Tag Archives: Barcelona

Espanyol: fan culture thrives in the shadow of Barcelona

How does it feel to live in the shadow of one of the most popular football clubs in the world?

Not many people know that there is another professional club in Barcelona. That club is Espanyol, currently in the lower reaches of La Liga.

Attending Espanyol’s match against Villareal, I noticed the fans were nearly all Spanish citizens. Everyone wore clothing in the club colours and the stadium atmosphere was alive for all 90 mins, even when the home side was 1-0 down.

Almost two years ago at Camp Nou, I watched Barcelona take on Athletic Bilbao in a league cup game.

The majority of the fans were tourists who hardly paid attention to the game, only there to take selfies. This was the difference between a local club and a global one.

Local passion

At Espanyol, you were looked at strangely by local fans if you weren’t wearing the famous blue and white colours.

Almost all the adults in the stadium are allowed to smoke. I was among local fans who had so much passion for their club and the game.

Villarreal needed all three points to edge closer to a top-four finish. Espanyol, on the other hand, managed to equalise late on to gain a point, giving them a 10-point gap from the relegation zone.

Espanyol’s 40,500-seater stadium is almost full at most fixtures. It has an atmosphere that is hard to forget and most importantly, local fans that have stuck with the club regardless of the success of FC Barcelona.

Barca’s poor relations

Espanyol were promoted in the 1993-94 season, and since then the club has managed to stay in La Liga. The club has not won a La Liga title in more than 80 seasons, despite coming close at times.

In contrast, just over five miles away from Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium lies Camp Nou, the Barcelona stadium with a history of showcasing the greatest players ever, with over 120 trophies won and a capacity of over 95,000.

Espanyol was founded by Spanish citizens, unlike Barcelona, which was established by Swiss, English and Catalan players in 1899.

Barcelona has more than 150 million followers worldwide. An estimated 1.6 million people visit Camp Nou each season. The club also has one of the best youth academies in the world. Eleven products of their academy all played in a La Liga match in 2012.

Espanyol’s trophy cabinet does include winning the Spanish Copa Del Rey on four occasions, the latest in 2006.

That same year Espanyol lost in the UEFA Cup Final to Sevilla on penalties. This was a devastating defeat as they had never won the UEFA cup ever before.

Teams that aren’t challenging for trophies each year struggle for mainly two reasons, poor youth development or their finances are low.

Espanyol is a club who have recently improved on both aspects and seem to be attracting big names, such as having a goalkeeper Diego López and midfielder Esteban Granero who both played for Real Madrid.

The difference between the two cubs is marked. At Barcelona, there’s the selfies, an atmosphere full of tourists who aren’t watching the match and fans repeatedly shouting ‘Barcelona!’

At Espanyol it’s full of vibrant local fans singing the club’s songs, wearing the club colours with eyes glued to the game. And they are hoping to someday become as successful as Barcelona, to step out of the shadows and be known worldwide.

Mes Que Un Club: the Politics of FC Barcelona

Even in the ordinary course of events, Spain’s El Clasico – the meeting between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona – is a match that makes fans across the world stop what they are doing and pay attention.

It is not just seeing the likes of Ronaldo and Messi, Bale and Suarez going up against one another – it is about years of complex rivalry and history on and off the pitch being fought out again and again.

And recent political events in Catalonia have ensured that their next meeting – in Madrid on December 12th – has a whole new level of significance and drama.

Whilst the football itself will hopefully take the headlines on the back pages, rather than it being a game littered with petulant fouling and diving, the incredible political connotations that this game will carry when it takes place will arc back to the famed Orwellian quote that football, “is war minus the shooting”.

Barcelona’s motto ‘Mes que un club’ (more than a club) has always encapsulated their position in both Spanish and Catalan society, starting in the early 20th century when the club declared Catalan as their official language rather than the more widely spoken Castillian Spanish.

Defining moment

The team’s association to the politics between Catalonia and Spain only grew from there, as in 1925, the crowd inside Barcelona’s stadium at the time, Les Cortes, booed the Royal March in protest against the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.

As a result, the ground was closed for six months and club president Hans ‘Joan’ Gamper was forced by the government to relinquish his position at the helm.

