How Soccer Powerhouse FC Barcelona Became a Symbol of Catalan Pride

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FC Barcelona is without doubt one of the best skilled soccer — nobody calls it soccer exterior the U.S. — groups within the historical past of the game. Led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, arguably the perfect participant within the sport, FC Barcelona evokes a fierce loyalty amongst its followers that is practically inseparable from Spanish politics. The membership is predicated in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and the residents there take the membership’s motto “Més que un membership” (“More than a club”) very severely. FC Barcelona (Barça) is certainly a greater than a membership — it is a lifestyle and an emblem of Catalonian nationalism. How it got here to meet this function is an interesting 1, significantly at this juncture in its historical past.

On Oct. 1, Catalonia voted for independence from Spain. As greater than 2 million Catalan residents flocked to polling stations this previous Sunday, they had been met by riot police beneath orders from the Spanish authorities to cease the vote. Violent clashes left greater than 900 folks injured, solely ratcheting up the long-running political tensions between the Catalan area and the central authorities.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to acknowledge the “unconstitutional” vote, through which 90 p.c of Catalan voters selected independence, in keeping with Catalan officers, however simply 40 p.c of registered voters took half. Thousands of residents of Barcelona took to the streets for days of protests and work strikes. That included FC Barcelona, which halted all sports activities actions on Oct. 3, 2 days after it was pressured to play a sport “behind closed doors” — that means no followers in attendance — as police clashed with separatist protesters exterior.

For the folks of Catalonia, who’ve chafed beneath Spanish rule for hundreds of years, the group is a residing image of Catalan pleasure, and inter-league rivalries with groups like Real Madrid can really feel like mini civil wars performed out on the soccer pitch.

Hometown crowds at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona typically break into cries of “Independencia!” on the 17 minute 14 2d mark, as they did throughout a 2012 sport in opposition to Real Madrid, proven under. The 12 months 1714 was the date that Catalonia misplaced its final nice struggle of independence in opposition to the Kingdom of Castille.

Ironically, the group that’s so carefully linked with Catalan id was really based by a foreigner, Swiss-born Hans Gamper, in 1899 with the assist of Swiss, German and British expats, plus some native footballers. In its early years, FC Barcelona was principally identified for signing overseas gamers, whereas its crosstown rival, Espanyol, was fielded nearly completely by Catalan gamers.

But the function of Barça as Catalonia’s “national” group was cemented throughout the political upheaval resulting in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. In 1935, a rich Catalan lawyer and politician named Josep Sunyol was elected president of the Futbol Club Barcelona. As a distinguished leftist political determine in Catalonia, Sunyol was an ardent advocate of utilizing soccer to ahead the trigger. Years earlier, he based a Barcelona newspaper La Rambla, with the motto “Esport i Ciutadania” or “Sports and Citizenship” and wrote scathing editorials attacking the right-wing authorities in Madrid.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out between pro-Republic leftists and the fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco, Sunyol stood his political floor as president of FC Barcelona. Several gamers joined the ranks of the leftists. In August 1936, Sunyol and a few compatriots drove to the entrance within the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to point out assist for the Republican fighters, however by chance crossed into enemy territory. When they greeted a fascist army checkpoint with a cry of “Viva la Republica!” they had been pulled from the automobile and killed on the spot.

“Sunyol’s death is now seen as the truly defining moment of the club, the desecration of an ideology in bud, of cultural separatism, independence, the right to autonomy,” writes Phil Ball in “Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.”

The fascists gained the Civil War and Franco was put in as a army dictator who dominated from Madrid, ruthlessly decided to purify Spain as a Castilian nation. The Catalan language was banned — as was Euskera, the Basque language to the west — in addition to any public celebrations of Catalan tradition, meals, dance, artwork and historical past. With the martyrdom of Sunyol recent of their reminiscences, the folks of Catalonia threw all their nationwide pleasure behind FC Barcelona.

After the Civil War, writes Ramón Spaaj in “Understanding Football Hooliganism,” “FC Barcelona became the symbol of an oppressed nation.” Its followers even lashed out at native Barcelona rivals Espanyol, who had taken to spelling their title “Español” within the Castilian type, which was “hugely provocative,” writes Spaaj.

Whether Espanyol deserved it or not, its gamers and followers had been accused by the Barça trustworthy as being functionaries of the fascist centralist authorities in Madrid.

“Despite their geographical proximity, Espanyol and FC Barcelona have come to symbolize two diametrically opposed social, cultural and political conceptions,” writes Ball, “Catalanism versus Anti-Catalanism, Anti-Spanishness versus Spanishness, and integration versus non-integration.”

The ardour of the separatist protesters taking to the streets of Barcelona is plain, nevertheless it’s unclear whether or not Catalonia will efficiently break from Spain, or what place it could have as Europe’s youngest nation. It’s additionally unclear what impact Catalan independence would have on FC Barcelona, which performs in La Liga, the extremely aggressive (and tremendously profitable) Spanish professional soccer league. If Barcelona is now not a part of Spain, can they nonetheless play within the Spanish league?

At a press convention Wednesday, FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu stated that if independence is gained, the board of administrators would contemplate shifting the group to certainly one of Europe’s different prime leagues, just like the Premier League within the U.Okay., including, “This situation does not exist so far… It would be something to analyze calmly.”

The membership can be going to be one of many 11 “non-political organizations” that will probably be a part of a fee to resolve the problems between Catalan leaders and the Spanish authorities. But at this level, it is tough to know the way the political standoff will finish.


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