La Masia del Barça 1989-93: from jokes to harassment
Most residents have fond memories of the experience, but for a few years there was a series of harassment of young basketball players.
Barcelona / Vic / Lleida / Manresa / San PolThere were about thirty boys. Teenagers. Some 12-year-old beardless, others almost men entering adulthood. Most footballers. Footballer projects. They lived in four rooms with bunk beds next to the Camp Nou. In the old Can Planes farmhouse, which since 1979 has welcomed hundreds of young people who dreamed of succeeding at Barça. La Masia represented for most of the residents a story of improvement, fun and friendship, but there were also episodes of humiliation, abuse and bullying that marked some young people. They were few, but they existed: a group of boys, especially basketball players, who between 1989 and 1993 suffered violence from some of their peers.
In La Masia there were hierarchies. Small clans. Affinities. rivalries. Jokes. laughs. Rounds on the esplanade. Soccer. Lots of football. And many free hours to fill. Boredom led to letting the imagination fly. Sometimes dangerously. There was hazing, like everywhere. Less or more intensity depending on the generations. From putting toothpicks in the mattress of the newcomers to taking pictures of a very young resident while he was in the bathroom with a porno magazine strategically left there and blackmailing him with the image, destroying some new shoe belonging to a colleague, some cold shower at dawn, humiliating a boy in front of the group, forcing him to dance or making the veterans laugh... But there was also masturbation and ejaculation on the sheets of other residents and throwing bags of water and urine on some beds at dawn. And during a few specific years, between the late 80s and early 90s, a series of situations crossed all the red lines.
They were produced slowly, first executed by a group of veteran basketball players and later by soccer fans, but they left their mark. One boy was forced to insert a small plastic canister into the anus of a young resident who had just arrived and was restrained by two or three basketball veterans. If he refused, they did it to him. Three years later, a very similar situation occurred with another young basketball player. In this case, a group of soccer players simulated a rape. The victim was left naked on the ground. One of the soccer fans pretended to penetrate him. Another took a can of shaving foam and began to insert it into his anus, spraying it with the contents of the object.
Based on different testimonies from the time, the ARA has confirmed a series of similar situations between 1989 and 1993. It is explained by ex-residents who experienced it in the first person or who were direct witnesses and who, anonymously or showing their faces, report those specific events. This newspaper has also spoken with most of the perpetrators of the harassment, but they assure that they did not participate in them. As they were minor and were not systematic or widespread events, it has been decided not to give names.
It all starts with the novel Triunfador, by the writer Joan Jordi Miralles, who lived in La Masia at the beginning of the 1990s. In the book he narrates the experience of a young basketball player from Manresa, Ulises, who lands at the Barça residence and lives a true odyssey Based on this work, the ARA has spoken over the last four months with some fifty people to provide context, dimension what is explained, understand what living in La Masia meant for boys of that age and separate reality from fiction. Most do not remember violent or vexatious episodes and have great memories of the experience, such as Lluís Carreras, who spent seven years and "would repeat as many times as necessary", or Aureli Altimira, Albert Celades, Marc Bernaus or Carles Domingo, Mingo, among many others.
A few former players remember the episodes of violence and describe them accurately. Others, without going into detail about the different situations that occurred, admit that Triunfador's story conforms to reality. The former soccer player Xavi Moro, who spent seven years at La Masia, or the former basketball players Berni Tamames and Oliver Fuentes confirm the plausibility. "No wonder. We were 30 children alone in a house, the lack of control was absolute," says Quique Martín. "The management was deficient to the extent, for example, that we lived practically alone without adult supervision and, therefore, it is plausible that in a competitive environment, made up of adolescents, irregular situations could occur, which could include practical jokes , occasional or repeated, which could lead to abuse or humiliation exercised more or less consciously", adds the former basketball player Xavi Ballús. Alberto Cachafeiro entered the culé residence in 1994 to play basketball. He did not experience the violence in the first person, but he remembers that word of mouth, especially among those in basketball, the potential victims, worked: "Veterans commented that, a year or two before I arrived, a soccer player he made jokes in bad taste, sexual, that could become a crime, to the youngest".
