Friday, May 29, 2009

BARCELONA: FOOTBALL OR POLITICS?

The British media is eulogising over the fact that over a million people crowded on to the streets of Barcelona to welcome home their triumphant European Champion League team. Another sickener for Man U they say.

True but then Man U is a football team and not a political force.

Barcelona are the visible arm of the Catalan aspiration for nationhood and when the team scores a victory be it over Real Madrid or in Europe that arm waves the flag of the separatist movement.

I think it was appropriate that the Spanish King and Prime Minister were prominent at the match in Rome to signify, like it or not, that the Barcelona side represented all of Spain.

Fireworks were let off where I live after Barcelona’s victory and cars drove through the streets honking their horns. But then as my good friend Prospero observed in Jimena Pulse – the noise in his village would have been greater had the winners been Real Madrid.

Indeed there was much anger last summer after Spain won the European Soccer Championships and that success was ignored by many in Barcelona and wider Cataluña.

Ahead of the match in Rome Sky News presenters talked to the Barcelona fans about the encounter with Man U. After talking football nearly every fan also made the point about Cataluña and its aspiration to nationhood which was completely lost on the bemused reporter prepped for mentions of Messi or Ronaldo.

When I grew up in London many moons ago the then Real Madrid team of Di Stéfano and Puskás were the kings of Europe. However I have supported Barcelona since the days of ‘El Tel’ and the British players that followed in his wake. I adore the city of Barcelona, am proud to have been to the Camp Nou but my support is that of a Briton and I do not share in the Spanish and Catalan views – which are passionate – on this soccer and political mix.

It was the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who said – “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

The proud Scot could well have been speaking for the people of Cataluña.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even as a foreigner to Spain, which I am too, you cannot avoid, in your writing, getting involved in Spain's assertion of its nationhood together with the aspiration to nationhood of what are at present some of its constituent parts.

I read somewhere of the incident which brought the matter of "Mais que un club" to the attentiopn of the UK. It seems that in 1929 a british aircraft carrier was visitng Barcelona at the time of a match between Barça and a British Club. The Band of the Royal marines was invited to do the honours at the match. The Band was puzzled when they were booed on playing the Spanish National Anthem and then applauded when they played "God Save the King". The matter was reported in the UK press among comments from the Barça management that Barcelona was "more than just a Football Club". Has any reader a previous reference to this self-image of FCB´s?

Football aside, Spain would benefit from relaxing its attitude to its reluctant constituent parts. Given individual referenda in the "regions" on separation from Madrid, as were held in UK, centralists might be pleasantly surprised at the results. And if one region did go for a Burton, "no pasa nada", it couldn't be towed away from the Iberian peninsula or the European continent, where Madrid would still be King, and it would still be in the world of Hispano-parlantes.

Madrid centralists' ungenerous threats to exclude separating regions from the EU would do no good to their own objectives of later on reintegrating alienated regions, these might do quite well as non-EU neighbours of France/Portugal Andorra/Gibraltar and Spain. (c.f. Norway, Andorra, the Channel islands, Iceland, and in as far as it is outside the EU's tariff barrier, Gibraltar).

So who said sport and politics don't mix?

PROSPERO said...

In the days of Franco, Real Madrid was considered the 'official' Spanish club, I believe. He must be spinning in his grave.

Indeed, it is often commented that the Franco regime made football the national pastime as a distraction from other more nefarious activities. "Pan y fútbol", I have heard it said.

Politics and football (yes even the American variety) have always mixed at some level or other. Ask the Brazilians, where it is more of a religion, the Italians -doesn't the buffoon Berlusconi own a couple of teams?-, or the Argentines, where the main rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors have always represented officialdom and the rich, or the poor and downtrodden, respectively - which explains why the (in)famous Maradona is elevated to the status of god.

Of course, the common element at all the big clubs and all levels, is money, which is usually on the side of conservatism (small C).

(Thanks for mentioning my humble blog. Given the above, this prompts the question: Why are Jimena and many towns and villages in Andalucía so pro Real Madrid? The answer may well be in how the Catalans treated many of their immigrants during la hambruna, the hungry years after the Civil War. Yet another mix of politics and football...)

'Sancho' said...

I have always presumed that the popularity of Real Madrid in Andalucía was due to the regions antipathy towards Cataluña. Like Prospero I suspected this was caused by the fact that many people from Andalucía went there to seek work (my neighbour was one), the poor treatment they received, the attitude of the “hardworking” Catalans to the “lazy” people of Andalucía and their mockery of Andaluz. I certainly hadn’t heard the 1929 story of the Royal Navy visit but had presume the – more than a club – slogan was a reference to Barcelona’s soccer club representing the culture and aspirations of Cataluña. By the by the Gibraltar Chronicle today reports on the scenes of jubilation on the Rock after Barcelona’s victory. No reference is made of the strong Man U contingent but they probably celebrated too on the basis rather Barca than Real Madrid.

Andrés said...

El partido fue bueno y el Barcelona ha terminado una buenísima temporada.