hargreaves, J. 2000. Freedom for Catalonia? Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity and the Barcelona Olympic Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FC Barcelona, 2011. History of FC Barcelona – Origins: 1899-1922. Available at: <;

Real Madrid, 2011. History by Decade. Available at: <;

Rial, J.H. 1986. Revolution from above: The Primo de Rivera dictatorship in Spain, 1923-1930. Cranbury: Associated University Press.

O’Donnell, G.A., Schmitter, P.C. and Whitehead, L. 1986. Transitions from authoritarian rule: Comparative perspectives, Volume 3. The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.

Eulau, H. 1986. Politics, self and society: A theme and variations. The President and Fellows of Harvard College: United States of America.

Marsh, D. and Stoker, G. 1995. Theory and Methods in Political Science. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.

Goldblatt, D. 2007. The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football. Penguin: London.

Bolloten, B. 1991. The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution. University of North Carolina Press: North Carolina.

Shapiro, I., Skowronek, S. and Galvin, D. 2006. Rethinking Political Institutions: The Art of the State. New York University Press: New York.

University of Copenhagen, 2008. Asian Dynamics Initiative. Available at:<;

Supporters Direct for UEFA, 2009. What is the Feasibility of a Supporters Direct Europe? (Full report). UEFA.

The Independent, 27th November 2010. Catalonia’s homage…to Catalonia. Available at: <>