Despite the harshness of the episodes, some former residents speak above all of the imprint that "psychological violence" left on them, more everyday: the fact of living on constant alert, in permanent anguish for what could happen. One of these former players – who has asked to speak anonymously because it continues to be a difficult subject for him – recounts how the experience at La Masia made it take him "a long time" to recover and led him to make bad decisions: "The best moments were when My father came to Barcelona and went with him to the hotel. I could sleep peacefully, go to the bathroom in peace. Being in La Masia was torture. They forced very young children to live on the defensive, not to be hungry to go down to dinner, to stay on the street to return as late as possible. I did it. The emotional violence was constant."
"It was systematic. Not every day, but regularly. When you stood up you had to receive, you didn't sleep, you heard noises and things began to rain on you," recalls Tamames, who was one of those who set limits and prevailed over the aggressors, thanks in part to his imposing physique. In the year in which the former basketball player was at La Masia, the 1991-92 season, he perceived a "hostile" environment towards those in basketball. The executors were "two or three", but only with a group that "laughed at them" was enough to generate a climate of terror for some. "It was not a war of the whole world against the whole world, but rather certain characters enjoyed bitching," recalls Miralles, who regrets that the majority did nothing to dismantle these situations.
Carlos González Gelo believes that all the residents hazed and at the same time received them, but without malice. "There were few hazings done to me because Javi Moreno liked me," recalls Raúl Luque, who entered at the age of 12 to play basketball. "We dedicated ourselves to taking care of La Masia, we felt responsible," reflects Carreras. "The veterans would have sung the forty to those who went over if they had seen it," says David Franqué. Alberto Rodríguez from Leon, nephew of the mythical César, landed at La Masia in 1988 and played host to his compatriot Luis Cembranos, who remembers how they all looked after an eleven-year-old boy from Lleida, Joel Gassió. Juan José Bautista, the victim of some of the funniest pranks – they made him go to school at dawn telling him that there had been an eclipse – took care of Víctor Valdés.
Why didn't the most violent harassment stop? Due to the silence imposed on the victims, for fear of reprisals, shame, threats... A well-known soccer player, who made a career outside of Barça, came to chase a young basketball player to hit him. The boy took refuge in the kitchen, where the cook Avelino Blasco had to protect him with a knife in his hand. During that time, the idea was nurtured that this violence was a ritual that was repeated and that, therefore, it was necessary to endure until it was the turn of another. Also because they were at Barça, they felt privileged and they feared losing the golden opportunity if they raised their voices. However, a basketball player from the 1990s claims that he complained to management: "They told me: 'Go upstairs'. If I had been braver, I would have called my parents and gone home."
During those years there was little adult supervision at La Masia. At night only the cook was left, with his wife and his young children, busy preparing the meals. During the day there were a couple of other adults: the director, Joan Cèsar Farrés, who acted as a tutor and was replaced by his son, and Federico Kirchner. Sometimes the priest Àngel Sánchez and other members of the club also appeared. But control was tight, especially on weekends. The boys took advantage of it to escape from the premises –once they had to run chased by the Blue and White Brigades, who split the head of a resident with a bottle– and modify the television counter, which went off at a certain time, in order to be able to watch NBA games and movies into the wee hours of the morning.
Avelino Blasco, who has anecdotes about all of them, remembers that Pep Guardiola's parents asked him to make him eat because he was losing weight and that one day he waited until 5 in the morning for a player who had escaped from a party. He arrived drunk and the cook taught him: "If something happens to you, they'll kill me." In fact, Blasco "didn't even know half of it", recalls Xavi Guzmán sarcastically: "We escaped and went out every night". One night when the cook locked the building, aware that a few boys had run away, they ended up climbing out of a window thanks to some sheets that they used as ropes.
