Scotzine editor Andy Muirhead caught up with Barcelona and Spanish football expert & journalist Graham Hunter.
AM: You have experienced and reported on the Real Madrid and Barcelona derby match, what makes el Clásico special?
GH: For me what makes the Clásico special is the quality of football. Often when you go into a UK derby as a fan or a writer you expect power, passion, desire, aggression [All of which sit very nicely with my attitude to sport too!] But not enough quality, technical ability, creativity.
Regularly, when Madrid and FCB meet there is remarkable, high level quality which shines through despite the tension. That’s number one for me. Players with ability who can show it under any kind of pressure.
AM: There are certain issues behind the derby that lurk – Franco/Civil war/Catalonian independence – is it as rife as the issues around the Old Firm derby games?
GH: No. It is inescapable that Calatunya still feels this game is a way to fight back at those who oppressed, that it’s a statement of identity and that it’s a platform for showing Catalunya is better than ‘the state’.
However, that is a backdrop, not always even nearly the key issue. It ebbs and flows depending on the current political and social climate. Football, or the rows which go with football, are usually in the forefront before and after a derby.
AM: You have experienced a number of derby games in your time – why are they more special than an ordinary league/cup game? Does there need to be some underlying issues away from football to make it great?
GH: Yeah, several. I wasn’t born in a big, divided city so I try never to underestimate the power of feeling being ‘one side’ against ‘the others’. As a spectator, as a writer I appreciate being able to attend a feud, and I do like edge.
So not forgetting that quality, skill, creativity, thrills, football intelligence would be my top criteria for any match it’s true that when a derby game has edge [two players who notoriously don’t like each other, massive noisy supports trying to outsing each other, individual battles like there used to be between, say, Torres and Vidic or the entire Celtic strikeforce and Andy Gordon or Lampard v the West Ham Fans]I like that.
AM: Have you experienced an Old Firm derby match – which one[s]if you have and what was your experience like and opinion of them?
GH: Yeah, been to many, enjoyed some, left feeling grubby after others. First one was in 1984, Bobby Williamson overhead kick, went with a bluenose girlfriend, from then I saw many at Parkhead, Ibrox, Hampden. I got to know Walter and Tommy Burns very well, I got on well with Jorge Cadete and Davie Robertson so heard their points of view about what it’s like in person.
Sometimes the hate and the abuse leaves me cold, sometimes the roar and the anticipation and the times when there was real quality – Gazza, Goram, Laudrup, McCoist and Cadete, Van Hooijdonk, Di Canio, Lambert, Larsson – that’s when I enjoyed it most because there was football played as I understand it should be played.
AM: Many Old Firm fans state that the Glasgow derby is the greatest in the world – do you agree with this? If so why? If not why not? What is the greatest?
GH: It’s nonsense objectively. It’s rich in history, sometimes it’s fun to watch, it’s old, it means a lot to Glasgow and Scotland [and Ireland]but it’s not the greatest in the world. I’ve been at the Manchester derby, the Mersey, umpteen London derbies, umpteen Clásicos, the Milan derby, the Turin derby, Madrid derby etc and they all think theirs is the greatest.
My personal view is that I’ve never enjoyed any series of derby matches more than…..
AM: As an outsider looking into the derby match, what is your take on the issues off the field that seem to plague the Scottish game? Such as sectarianism and violence etc.
GH: I think that when I lived in Glasgow I didn’t always think that things were OTT. There were times, I remember the stabbing of a young lad walking through Bridgeton post-match, when I despaired of the hate and the needless loss of life and I remember Walter talking animatedly to me in his office about hating hearing songs, from either side, about religion and Northern Ireland when he knew innocent people were being killed.
My personal view is that aggression and anger will always be part of this, and to an extent that’s no disaster. That’s a derby. But I’ve never understood the passing of hatred from generation to generation. That must stop.
AM: Given the issues at Rangers football club in recent years and its demise, what would your opinion be of what the first Old Firm derby game be like when Celtic and Rangers face one another for the first time since May 2012?
GH: My only opinion is that a) I hope it provides good football. I think Rangers have a chance to build from youth and to build from youth and to build a playing style. I hope they use that chance.
I hope Celtic, by then, are a club which has signed well, playing well in Europe and this the first ‘new’ Old Firm derby is full of ability and good footy.
AM: What is the opinion of the Spanish football fans of the Old Firm derby?
GH: They think it’s like a televised war. I used to commentate on Spanish TV, in Spanish on Scottish footy and they, I think, thought it was an alien game, played by alien species.
Scotzine would like to thank Graham for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.