In the following decade, some of the club’s players, along with players of Athletic Bilbao from the Basque region, fought in the Spanish Civil War against General Francisco Franco, in what was a fight between Republicans and Nationalists, the latter of which was supported by Nazi Germany at the time, and also was the the eventual victor of the conflict, leading Franco into 36 years of rule over Spain and its regional ‘nationalities’.

On the football pitch, Barcelona’s defining moment, confirming them as, what author Manuel Vasquez Montalban called “the unarmed army of Catalonia”, was in 1943 when they were beaten 11-1 in the semi-final second leg of the Copa del Generalisimo (now known as the Copa del Rey) by Madrid.

According to journalist and author Sid Lowe, it was the first time Real Madrid were seen as, “the team of the dictatorship and Barcelona as its victims.”

Blocked

The image of Real Madrid being Franco’s team again reinforces the rivalry between the two sides. The general’s decision to back the team from the capital represented the power of a centralised Spain, one that spoke the same language and one that was far more powerful than any team that could come from the likes of Catalonia.

Alfredo Di Stefano’s joining of Real Madrid, despite Barcelona actually having ‘signed’ the Argentinian only for the Spanish Football Federation to block the move due to illicit actions surrounding his transfer, despite FIFA allowing the transfer to go ahead.

After the move was blocked, Real Madrid came in and attempted to sign the player, and a decision was made for both clubs to use the player in alternating seasons.

The humiliated Barca president Marti Caretto resigned, the interim presidential board ripped up the deal and as a result Di Stefano was free to sign for Madrid, going on to win five European Cups, giving Franco an international PR machine which could reflect Spain’s success under his leadership.

Over the years, Barcelona has become a cultural and political representation of the Catalan people. This is even reflected in Barcelona’s local rivalry with Espanyol, the second biggest team in Catalonia. The name Espanyol which has clear similarities to Espana, suggests that, in Catalonia, you’re either Barcelona, or your Spanish.

Referendum

Due to pledges made in the 2015 Catalan elections, Catalonia’s independence referendum, on 1st October, saw over two million people vote for independence from Spain.

The two million votes for independence came from an electoral turnout of 43%, however the Catalan government said that over 770,000 votes couldn’t be cast due to the Guardia Civil (Spanish police) blocking off polling stations all over Catalonia.

Another reason for the low turnout was due to pro-Spanish parties in Catalonia calling for people to not vote due to the illegitimacy of the referendum.

Even so, if those 770,000 votes followed the pattern of the those who voted, where 97% voted to become independent, and were added to the the final tally, the turnout would have been at 57% with 55% voting to leave.

Brexit was a closer-run affair and it seems as though the pro-independence Catalans would have stormed to victory. However, the referendum was considered illegal and against the Spanish Constitution of 1978, and therefore will not stand as legitimate.

The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has since lost his job after he signed the independence declaration on October 10th, and on the 27th, Spain issued Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which has been described by multiple media outlets as the ‘nuclear option’, which gives Spain direct control over the region.

Strained

Barcelona’s statement on the issue, which states that they want to defend, ”democracy, freedom of speech, and self-determination”, has led to hostile reactions from Spaniards towards Catalans representing their national team.

Gerard Pique, who has supported the referendum publicly and is a figurehead for Catalan nationalism, was booed by Spain supporters at an open training session just days after the statement was released.

The current strained relationship between Spain and Catalonia are sure to be put under the microscope on December 12th, both before, during and after El Clasico.

It will feel as though Iniesta, Pique and co. will be walking out into a proxy war between Spain and Catalonia, armed with the same causes as those who fought against the Falangists in 1936.

On top of the huge significance of the game, recent form between the two sides suggests that, unless Real Madrid have a huge change in fortunes, Barcelona, who are currently unbeaten this season, should have no issue brushing aside a stuttering Madrid.

This means that if the ‘unarmed army’ were to defeat ‘Franco’s team’, the blood and gold of the Catalan flag will drape across Spain’s capital, once again figuratively demonstrating Catalonia’s potential as an independent nation.

Struggle

Of course, the might of a football team cannot accurately determine the success of a country. How would the Catalans manage financially? Do they have the growth they need to uphold a strong economy?

Whilst these questions are important, and even if Catalonia were to struggle if it stood on its own, it is surely better for Catalans to decide whether they want to be independent, and not for those who live outside of what is already a self-governed ‘nationality’ to decide for them.

