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More than ever, Barca more than club for Catalans

More than ever, Barca more than club for Catalans

Nearly 20 minutes into the latest clash between Spain's most popular football teams, Barcelona's 98,000-seat Camp Nou stadium erupted into a deafening roar. Tens of thousands of Catalans in the city at the heart of their separatist movement chanted in unison: "Independence!"
More than ever, FC Barcelona, known affectionately as Barca, is living up to its motto of being "more than a club" for this wealthy northeastern region where Spain's economic crisis is fueling separatist sentiment.
Lifelong Barca club member Enric Pujol was at Camp Nou for this month's game against Real Madrid, the team of Spain's capital. Wearing his burgundy-and-blue Barca jersey, Pujol also held one of the hundreds of pro-independence "estelada" flags, featuring a white star in a blue triangle, which bristled throughout the stands.
"It was a beautiful emotion to see Camp Nou like that," said Pujol. "Barca is more than a club because of the values it transmits. It is linked to Catalan culture. In this sense it is a club and a social institution that acts like our flag."
Barca has been seen as a bastion of Catalan identity dating back to the three decades of dictatorship when Catalans could not openly speak, teach or publish in their native Catalan language. Barcelona writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban famously called the football team "Catalonia's unarmed symbolic army."
Barca-Real Madrid matches have a nickname: "el clasico" _ the classic _ and they are one of the world's most-watched sporting events, seen by 400 million people in 30 countries. But local passions run high. In Spain, where football has deep political and cultural connotations, many see the clashes of Spain's most successful teams as a proxy battle between wealthy Catalonia and the central government in Madrid. If Barca is a symbol of Catalan nationalism, Real Madrid is an emblem of a unified Spain.
"Look, the truth is that ever since the Civil War there has always been tension in Spain," said Pujol. "Having traveled in Spain, they always look at us as Catalans."
Ahead of kickoff before any "clasico," Camp Nou traditionally greets Real Madrid players with a huge mosaic of Barcelona's burgundy-and-blue made up of colored cards. This year, for the first time, they held up cards forming the red-and-yellow striped Catalan "senyera" flag _ an explicit nationalist message. (Barca says it can neither confirm nor deny reports that its away uniform next season will be modeled on the senyera.)
Then came the crowd's collective shout for independence at 1714 hours _ in reference to the year 1714 when Barcelona fell to the troops of Philip V in the War of Spanish Succession. It was organized by a pro-independence group through social media.
Barca fan David Fort sees his team as a vehicle to show the world that Catalonia has its own language and culture, which is distinct from what he called the "bulls and flamenco" associated with Spain.
"We have this love for Barca because we have the chance to be represented around the world," said Fort, a 38-year-old architect from the southern Catalan town of Tarragona. "When we travel and they ask me if I am Spanish, I say not exactly, but when I mention Barca they say `Ah! The Catalan team', and of course since they are champions you feel proud."
Barca, like every institution in Spain, was marked by the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s and resulting right-wing dictatorship that ended after Franco's death in 1975.
Franco's soldiers killed Barca's club president in 1936, and the club was forced to change its name from a Catalan to a Spanish version. And while Real Madrid was identified with the regime, Barca, for many, came to represent Catalan anti-fascist resistance.
"Under Franco, people could not shout `Long Live Catalonia!,' but they could shout `Long Live Barca!' (


Updated : 2021-05-15 04:10 GMT+08:00