Since the first match in 1902, the official Clásico matches have been held at fifteen stadiums, fourteen of those in Spain. The following table shows the details of the stadiums that hosted the Clásico. Friendly matches are not included.
As early as the 1930s, Barcelona "had developed a reputation as a symbol of Catalan identity, opposed to the centralising tendencies of Madrid". In 1936, when Francisco Franco started the coup d'état against the democratic Second Spanish Republic, the president of Barcelona, Josep Sunyol, member of the Republican Left of Catalonia and Deputy to The Cortes, was arrested and executed without trial by Franco's troops (Sunyol was exercising his political activities, visiting Republican troops north of Madrid). During the dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera and especially Francisco Franco, all regional languages and identities in Spain were frowned upon and restrained. As such, most citizens of Barcelona were in strong opposition to the fascist-like regime. In this period, Barcelona gained their motto Més que un club (English: More than a club) because of its alleged connection to Catalan nationalist as well as to progressive beliefs.
On 13 June 1943, Real Madrid beat Barcelona 11–1 at the Chamartín in the second leg of the Copa del Generalísimo semi-finals (the Copa del Presidente de la República having been renamed in honour of General Franco). The first leg, played at the Les Corts in Catalonia, had ended with Barcelona winning 3–0. Madrid complained about all the three goals that referee Fombona Fernández had allowed for Barcelona, with the home supporters also whistling Madrid throughout, whom they accused of employing roughhouse tactics, and Fombona for allowing them to. Barça’s Josep Escolà was stretchered off in the first half with José María Querejeta’s stud marks in his stomach. A campaign began in Madrid. The newspaper Ya reported the whistling as a "clear intention to attack the representatives of Spain." Barcelona player Josep Valle recalled: "The press officer at the DND and ABC newspaper wrote all sorts of scurrilous lies, really terrible things, winding up the Madrid fans like never before". Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Eduardo Teus, who admitted that Madrid had "above all played hard", wrote in a newspaper: "the ground itself made Madrid concede two of the three goals, goals that were totally unfair".
Until the early 1950s, Real Madrid was not a regular title contender in Spain, having won only two Primera División titles between 1929 and 1953. However, things changed for Real after the arrival of Alfredo Di Stéfano in 1953, Paco Gento in the same year, Raymond Kopa in 1956, and Ferenc Puskás in 1958. Real Madrid's strength increased in this period until the team dominated Spain and Europe, while Barcelona relied on its Hungarian star László Kubala and Luis Suárez, who joined in 1955 in addition to the Hungarian players Sándor Kocsis and Zoltán Czibor and the Brazilian Evaristo. With the arrival of Kubala and Di Stéfano, Barcelona and Real Madrid became among the most important European clubs in those years, and the players represented the turning point in the history of their teams.
The rivalry was intensified during the 1950s when the clubs disputed the signing of Argentine forward Alfredo Di Stéfano. Di Stéfano had impressed both Barcelona and Real Madrid while playing for Los Millionarios in Bogotá, Colombia, during a players' strike in his native Argentina. Soon after Millonarios' return to Colombia, Barcelona directors visited Buenos Aires and agreed with River Plate, the last FIFA-affiliated team to have held Di Stéfano's rights, for his transfer in 1954 for the equivalent of 150 million Italian lira ($200,000 according to other sources ). This started a battle between the two Spanish rivals for his rights. FIFA appointed Armando Muñoz Calero, former president of the Spanish Football Federation as mediator. Calero decided to let Di Stéfano play the 1953–54 and 1955–56 seasons in Madrid, and the 1954–55 and 1956–57 seasons in Barcelona. The agreement was approved by the Football Association and their respective clubs. Although the Catalans agreed, the decision created various discontent among the Blaugrana members and the president was forced to resign in September 1953. Barcelona sold Madrid their half-share, and Di Stéfano moved to Los Blancos, signing a four-year contract. Real paid 5.5 million Spanish pesetas for the transfer, plus a 1.3 million bonus for the purchase, an annual fee to be paid to the Millonarios, and a 16,000 salary for Di Stéfano with a bonus double that of his teammates, for a total of 40% of the annual revenue of the Madrid club.
