Creating a national passion: football, nationalism, and mass consumerism in modern Spain

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McFarland, Andrew Michael

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The introduction of football to Spain permanently changed the day-to-day lives of thousands of Spaniards in the century since. This dissertation is a study of how the sport entered the country and developed from the exclusive purview of the urban bourgeoisie into a massive entertainment industry. This transition occurred over a scant thirty years between 1890 and 1920 and has profoundly marked Spain’s history ever since. The first athletic communities were established in Spain because of the national self-doubt after the Spanish-American War of 1898, which led a generation of thinkers to ask what was wrong with their country. The proponents of athletics answered that the Spanish race had degraded physically after centuries of war and struggle. In response, the urban, Spanish middle class made physical education part of their lifestyle. They organized the Federación Gimnástica Española with branches all over the country and the influential secondary school, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, introduced physical education into its program. These thinkers borrowed the British idea of “muscular Christianity” and sought to create balance between physical strength and mental ability. As a result, significant athletic communities developed in Barcelona, Bilbao, and Madrid, which embraced numerous sports to improve their physical hygiene and as a form of conspicuous consumption. From these athletic communities sprang groups of friends and co-workers who were interested in football. Between 1900 and 1910, the great clubs of Spain were founded and developed local identities, including F.C. Barcelona, Real Madrid C.F., and Athletic de Bilbao. As clubs grew larger, they gradually transformed into companies that catered to popular culture. In the 1910s, stadiums, stars, and sports journalists brought football into contact with the masses, seating at matches defined class distinctions, and clubs marketed their identities. Also, regulatory institutions developed such as RFEF and referee organizations that provided uniform rules to satisfy the paying fans. By 1920, everything was in place for football’s explosive growth and rise to equality with bullfighting as Spain’s most influential form of mass entertainment.