In Barcelona, Catalonia and the hearts of the people, FC Barcelona really does stand for “more than a club”. Catalan Identity
For almost the entire history of FC Barcelona, political repression of the Catalan nation by Spain’s centralist governments meant supporting Barça was the only way of expressing national identity, the only way that didn’t lead to jail, ruin or murder that is. (And there have even been exceptions there, too.)
The club’s colours came to represent the forbidden flag of Catalonia,
the oldest national flag
However, it wasn’t always easy. In 1925, when a brass band from an English ship was invited to play at a match the Englishmen unwittingly put their foot in it by playing the Spanish national anthem before the Catalan crowd.
The resulting booing and jeering led the Madrid government to close down the stadium.
In 1936 while defending Spain against Franco’s military uprising, FC Barcelona's president and Catalan politician Josep Sunyol was captured outside Madrid and shot without trial at the roadside by Franco’s troops.
In 1943 Barça lost the semi-finals of the Generalisimo Cup 11-1 to Real Madrid; after a visit by the police to their changing rooms and being informed that they had the chance –or else!– to make up for Catalonia’s sins in resisting Franco’s military coup.
Today, in seemingly freer times, the Club stands for much the same, and Futbol Club Barcelona is much more popular and more meaningful even than the recently contrived Catalonia national team.
A match against Real Madrid is much more than a game of football no matter what the league or cup stakes –it’s a political event where a stateless nation does battle against its enemy’s champion and in which a Catalan victory is celebrated as the vindication of the nation’s values and identity.
An integral part of the Club’s values are the strong Catalan currents of universality and inclusion, of embracing people of all origins.
Just as the club itself was founded by foreigners and has always welcomed players from other countries and cultures, Catalan society has welcomed the many immigrants from other areas of Spain. These came to Barcelona in search of a more open social structure and the prosperity Catalonia’s economic growth could provide.
As Barça fans they have found it easier to feel part of the city’s life and their sense of belonging and identity with their new home has, in good measure, been forged and strengthened by their association with the club.
Today, many of the almost 57 million estimated supporters live outside Catalonia.
A marvellous manifestation of the clubs inclusive spirit is La Masía, the youth training centre where youngsters from all over the world live together, study and work towards perfecting their footballing skills and education.
A friend of mine never tires of telling how he once stranded over the weekend in a small village in a remote rural district of southern Morocco.
On discovering he was from Barcelona, a kindly native took him to the local Barça supporters club –a tiny café with a satellite dish– to watch the weekly game.
The locals, clad in claret and blue, immediately made him feel at home and he reports that their knowledge and understanding of the Club was just as extensive as their Catalan cousins’.
So instead of his usual Estrella he sat sipping mint tea and enjoying the match. He was by no means the first foreign fan to do that there…
I myself have watched a Champions League game from on a roof-top terrace in Fes, though support there was somewhate divided between Barça and the opposing team.
The President of Spain –born in a town that prides itself on speaking the purest Castilian– claims to be a Barça supporter. I doubt this is due to his nationalistic support for an independent Catalonia, but it may have to do with the way the Club –in contrast to many owned by rich megalomaniacs– stands for a democratic approach to governance.
FC Barcelona is one of the few clubs owned by its 175,000 members, members who choose the President and Board in elections.
FC Barcelona also values solidarity and the club pays UNICEF 2,000,000 euros per year to wear their logo on the team’s shirt.
Barcelona also donates 0,7% of its income to the FC Barcelona Foundation and adheres to Millennium Development Goals.
UNESCO has just awarded FC Barcelona Foundation its international award in recognition of “its adhesion to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and its pioneering alliances with international organisations like Unicef, UNESCO and ACNUR, in the fight against extreme poverty and sickness affecting the most vulnerable members of society, promoting universal education and gender equality, fighting racism and using sport to defend the values of civilian duty, freedom and democracy, which have always been values that FC Barcelona has exemplified.”
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