Football on the anniversary of the Guernica bombing

Today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the Basque town Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, an event best remembered now (outside Basque country at least) for Picasso’s epic painting of it.  The Basque fought a long and bitter struggle against the Fascist government in Madrid, an experience that informs their regional nationalism today and is regarded by many — witness (as in the photo above) the plentiful black-and-white flags in support of bringing ‘home’ prisoners belonging to ETA, the Basque militant group, that fly alongside the red-and-white Athletic Club Bilbao flags on balconies throughout Basque country — as a rationale for ETA’s terrorist activities.

ETA aside, the Europeans now mostly do their fighting by proxy; that is, on the football pitch.  And yesterday, by historic coincidence, Real Madrid won the battle but lost the war in the European Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.  Real Madrid won the game 2-1 but owing to an earlier loss to Bayern (scores are aggregated in the the Champions League) the teams were tied 3-3, which the Germans won on penalties so will advance to the finals against Chelsea.  As it happens, I was in Basque country for the first match between Bayern and Real Madrid last week, entering a Bilbao restaurant with the game on just as it ended.  I asked the waiter who’d won and he said “Real Madrid lost” and then was unable to contain a broad, giddy smile.  I thought this remarkable: we were in Spain and a Spanish club had just lost to a German side, to widespread delight.  “In Basque country,” he explained, “you won’t find anyone who wanted Madrid to win.”

The Spanish Civil War was a long time ago: some memories fade, others endure.  But among other things, the Spanish Civil War was a dry run for the Nazi war machine: Germany was aligned with the Fascist government in Madrid and used the war to test equipment and tactics it would employ a few years later when WWII began.  And it is worth recalling, as Basque football fans cheer Bayern Munich today, that it was the German Luftwaffe, not the Spanish air force, that bombed Guernica.


It has been a year of protests and rallies in Spain: click here to read about the disorder of Spanish politics.  Or here to learn what a failed coup in Spain tells us about the prosecution of Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak.  Or click here to see my photographs of Spain.


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