Thursday, May 31, 2007

[Soc.] [Barca] A Brief Sociological Study of FC Barcelona*


In this short essay, I attempt to depict the historical background of team FC Barcelona and its profound relationships with Catalonia. By specifically focusing on its rivalry with Real Madrid, I argue that the interrelationships between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, which may be able to be seen as a nutshell of the interrelationships between Catalonia and Spain, are not static but fluid and changeable by different variations.

Historical Retrospection of FC Barcelona

It is safe to argue (Duke & Crolley, 1996; Burns, 1998; Llobera, 2004) that from its inauguration in 1899, the club FC Barcelona has demonstrated a strong desire in representing not only the identity of the city Barcelona, but also the region of Catalonia. For instance, the first emblem of the club – the cross of St. George on the left and the four bands of the Catalan flag on the right – was exactly the same as the emblem of the city Barcelona. The club motto, “mes que un club” (“More than a club” in Catalan), has illustrated a deep cultural and social dimension of the team that is different than other football clubs.

The rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, which is not only the biggest rivalries in Spanish football but also in European football to a certain extent, can be regarded as the reflection of overall social and cultural interactions between Catalonia and Spain in the twentieth century. The root of rivalry can back to early twentieth century. As early as 1911, football violence has occurred in the Copa de Riva match between FC Barcelona and another professional football club located in Barcelona, Espayol. Much different to FC Barcelona, team Espayol has took a patriotic Spain-centralist approach from its inauguration, as its symbol (royal crown) and dress codes were aimed to appeal to the fans who felt vulnerable and distrusted about all the changes in Catalonia society beginning from late nineteenth century, and did not think football should be utilized as a tool of nationalist movements. The drastic approaches between FC Barcelona and Espayol made the relationships with FC Barcelona destined to be tense. Despite the relatively uncompetitive results on the football pitch for club Espayol in recent years have made the intense level of rivalries between the two clubs watered down, nowadays every local Barcelona derby still carries on flaming atmosphere.

Later on, the rise and dominance of Real Madrid, which continuously backed up by the central government, made the rivalries between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona inevitably formed. The rivalry was part of a big social and cultural phenomenon about the conflict between Catalonia and Spain, and despite after Civil War in 1939 Spain became a united nation under general Francisco Franco’s autocracy, it did not mean that the rivalry has been completely one-sided and oppressed.

Duke and Crolley (1996: 36) has pointed out, under the Franco regime, languages other than the Castilian were prohibited and flags of Basque country and Catalonia were burnt. Furthermore, in 1941, all the names of Spanish football clubs have been forced to be hispanicized, as Football Club Barcelona became Club de Futbol de Barcelona, and Athletic de Bilbao became Atletico Bilbao.

One of the most significant and dramatic examples in history of the manipulations of Franco regime on the football pitch happened in the semifinal of Generalissimo’s Cup (the formal Spanish Championship) between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in 1943. In the first leg of home-away matches, FC Barcelona won the match 3:0 at Les Cort. The result, and the behaviours of Barca fans during the whole match (keep hollering and booing at Real Madrid and the referees) prompted the local medias of Madrid to start the anti-Catalan campaigns before the second leg of the match with the blessing of Franco regime.

Before the second leg match in Madrid, more than one surprising guests arrived in the locker room of FC Barcelona. One of them, the Director of State Security Jose Finat y Escriva de Romani, literally told the players: “Do not forget that some of you are only playing because of the generosity of the regime that gas forgiven you for your lack of patriotism.” The referees also paid a visit and told the players that any misconduct acts would be punished severely. Other than the expected loud booing and whistling throughout the match by Madrid fans, one of the staffs in FC Barcelona, Angel Mur, recalled the experiences of speculating the match from the stands: “…our goalkeeper was so petrified of being hit by missiles that he spent most of the game as far forward from his goal as possible, allowing the Madrid players to strike the net from all directions.” (Burns, 1998: 145-146) Eventually, FC Barcelona lost the match 11-1. Up till today, this encounter between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in 1943 was still the strongest example to illustrate the hatred rivalries between the two franchises during the past century.

The famous Alfredo di Stefano case in 1953 was another noteworthy clash in the history between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Di Stefano, originally belonging to the River Plate and playing on loan for team Columbian Millonarios de Bogota, was about to finish his transferring process to become a FC Barcelona player until the Spanish Football Association intervened. The Spanish FA ruled that the transfer was invalid because Di Stefano was recognised as a player of team Millonarios, who in fact had no legal rights over him. Real Madrid stepped into the scene at the very juncture and negotiated DI Stefano’s transfer with the team Millonarios. After the attributions over the controversial double signings of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid on the same player, the Spanish FA made an absurd decision to let both team own half of the proprietary rights on Di Stefano, and the player would have to provide his service alternately to both teams. Feeling insulted by such decision, FC Barcelona declined the offer and withdrew from the deal. Hence, Di Stefano officially became the player of Real Madrid and eventually led the team to five consecutive European cups.

