For supporters of independence, FC Barcelona truly is “more than a club”

Story by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz

BARCELONA–As the match clock hits 17:14 at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s stadium, the crowd begins to chant, but not for the team. Already one goal ahead against Galicia’s Deportivo de la Coruña, the players seem deaf to the unanimous cry for independencia that roars over the stadium.

Fans at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou wave the Estelada flag, which symbolizes the desire for independence from Spain.  Photo by Maria Amasanti

Fans at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou wave the Estelada flag, which symbolizes the desire for independence from Spain.
Photo by Maria Amasanti

And then all at once, in a show of solidarity and union, independence flags appear across the stands.

Catalonia, which encompasses four provinces into what is one autonomous region in the northeastern part of the country, has been pushing for self-government and secession from Spain more assertively since Artur Mas became president of Catalonia in 2010. While Catalonians show their desire to secede in many forms including banners and flags stretched across their balconies, one of the most prominent manifestations of this wish is at the FC Barcelona games at famed Camp Nou.

The reason, say experts, is that to Catalonians, fútbol is inextricably linked to who they are and how they live, and so it’s a natural extension of that to see the two phenomenons – the game, and the desire to divide into two nations – fused. Their team slogan further proves the point. “Més que un club” translates to “more than a club.”

“Fútbol Club Barcelona has always claimed to be more than a club. Going back to the Spanish history, this kind of claim was created during the Spanish dictatorship,” said Jorge Tuñón, a communications professor at the University Carlos III in Madrid. “They tried to do some kind of symbolic statements about the fútbol club, which was more than a club, by making it symbolic that Catalonia was more than a simple Spanish region or autonomous community.”

Nil Parcerisas, a 21-year-old FC Barcelona fanatic and separatist studying business at ESADE Business & Law School in Barcelona, said that the chants are a way to commemorate the national day of Catalonia.

“In minute 17 and second 14 of every game the fans begin to chant because Sept. 11, 1714, is Catalonia’s national holiday, remembering the day Catalonia was defeated and became a part of Spain,” Parcerisas said. “Maybe three or four years ago they started to chant and so the whole stadium was chanting and now it has become a tradition.”

Xavier Escarré, a separatist studying public relations and marketing at the University of Wales/Formatic Barna in Barcelona, has been an FC Barcelona fan since he was little and attends almost all their matches as a season ticket holder. He only chants when he believes it will make an impact, for example against long-time rival Real Madrid – the team that for Catalonians symbolizes the government – and during international matches.

“I will chant when it’s against Real Madrid or key matches in the sense that they could have a media reproduction not only on a Spanish level but also on an international level and if you do it in a match against a team like Getafe, which is in Spain, it won’t leave Spain,” Escarré said. “I don’t think it is just me who doesn’t sing or pleads for independence in matches that aren’t important. This chant is trying to demonstrate that Catalonia really wants to be an independent country and using fútbol is the best outlet for this.”

At a May 23 game against Deportivo de la Coruña, fans sing the team’s anthem and later chant for independence from Spain at 17:14 of regulation, symbolizing the day the region became part of Spain: September 11, 1714. 

According to Tuñón, FC Barcelona’s identification as “more than a club” is in contrast to the centrist one attributed to its major opponent, Real Madrid, which is inextricably linked to Spain’s identity and by extension, its government.

Due to these identifications, Tuñón said he believes sports and politics cannot be fully separated.

“The links between society, sports and politics are clear roots and are impossible to be lifted so I don’t think it is a problem. Politics and sports are so intertwined so I think the main issue is to be able to analyze it and distinguish it,” Tuñón said. “FC Barcelona has tried to be as ambiguous as possible in order to not lose supporters or fans so as a club they have never given an open position within the topic of the political cleavage in Catalonia.”

The idea that FC Barcelona is a place for freedom of expression has been a key role in reinforcing Catalan identity since Franco’s regime ended in 1975 and is evident now as the stadium is full of Senyeras, the Catalan flag, and Esteladas, the Catalan independence flag, as well as the consistent chanting at 17:14 of every game.

“I think that since the very beginning Camp Nou has been a place where people were able to express themselves more freely, especially in the time of Franco’s regime,” Escarré said. “I am not sure when it was exactly but one time when Madrid came to play here in Barça’s stadium, all of the stadium created a mosaic of the Catalan flag made up of yellow and red, not Barça’s colors, which are blue and red, to show our pride.” 

For Escarré, it means a lot to see current and past players and former FC Barcelona coach, Josep Guardiola, openly supporting Catalonian independence, even if it may cause problems for them. Only one current FC Barcelona player has been known to answer political press inquiries, though eight of the 25 players are Catalan.

A flag supporting Catalonian independence hangs next to an FC Barcelona flag.  Photo by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz

A flag supporting Catalonian independence hangs next to an FC Barcelona flag.
Photo by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz

“[Catalan player Gerard] Pique is in favor of the right to vote for independence but has never openly said that he is for Catalonian independence. It doesn’t benefit him to get involved because he does play for the Spanish national team,” Escarré said. “When I see former coach Guardiola, a Catalan former FC Barcelona player and coach until 2012, getting involved, to me that has a lot of merit and that goes for any player who gets involved.”

Although it is still far into the future, one situation that could come out of independence is that FC Barcelona would no longer play in the Spanish league or be able to play in the Spanish competition, Copa del Rey, eliminating the chance for El Clásico which would be a Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona matchup. To put that in perspective, it would akin to denying future matchups between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Parcerisas, believes that this situation will not happen because in the end it does not benefit La Liga Española, Spain’s first division fútbol league, to lose FC Barcelona.

“When you think of it, it is true. Technically it would be separate leagues but I don’t think there is single federation that would not allow Barça to play in their league. They would be losing potential and losing an amount of money by not letting Barça play,” Parcerisas said. “If Barcelona only played against Catalan teams and the greatest game was Barça vs. Espanyol, (another team in Barcelona), then no new Messi, no new Neymar or no new Luis Suárez would come to play because there would be no competition.”

Although FC Barcelona has never openly claimed a political position, many people identify it as part of Catalan identity, including Marc Parramon, of the team’s communications department.

“FC Barcelona has extensive roots in Catalan society, independent of the different political ideologies of its supporters,” Parramon said. “FC Barcelona, as a sports organization, does not get involved in political and ideological questions. Nevertheless, it has always stood out for being a club firmly committed to Catalonia, democracy and individual rights and freedoms.”

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