Di Stéfano became integral in the subsequent success achieved by Real Madrid, scoring twice in his first game against Barcelona. With him, Madrid won the first five editions of the European Cup. The 1960s saw the rivalry reach the European stage when Real Madrid and Barcelona met twice in the European Cup, with Madrid triumphing en route to their fifth consecutive title in 1959–60 and Barcelona prevailing en route to losing the final in 1960–61.
On 11 July 1968, Barcelona beat Real Madrid 1–0 in the Copa del Generalísimo final at the Santiago Bernabéu. Real Madrid fans, angry about the refereeing, started throwing bottles at the referee and Barcelona players in the last minutes of the match. Antonio Rigo, the referee of the final, was accused of favouring Barcelona. Regarding the two not awarded penalties, he said "I didn't see a penalty on Amancio, and Serena tripped. He wanted to deceive me by diving when he entered the penalty area." He also accused the Real Madrid manager of trying to bribe him with a pre-match gift. General Franco presented the trophy to Barcelona with a pitch full of bottles, hence the name.
There's an ongoing controversy as to what extent Franco's rule (1939–75) influenced the activities and on-pitch results of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. Most historians agree that Franco did not have a preferred football team, but his Spanish nationalist beliefs led him to associate himself with the establishment teams, such as Atlético Aviación and Madrid FC (that recovered its royal name after the fall of the Republic). On the other hand, he also wanted the renamed CF Barcelona succeed as "Spanish team" rather than a Catalan one. During the early years of Franco's rule, Real Madrid weren't particularly successful, winning two Copa del Generalísimo titles and a Copa Eva Duarte; Barcelona claimed three league titles, one Copa del Generalísimo and one Copa Eva Duarte. During that period, Atlético Aviación were believed to be the preferred team over Real Madrid. The most contested stories of the period include Real Madrid's 11–1 home win against Barcelona in the Copa del Generalísimo, where the Catalan team alleged intimidation, and the controversial transfer of Alfredo Di Stéfano to Real Madrid despite his agreement with Barcelona. The latter transfer was part of Real Madrid chairman Santiago Bernabéu's "revolution" that ushered in the era of unprecedented dominance. Bernabéu, himself a veteran of the Civil War who fought for Franco's forces, saw Real Madrid on top not only of Spanish but also European football, helping create the European Cup, the first true competition for Europe's best club sides. His vision was fulfilled when Real Madrid not only started winning consecutive league titles but also swept the first five editions of the European Cup in the 1950s. These events had a profound impact on Spanish football and influenced Franco's attitude. According to historians, during this time he realized the importance of Real Madrid for his regime's international image, and the club became his preferred team until his death. Fernando Maria Castiella, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Franco from 1957 until 1969, noted that "[Real Madrid] is the best embassy we have ever had." Franco died in 1975, and the Spanish transition to democracy soon followed. Under his rule, Real Madrid had won 14 league titles, 6 Copa del Generalísimo titles, 1 Copa Eva Duarte, 6 European Cups, 2 Latin Cups and 1 Intercontinental Cup. In the same period, Barcelona had won 8 league titles, 9 Copa del Generalísimo titles, 3 Copa Eva Duarte titles, 3 Inter-Cities Fairs Cups, and 2 Latin Cups.
The image for both clubs was further affected by the creation of ultras groups, some of which became hooligans. In 1980, Ultras Sur was founded as a far-right-leaning Real Madrid ultras group, followed in 1981 by the foundation of the initially left-leaning and later on far-right, Barcelona ultras group Boixos Nois. Both groups became known for their violent acts, and one of the most conflictive factions of Barcelona supporters, the Casuals, became a full-fledged criminal organisation.