As the watershed of development between both franchises (FC Barcelona did not win its first European cup until 1992), the Di Stefano issue further deepened the hostility of FC Barcelona supporters toward not only the team Real Madrid, but also the Spanish FA and referees. Duke and Crolley (1997) have argued that FC Barcelona supporters have developed a conspiracy mindset in interpreting the unfavorable calls and decisions against their team on and off the pitch over the years, and such mindset has been criticised by non-Catalans as sour grapes or paranoia reactions.

The Political and Cultural Roles played by FC Barcelona during the Franco Regime

As Conversi (1997) argued, historically, most ethnonationalist movements in Europe have been based on cultural, especially linguistic allegations. Coincidently, as Duke and Crolley (1996) pointed out, FC Barcelona’s continuous linguistic policy has been vital in reinforcing its representative among Catalans. Barca, the club magazine, firstly began utilizing Catalan as its official language in the 1950s under the Franco regime. For many immigrants, the magazine was extremely helpful in learning Catalan. In the 1974-75 season, a year before Francisco Franco passed away, FC Barcelona changed back its official name to Futbol Club Barcelona, and broadened its linguistic policy to different levels. Not only did Catalan became the official language for the club in public, the club also aggressively involved in promoting Catalan cultures and folklores, like funding through many supporters’ clubs directly related to the team itself.

The slogan of FC Barcelona, “mes que un club”, also worked as a major merchandise tool in recruiting fans who did not support FC Barcelona but were so-called anti-madridista (anti-Madrid fans). Hence, certain football fans eventually became fans of FC Barcelona simply because they hated Real Madrid and everything the team presented.

Conversi (1997) also pointed out that the roles of families in Catalan society during the Franco era were significant in preserving and consolidating the feelings or Catalanism and national identity. The middle-class people of Catalan society censored expressions related to national identity, which led to the extension and strengthening of solidarity and interaction within small groups. Consequently, the individuals of Catalan middle-class, regardless of ideologies and political tendencies, constituted a close inner circle with strong relationship with each other and formed a “relatively homogeneous elite inhabited a circumscribed physical and social space. Under such a situation, a village-like situation [arose]…that mitigated against anonymity and made it possible for almost everyone to know everyone else.” (Pi-Sunyer, 1971: 129)

The bourgeoisies and middle class of people in Catalan society during the Franco era slowly and gradually developed quasi-formal associations in order to resist prevent the cultural oppressions by the authorities. For instance, a large number of penyas, which are “get together meetings held weekly at restaurants, bars and other public venues” (Conversi, 1997: 133), have emerged. As Pi-Sunyer (1971: 130) argued, the penya, with its “fairly flexible memberships…provides excellent forums of discussion”, and “the atmosphere is relaxed and talk is spirited” (Pi-Sunyer, 1971: 130). For the authorities, it was impossible in this stage to regulate the activities of every penya.

Different kind of semi-formal social associations have increased for people in order to communicate underhand and dodge the control of regime. Different clusters of families socialized their children by sending them to different social groups according to their respective professional or leisure interests. The semi-formal social groups or associations included sardana dancers, folk-singers, hikers, choirs, and of course, the supporters of FC Barcelona. Burns (1998: 140) wrote in his literature that in the 1940s, fans would feel much more protected and comfortable when they went to Les Cort, the home stadium of FC Barcelona then, to watch the match. As he quoted from Gregorio Lopez Raimundo, a senior Barca fan who survived through the Franco era:

…strange at it may seem, in Les Cort I felt protected in a way that I didn’t in the street where I was always looking two hundred metres ahead in case I recognised a policeman…There was another big difference for me between the street and the stadium in those days. Out in the city, Fascism was very visible – the name of streets, the Falangist crests, the portraits of Franco, the flags – but in the stadium you were among the masses and I felt – maybe I was imagining it, but I felt it all the same – that everyone around me was really anti-Fascist deep down, at least where we were standing. Maybe things were a little different where people were sitting; the club management was pro-regime, hand-picked no doubt, but not the fans – they identified themselves with a democratic Catalonia. (Burns, 1998: 140)

During the Franco era, under the political and cultural oppression, the team FC Barcelona undoubtedly has fulfilled its slogan of “mes que un club” (more than a club), as it became one of the most - if not the most – important emblems and symbols of Catalan identity. And the full-scale supports and manipulations from the Franco regime toward the football team Real Madrid and the overall football scene have only strengthened the correlation between Catalan identity and FC Barcelona, while intensifying the rivalries between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. As Burns (1999) pointed out, for many supporters of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid was not just backed by Franco; it was Franco. On the other hand, fans of Real Madrid would see FC Barcelona and its supporters as separatists who attempt to threat the unification of Spain. To quote from Fuste, a veteran player from FC Barcelona:

There were always those (fans) who wanted to mix up with politics those of us who just wanted to get on with playing football…in a sense I felt proud that they felt a need to insult us. It made me feel that we did really represent another country, another nation, even though the words they used were pretty horrendous. From 1941, the year I was born, until the day I retired from football, they always screamed the same insults. (Burns, 1998: 143)

As quoted from Luis Maria Cazorla Prieto (quoted in Duke and Crolley, 1999: 36): “Sport is sometimes used as a political protest….A close link between sports and politics is always present in nationalist and regionalist issues and was frequently exploited as such during the Franco period.”