This freedom caused a young man from Córdoba and three other companions to cross the line in the mid-1990s and end up expelled. Julio, the driving school teacher most of them confessed to while behind the wheel, remembers these guys partying until early in the morning and getting caught. Those responsible for La Masia already had them on the radar. Some of them were from Madrid, they celebrated white goals in the middle of La Masia – a fairly common occurrence – and they had also been caught stealing in a shopping center. According to another former resident, one of them had even been caught with a prostitute.
Prostitutes and transvestites
Those years, La Masia was surrounded by prostitutes and transvestites. They were part of the usual landscape of adolescents. They met on a recurring basis, especially when they returned from training, and they ended up getting to know each other. They spoke through the wire fence that delimited La Masia, but also while the boys went out to the phone booth to call home, after 10 pm, when it was cheaper and the phones inside were busy. veterans. David Araújo recalls how 15-year-old boys who went out in fear the first few days to call home ended up feeling protected by prostitutes. For example, a veteran from her land, Galicia, would approach him to talk to him and help him overcome his longing with funny and juicy stories about former Barça players and managers.
The basketball players, 14-year-old boys who are two meters tall, trained later and ate dinner at a nearby bar, Eric's, because by the time they arrived the La Masia kitchen was already closed. There they could order whatever they wanted, including alcohol, and when they returned they passed among prostitutes and transvestites. "They were like family. First they scared you, then you started talking: «How did training go, who are you playing against?»... And they told you: «Someday, if you feel like it, come». And for curiosity, you end up going", recalls a former player. When he found out that Magic Johnson had AIDS and he, a minor, had been fellated by a transvestite, "it was horrible." During the three months that it took him to obtain the results –negative– of the analysis that was done in the Raval, he could not sleep, he was anguished and ended up dropping out of school.
This is another derivative of the context of the time. The academic control that was sold to parents when the boys signed for Barça was actually very lax. Supposedly, the residents had 7 hours of school, 3 of training, 6 to stay at La Masia and 8 to sleep. "Studies and sports count at 50%," said the club at the time. But the reality was not like that. Many did not go to class. Despite the fact that there were hours of study, some kind of reinforcement and that they were forced to get up early in the morning, many devised to do their own. "Do you say to Ivan de la Peña, one of the most promising players in the world, "If you don't go to class, we'll kick you out"?" Araújo asks, to give the example of the great reference of La Masia from the years in which that he was there.
The sporting criterion commanded. Ismael López, who obtained one of the highest selectivity grades in all of Spain, admits that cases like his were an exception: "There were well-known players who hardly went to class for one day and ended up in the Barça first team" . Even so, the majority of ex-residents are clear that it was about other times and that La Masia was much better, for example, than what they could offer in Madrid. Cembranos tried his luck in both places and there was no comparison in the deal. "Despite everything, La Masia was the great elite residence in Europe," summarizes Carreras.
Obviously, La Masia of that time has nothing to do with that of now. As the club grew, the service became professionalized. At the end of the 90s, the rooms were already fewer in number and there were two security guards. In fact, many children went to live in apartments that were in the Camp Nou itself. In 2002, former hockey player Carles Folguera began to run it, until 2019. Folguera's team interviewed all the residents – who were already from all over the world – to detect deficiencies and be able to find solutions. In addition, the information was shared among all the professionals. Each child's coach knew what was happening at La Masia and information from the school or from the educators was also shared. Resources were increased and also the number of professionals. A doctor kept a daily control of the minors, thus avoiding absenteeism. They could no longer excuse themselves for not going to school because they were feeling bad. Pedagogues, psychologists, educators and a private bus service were also incorporated. Before, the boys went to school or institute alone, with public transport, and this allowed many to skip classes. In 2011 the new Masia was inaugurated in Sant Joan Despí.