Keeping with my London-established tradition of going to soccer games on major NFL days, my Super Bowl Saturday was complete with a FC Barcelona match. FCB won 2-1 against Real Sociedad in a well-played game, but the experience of attending a game in the Camp Nou stadium was beyond the scorecard.
FCB has long been a symbol of Catalan pride, as it has remained one of the few areas of Catalan nationalism that could never be suppressed. I have discussed Franco’s general monstrosity in previous posts (prohibiting Catalan language, shutting down the Universitat de Barcelona, bombing the city, etc.), so it should be no surprise that he was awful in the soccer world as well. During Franco’s reign, he forcibly “traded” the best players in Spain onto his favorite team, Real Madrid (who to this day remain jerks). While Catalans were being quashed by Franco’s fascist military occupation, the one area that they could thumb their nose at him was on the football pitch, where FCB’s all-Catalan team beat his Real Madrid team – repeatedly! The FCB fan song Cant de Barcelona is filled with words of “brotherhood,” “together we are strong,” and “no one can ever break us,” showing the power of FCB in Catalan life.
Since then, FCB has become the most successful team in the world, winning many La Liga, Copa del Rey, FIFA Club World Cup, and UEFA Champions League titles. They are the only club in the world to have won the “Sextuple” of all major trophies in a single year. Their roster includes the best players (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta) in the world, and the team’s successes have made them one of the most internationally respected clubs.
The Camp Nou stadium, which I at stare longingly every day from my office window, seats 99k and is complete with video screens and digital scoreboards, a far cry from the humble 25k stadium that I attended in London. However, the fans’ songs, flags, and passion for the blaugrana made the team and field seem equally accessible.