While El Clásico is regarded as one of the fiercest rivalries in world football, there have been rare moments when fans have shown praise for a player on the opposing team. In 1980, Laurie Cunningham was the first Real Madrid player to receive applause from Barcelona fans at Camp Nou; after excelling during the match, and with Madrid winning 2–0, Cunningham left the field to a standing ovation from the locals. On 26 June 1983, during the second leg of the Copa de la Liga final at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, having dribbled past the Real Madrid goalkeeper, Barcelona star Diego Maradona ran towards an empty goal before stopping just as the Madrid defender Juan José came sliding in an attempt to block the shot and crashed into the post, before Maradona slotted the ball into the net. The manner of Maradona's goal led to many Madrid fans inside the stadium start applauding. In November 2005, Ronaldinho became the second Barcelona player to receive a standing ovation from Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu. After dribbling through the Madrid defence twice to score two goals in a 3–0 win, Madrid fans paid homage to his performance with applause. On 21 November 2015, Andrés Iniesta became the third Barcelona player to receive applause from Real Madrid fans while he was substituted during a 4–0 away win, with Iniesta scoring Barça's third. He was already a popular figure throughout Spain for scoring the nation's World Cup winning goal in 2010.
During the last three decades, the rivalry has been augmented by the modern Spanish tradition of the pasillo, where one team is given the guard of honor by the other team, once the former clinches the La Liga trophy before El Clásico takes place. This has happened in three occasions. First, during El Clásico that took place on 30 April 1988, where Real Madrid won the championship on the previous round. Then, three years later, when Barcelona won the championship two rounds before El Clásico on 8 June 1991. The last pasillo, and most recent, took place on 7 May 2008, and this time Real Madrid had won the championship. In May 2018, Real Madrid refused to perform pasillo to Barcelona even though the latter had already wrapped up the championship a round prior to their meeting. Real Madrid's coach at the time, Zinedine Zidane, reasoned that Barcelona also refused to perform it five months earlier, on 23 December 2017, when Real Madrid were the FIFA Club World Cup champions.
The Laureus World Sports Awards is an annual award established in 1999 by Laureus Sport for Good Foundation founding patrons Daimler and Richemont. It recognises sporting achievements achieved throughout the year.
A fixture known for its intensity and indiscipline, it has also featured memorable goal celebrations from both teams, often involving mocking the opposition. In October 1999, Real Madrid forward Raúl silenced 100,000 Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou when he scored an 86th–minute equalizer before he celebrated by putting a finger to his lips as if telling the crowd to be quiet. In May 2009, Barcelona captain Carles Puyol kissed his Catalan armband in front of Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu after his 21st–minute headed goal in a 6–2 win. Cristiano Ronaldo twice gestured to the hostile crowd to "calm down" after scoring against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in 2012 and 2016, both being the winning goals in 2–1 wins. In April 2017, in Barcelona's 3–2 win, Messi celebrated his 93rd-minute winner against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu by taking off his Barcelona shirt and holding it up to incensed Real Madrid fans – with his name and number facing them. Later that year, in August, Ronaldo was subbed on during the 3–1 first leg victory in the Supercopa de España, proceeded to score in the 80th minute and took his shirt off before holding it up to Barça's fans with his name and number facing them. However, he was sent–off moments later for a second yellow for simulation.
In 2000, Real Madrid's then-presidential candidate, Florentino Pérez, offered Barcelona's vice-captain Luís Figo $2.4 million to sign an agreement binding him to Madrid if he won the elections. If the player broke the deal, he would have to pay Pérez $30 million in compensation. When his agent confirmed the deal, Figo denied everything, insisting, "I'll stay at Barcelona whether Pérez wins or loses." He accused the presidential candidate of "lying" and "fantasizing". He told Barcelona teammates Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola he was not leaving and they conveyed the message to the Barcelona squad.