To deny Catalonia the chance of independence is Spain simply harking back to their days as a dictatorship under General Franco.

However, Real Madrid flickering performances of late do not have the same PR might as that of the team starring Di Stefano in the 1950s, meaning that Barcelona are in the perfect position to sweep their rivals aside, once again reaffirming the motto ‘Mes Que Un Club.’

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shenk via Flickr Creative Commons.

Messi, Suarez, Neymar – oh my…

Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for rolling their eyes and thinking ‘not again’ when the Champions League last-16 draw was made.

Their team’s reward for beating Olimpiacos 3-0 in Athens to secure a place in the knockout stages was yet another tie against Barcelona.

With one win in eight Champions League encounters since 1999, and Barca’s formidable front three in fine form this season, the omens were not good.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar had scored 91 goals between them this season ahead of this week’s first-leg clash at the Emirates Stadium, leaving the red-and-white half of north London fearing the worst.

And yet, Arsenal could take encouragement from the fact they’d had the patience and killer instinct to beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at home in the group stage, when Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s hottest striker.

Enticing

However, this time out, the Gunners’ defence was facing arguably the current three best players in the world. For 70 tense minutes, the Catalan magicians were frustrated and contained, but they still ran out 2-0 winners.

“Not a single errant touch ever allows the ball to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot”

Messi plays as if he knows at some point he will find a way through. It’s like watching the best kid in the playground; he plays without a care in the world, he knows he will get the better of you eventually because he is that good.

The Argentine entices his pursuers to get close to his body, skin tight, before a exchanging quickfire passes with his closest team mate and suddenly he is the other side of his opponent in a blink of an eye.

At times. you don’t see the ball, the movement is so quick. Sometimes you’re left wondering has he even seen it himself?

The trouble for any team facing the European champions is that no matter how hard or difficult a pass that they receive, every player kills the ball. Not a single errant touch ever allows it to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot.

Life-saver

Arsenal managed to keep Suarez quiet for most of their defeat to Barcelona, although even on a quiet night he still managed to thunder a shot against the base of the post and glance a header just wide. Barca’s threat mostly came from Messi and Neymar.

Neymar had his work cut out against former La Masia graduate Hector Bellerin. But when he did trick his way around the right back, the Emirates crowd held its breath as Neymar cut in from the left hand side with just Petr Cech to beat.

“The three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps them create moments of pure genius”

But the Arsenal keeper’s outstretched leg blocked the shot – another life-saver from the former Chelsea man.

Per Mertesacker was supposed to be ‘exposed’ at the back, but although his lack of pace at times hinders Arsenal’s defence, his reading of the game is hugely important and he was forever intercepting passes and through-balls that would have cut Arsenal to shreds.

Laurent Koscienly seemed to be tasked with hassling Messi off the ball. At times he came off worse, but the odd challenge and tackle won was greeted with a huge encouraging roar from the supporters, especially if it sprung Arsenal into a counter attack.

Exposed

Hard work and patience were required by the hosts, and it seemed to be paying off until an attack broke down leaving their backline exposed. Memories of the counter-attacking goals scored by Monaco a year previous flooded back as the three amigos combined.

“In a dangerous area, Flamini’s decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares”

Suarez fed Neymar who tore down the left with Bellerin trailing in his wake. He cut in again with Cech to beat but, perhaps mindful of his earlier miss,  squared to the amazingly unnoticed Messi who, with all the time in the world, beat Cech. The energy inside the ground was evaporated within seconds.

Arsenal had fallen victim an attacking front three that possess not only extraordinary talent but a real spirit of camaraderie.

The relationship between the trio is the nucleus of their formidable form on the pitch.

Pleasure

When the Barcelona team came out to warm up, the three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps the players create moments of pure genius.

For the neutral, it’s a real pleasure to see this amount of talent on the pitch. For opposition supporters, all you can do is sit tight and hope for the best.

The second goal came from the spot after a stupid foul by Mathieu Flamini.

He regularly enjoys telling experienced defenders what to do or where to go, but when the time comes for him to do the right thing in a dangerous area, his decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares.

Messi dispatched the penalty and left Arsenal with a mountain to climb for the sixth year on the trot in the last 16. Time to focus on the Premier League…

Image courtesy of Nacho from Flickr Creative Commons