The Role of FC Barcelona in Catalan Society and the Social Movements after the Franco Regime

Vazquez Montalban, a prolific journalist and novelist while being a long-time FC Barcelona fan, probably had the best summary about the political role played constantly by FC Barcelona: “It can definitely be said that FC Barcelona has served the purpose of the army that Catalonia has never had.” (interview quoted in Shaw, 1987: 23) Interestingly, similar comments regarding the relationships between Catalonia and FC Barcelona can be read from one of the former team managers, Bobby Robson:

Catalonia is a nation within a nation and FC Barcelona is more than a club. That’s what the club’s motto is. It represents a nation. I used to call it the army of Catalonia. Every game we went into Spain was a battle. When we went to Zaragoza or Santander or Bilbao or Seville, they didn’t like us. They were Spanish and we were Catalan. And they were battles. Every match was a cup tie, home and away.” (The Independent, Dec. 8th, 2002)

However, despite that FC Barcelona has always been the symbol of Catalan identity and related profoundly with Catalan nationalist movements, from 1970 onward, there was no trace to be found of any direct links between politics of Catalonia and the club. Also, the club itself has been extremely careful in erasing any suspicions and doubts about its relations with politics. For instance (Kuper, 1994), the Catalan Nationalist Party has backed a candidate, Cambra, for the club’s president elections in 1989, but he failed to win by a significant margin. Another good example is that Nunez, one of the former presidents, has been discouraged from taking any kind of political responsibilities in October 1994 (Duke & Crolley, 1996: 44). Also, during any interviews toward club members in recent years, club officials have unexceptionally refused to answer questions regarding the politics of Catalonia and Catalanism.

Interestingly, as Duke and Crolley (1996) pointed out, starting from the 1970s and onward presidents of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have begun to downplay the rivalry issues between both clubs. For nearly twenty years, Josep Luis Nunez, one of the former presidents of FC Barcelona, did not attend the matches held in Estacio Santiago Bernabeu, the home stadium of Real Madrid. Similar unwritten manners of not attending FC Barcelona matches held in Nou Camp have been employed by the chairmen of Real Madrid as well. Being regarded as a breakthrough, the incumbent president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has met the counterpart of Real Madrid, Jose Calderon, before the match between two clubs in October 2006 and both promised to give the fans a clean match with positive images about football despite the long-term rivalry between each other. Laporta also showed his respect toward Real Madrid during the press conference and hope to strengthen the connections and even cooperation with each other in the future. (Marca, Oct. 22nd, 2006)

It remains to be seen that if the friendly attitudes shown by presidents of both clubs toward each other were simply the political talks at the moment. However, it is undeniable that both clubs are eagerly searching for better business benefits, and maintaining a healthy rivalry while not exceeding the line of fair competition between each other certainly is the best way financially for both clubs.


The alleviation of political situation beginning from the middle of 1970s in Spain has gradually brought more freedom to Catalonia, as Llobera (2004) argued that nowadays the people of Catalonia have enjoyed probably the greatest autonomy in its modern history despite the fact that perhaps as much as fifty percent of populations in the region are immigrants from no earlier than the Spanish Civil War era. Llobera’s arguments led to an important point in discussing the political situations of modern Catalonia: that the constitutions of Catalan society have been much more complicated than before, as the immigrants are not exclusively Spanish, but international immigrants as well. Consequently, the simplification of Catalan / Spanish dichotomy in analysing Catalan society has no longer accurate.

As Keating (2001) pointed out, the ambivalences in the results of public opinion polls in Scotland and Catalonia reflected the concerns and visions about future which may be more advanced than the assumptions made by constitutional experts: that people in these respective regions would like to belong in the European Union but simultaneously still remain in their precedent countries (in the cases here, United Kingdom and Spain) in the future. In the case of Catalan society, how the diverse constitution of populations affect the politics of Catalonia will be the focal point in the future.

As for the team FC Barcelona, its identity in Catalan society has experienced certain levels of change accompanying the evolvements of politics and economy in past twenty years. As of now, the attitude of FC Barcelona can be argued to be reminiscent of that of general people in Catalan society, that both are more willing to put political issues aside and search for better accomplishments either in economics or in sports field. The double crowns (Spanish La Liga and European Championship League) FC Barcelona won in 2005-2006 season certainly was one of the best examples in illustrating this tendency.

(*) This was a failed coursework for my Sport and Globalisation module during term 2 of MSc Sociology of Sport course.


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