The two teams met again in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2002, with Real winning 2–0 in Barcelona and drawing 1–1 in Madrid, resulting in a 3–1 aggregate win for Los Blancos. The tie was dubbed by Spanish media as the "Match of the Century".
A 2007 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas showed that 32% of the Spanish population supported Real Madrid, while 25% supported Barcelona. In third place came Valencia, with 5%. According to an Ikerfel poll in 2011, Barcelona is the most popular team in Spain with 44% of preferences, while Real Madrid is second with 37%. Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao complete the top five.
The UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award is an award given to the footballer playing for a men's football club in Europe that is considered the best in the previous season of both club and national team competition. The award, created in 2011 by UEFA in partnership with European Sports Media (ESM) group, was initially aimed at reviving the European Footballer of the Year Award (Ballon d'Or).
The rivalry intensified in 2011, when Barcelona and Real Madrid were scheduled to meet each other four times in 18 days, including the Copa Del Rey final and UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Several accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour from both teams and a war of words erupted throughout the fixtures which included four red cards. Spain national team coach Vicente del Bosque stated that he was "concerned" that due to the rising hatred between the two clubs, that this could cause friction in the Spain team.
The fixture carries a large-scale political connotation, as Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain and Barcelona is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, which has an ongoing independence movement. The two clubs are often identified with opposing political positions, with Real Madrid viewed as representing Spanish nationalism and Barcelona viewed as representing Catalan nationalism. The two clubs are among the wealthiest and most successful football clubs in the world; in 2014 Forbes ranked Barcelona and Real Madrid the world's two most valuable sports teams. Both clubs have a global fanbase; they are the world's two most followed sports teams on social media.
In their period, the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been encapsulated by the rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi. Following the star signings of Neymar and Luis Suárez by Barcelona, and Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema by Real Madrid, the rivalry was expanded to a battle of the clubs' attacking trios, nicknamed "BBC" (Bale–Benzema–Cristiano) and "MSN" (Messi–Suárez–Neymar). Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018, and in the week prior to the first meeting of the teams in the 2018–19 La Liga, Messi sustained an arm injury ruling him out of the match. It would be the first time since 2007 that the Clásico had featured neither player, with some in the media describing it as the 'end of an era'. Barcelona won the match 5–1.
The passion of the rivalry has also extended to women's football, although Real Madrid Femenino was only founded in 2020 whereas FC Barcelona Femení is more than 30 years older and has been one of the country's leading clubs since the 2010s. The second leg of the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals between the clubs at Camp Nou on 30 March 2022 was attended by 91,553 spectators; at the time, this was the largest known confirmed attendance for any women's football match (the 1971 Mexico–Denmark game with unconfirmed 110,000 would otherwise be a record). Reigning continental champions Barcelona won 5–2 on the day and 8–3 on aggregate. The attendance was later surpassed in Barcelona's next Champions League match, the semi-finals first leg against VfL Wolfsburg, held at Camp Nou.
Due to Real Madrid being such a new club, for the first few years of its existence, the Clásico between the women's sides was questionable, especially as these years also marked a golden generation of Barcelona's women's team, with few other clubs able to come close. However, Real Madrid's rapid improvement saw their ability level quickly see them become one of the best teams in Spain and become a more worthy opponent for Barcelona. The record attendance in March 2022 marked the moment a real sense of rivalry was felt, though both clubs indicated that they also wanted to work together to help women's football grow. Off-the-pitch affairs have further contributed to a rivalry; since mid-2022, several top Spanish women's teams, prominently Barcelona, have openly rejected the governing body (RFEF), with Real Madrid being the highest team to stay on side with the RFEF.
Real Madrid leads in head-to-head results in competitive matches with 103 wins to Barcelona's 100 with 52 draws; Barcelona leads in exhibition matches with 24 victories to Madrid's 6 with 12 draws and in total matches with 124 wins to Madrid's 109 with 64 draws as of the match played on 28 October 2023. Along with Athletic Bilbao, they are the only clubs in La Liga to have never been relegated.