The Classic

Chico State film students document Spain’s biggest sports rivalry

Zac Fernandez, one of the director/cinematographer/editors on <i>El Clásico</i>, shoots footage at Candlestick Park during a friendly match between Spain’s Real Madrid and Club America from Mexico.

Zac Fernandez, one of the director/cinematographer/editors on El Clásico, shoots footage at Candlestick Park during a friendly match between Spain’s Real Madrid and Club America from Mexico.

Buy “The Classic” El Clásico is available on DVD for $20 at

Ask an American about the greatest sports rivalries, and you can expect lists including the Yankees and Red Sox, Lakers and Celtics, Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper. Ask anywhere else in the world, and the answer will involve two soccer teams.

All across soccer-mad Europe and South America, clubs from England to Argentina have developed rivalries so intense as to make game-day scenes feel like fields of war. And the historical showdown that outdoes all the rest is that between Spain’s FC Barcelona and Real Madrid: el clásico.

This rivalry between the clubs from the two largest Spanish cities is the focus of El Clásico: More Than a Game, a film produced by nine Chico State students who traveled to Spain last year to witness and document the biannual match between the clubs. The film premiered at the El Rey Theatre in Chico on Oct. 14, and the team behind it is now getting road ready for film festivals and showings in other cities.

“It’s a rivalry on steroids; it’s got everything you can possibly cram into a sports rivalry, a lot more than just soccer,” said El Clásico director/writer/associate producer Matt Robertson. “FC Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate Spanish football today and historically. What makes it more than a rivalry between the two biggest cities in Spain is that they have regional identities and issues that manifest themselves on the pitch.

“Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, and they speak Catalan; it’s been an on-again, off-again part of Spain for the last thousand years. Madrid is the capital of Spain. From its founding in 1898, FC Barcelona made a choice it would represent Catalonia. Even its name is in Catalan, which is kind of a back-handed pat at everything Spanish. They represent a region that is not comfortable being part of Spain; a concrete identity that is inherently opposed to Real Madrid.”

Robertson originally joined the El Clásico production team as an interviewer and consultant tasked with researching the historical and cultural details of the rivalry. But as the project went on, he explained, everyone had to adapt.

“It was a blitzkrieg two-and-a-half week film session. We were all over the two cities with a really ambitious shoot schedule, several interviews a day and a lot of waiting around to see if we could meet players and fans. On top of that we tried to mix in some fun and cultural activities. So when we got back it was the end of the semester, everyone was tired and busy, we had a couple of students graduating. All of us that stayed on had to teach ourselves how to write for a film, how to edit, how to work with no budget.”

El Clásico was initiated and overseen by Chico State alumni/ documentary filmmakers Kelly Candaele and Cathy Growdon. The two previously worked with Chico State filmmakers in 2005 on When Hope and History Rhymed, a documentary about the Northern Ireland peace process that took the students to Belfast during the same week the Irish Republican Army announced it would lay down its arms.

El Clásico was entirely written, directed, translated, shot and scored by the students. The 55-minute film includes interviews with historians, journalists, players and fans. It is also, Robertson noted, still a work-in-progress; footage from the games themselves was not cleared for use until mere weeks before the Chico showing, and more is being added.

“You can make a documentary film about, like, the Cowboys and the Niners, but if you have no football footage it’s gonna suck. For a while we had no rights to the footage. That was the situation we were in. We had a real nice academic, intellectual film, but these are the two best soccer teams on the planet, and you want to see them playing each other.”

The first out-of-town premiere—this Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Santa Monica Public Library—is already sold out, and the El Clásico crew hopes to take the film back to Spain in March. DVDs can be purchased online ( for $20.

Roberston said that Chico State wasn’t able to contribute financially, and the students have had to pay their own travel expenses. But the school has helped in other ways, and given soccer’s world-wide popularity Chico stands to receive a fair amount of recognition.

“They’ve given everything they can but money. They’ve given us a home, and President [Paul] Zingg introduced [the film] at the premiere; he’s been a big fan of the project,” said Robertson. “In the end, this could actually end up making the school money.”