What role should Barça play in Catalan independence?
Journalists Xavi Torres and Frederic Porta explore this and other questions with the main political and social leaders of the country in the book 'Barça: més que un club?'
Despite the fact that the book that this article breaks down in the following lines revolves around Barça, it is not difficult for the reader to find a copy in the bookshops' politics section and not in the sports literature section. Questions such as the one posed in the headline of this article and many others linked to the roots of the azulgrana entity in the Catalan people are resolved in Barça: més que un club? (Cossetània Edicions, 2021) (translated as "Barça: More than club?"). Responding is a titular team made up of the ten leaders of the main parties that set the Catalan political agenda and Jordi Cuixart, as civic leader and social activist. "The initial idea was to have eleven political leaders, but we purposely excluded Vox. And, to complete the eleven, we preferred to have Jordi Cuixart, because we believe he had many interesting things to contribute to the debate set out in the book", explains journalist Xavi Torres, co-author of the book with his colleague Frederic Porta, without mincing words.
The idea, which was born from the regular meetings between these two friends, ended up taking the form of a book that the authors define as "a long-haul report". After situating the reader with historical pills that contextualize the link between the heartbeat of Catalan society and Barça since its origins, the two journalists extensively address the debate on whether Barça is still more than a club: "So, as you see on the cover, with a very big question mark", remarks Torres. Throughout the pages, Jéssica Albiach, Carlos Carrizosa, Jordi Cuixart, David Fernàndez, Xavier García Albiol, Salvador Illa, Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont, Raül Romeva, Jordi Sànchez, and Quim Torra take the floor. All of them give their opinions in a sincere account in which the authors highlight the predisposition of the interviewees: "They have abandoned their political costumes for a while and have been able to express their feelings and opinions regarding the club of which they are members or supporters, in the case of the azulgranas; or which they rivalise with, in the case of those who do not sympathize with Barça". As well as delving into the proposed debate, for example, the book also reveals, among many other anecdotes, which is the victory that García Albiol, a member of Espanyol, has celebrated the most in a match at the Camp Nou.
Beyond the anecdotes, the miscellany of opinions is rich and deals in depth with how Barça, depending on who was on the board, has distanced itself from the Catalan people at certain times. A fact that the authors argue has happened with the directives of the last decade and during the government of Josep Lluís Núñez, episodes that have lived the parenthesis in the middle of the first presidency of Joan Laporta (2003-2010). To come to the point: can Barça really move away from the concept of "more than a club" - an idea already put forward to some extent in 1918 by the journalist Daniel Carbó, known as Correcuita, and popularised on 17 January 1968 in Narcís de Carreras' first speech as president - which evokes the singularity of being much more than a sporting entity?
A history linked to the Catalan people
"For part of Barça's history, a certain conservative Spanish bourgeoisie or establishment have wanted to erase Barça's ideology. This applies very clearly to Núñez and the will of the nuñismo, and also of the neonuñismo, to turn to the Barça only into a soccer club", relates Porta. "This means denying the whole reality of Barça. One example (and there are many): in 1920, Barça had a fourth team that was officially called Separatistes, which is a fighting name. When the authoritarian regime of Primo de Rivera arrived in 1923, the board had to remind the members that they were in a dictatorship and that they would end up in trouble. And they ended up in trouble, because they didn't want to keep quiet: because they were Catalanist and combative. During the Franco years, there was also militancy and resistance around Barça. They were years in which the club was kidnapped and threatened: there were attempts to change its name, to dress it with the Spanish flag...", argues Porta. With this quick review, the two authors agree in remembering that "Barça has done politics because it is not alien to the society that surrounds it, on the contrary".
The reading of the inseparable link between Barça and the heartbeat of a good part of the Catalan people is shared by the leaders linked to the independence movement and also by Albiach, while Albiol, Carrizosa and Illa insist that the greatness of Barça, nowadays, has to be linked to its sporting successes more than to its social reality. At this point, the authors claim the need to raise the debate that they address in the book: "We are in a special historical moment for Catalonia. And we wanted to ask them what Barça is or what it should be and how our political leaders see one of the most powerful entities with the most members in the country".
Barça: més que un club? explores many of the concepts of the Barça-catalanism link and reviews episodes such as the match against Las Palmas on 1 October 2017, the day of the referendum of self-determination and the crude repression of the State in the streets, a day on which Jordi Sànchez does not hesitate to say that he felt "deceived by the president of Barça", Josep Maria Bartomeu. It also discusses what role the club should play in the desire for independence of many of the citizens of this country, as reflected in the elections of 14 February. "Barça, as well as being an ambassador for Catalonia, has to be at the service of the people. The history of the club demonstrates it. Barça does not have to make politics like parties do, but it has to be next to people. As an entity, it does not have a hand to deposit a ballot paper inside a ballot box in favour or against independence, but it does have to accompany society in its democratic desires. It has to defend universal consensuses and democracy is one of them. I think that anyone who doesn't want to see it that way is far removed from the reality of Barça's history: a Catalan club that has fought for the rights and freedoms of the country", says Torres. Porta nods and adds: "Barça does not have to position itself in favour of independence or against it, but it has to be sensitive and has to be at the service of the democratic majorities of the Catalan people. This is part of the sense and the essence of the club".
The opinion of both authors is a good summary of what the pro-independence leaders express in the book and is very close to what Albiach also defends. On the contrary, it is a position far from Albiol, Carrizosa and Illa, who are closer to the opinion that bringing Barça closer to the democratic impulse of the society is not part of its sense as a sport entity. However, there are very recent episodes that show that, despite the fact that some directives have made efforts to lower the ideology of the club, a good part of the fans maintain their latent Catalanism. Romeva explains a particularly significant one when he recalls how, during a period when he was on probation, he went to the Palau Blaugrana to watch a basketball match with his family on a day that coincided with the anniversary of his daughter Elda, on 23 March 2018. The stands sang "happy birthday" to her and "erupted in a cry of clamour in favor of political prisoners", he recalls. Barça, more than a club.