Barcelona, the capital of fiercely pro-independence Catalonia, is home to the world renowned "Football Club Barcelona". Flying the flag for Catalan independence the fans of this cultural institution often give the feeling that the Spanish Civil War is still being fought, at least for 90 minutes, when Real Madrid come to visit. FC Barcelona is more than just a club. Barcelona based sports writer Tim Hanlon explains.
It's impossible to live in or even just visit Barcelona without being exposed to the frenzy surrounding Football Club Barcelona. The club has been around for over 100 years and is a symbol of Catalan independence and often defiance.
During the regime of Franco, the Catalans, their language and their culture suffered especially harsh treatment for not conforming to the ideals of the single Spanish state. Speaking Catalan was banned and even a whisper in this local tongue could get you arrested. Except at the football. There was no real way to stop a stadium of 80,000 plus supporters chanting in Catalan and so the club took on a symbolic status of being a vent for defiance towards the oppressive Spanish state.
On the football pitch, Franco's regime was personified in his favoured football club, Real Madrid. Small wonder that they had the resources to lift so many trophies during his reign including a handful of European Cups, now competed for in the Champions League.
When Real Madrid comes to visit, Barcelona is in a frenzy. More so if they win. On the final whistle, Plaza de Catalunya and the Rambla de Canaletta (top part of the Ramblas) fills with supporters as quickly as they can finish their cerveza and leave the packed bar in which they watched the game. Win, lose or draw it's a chaotic party atmosphere but like most parties it can get a bit messy towards the end as the shop keepers and riot Police will confirm.
These days Barcelona seem to win everything they enter. Rumour even has it that they have been banned from buying lottery tickets as it just woudn't be fair. Pep Guardiola, the current manager, is idolised as an ex-Barca player turned coach who has steered the club to more silverware than Buckingham Palace and more records than HMV. However it hasn't always been that way and their not-too-successful past form has been conveniently forgotten.
The enigmatic Ronaldinho instigated the turnaround and helped the club to European success before he was superseded by home grown players like Leo Messi and Andres Iniesta. Problems were never far away though as Catalan politics threatened to sidetrack the team and vendettas came to the fore. In 2003, Barcelona was in full crisis on and off the pitch with the team struggling in the league and the protests of fans leading to the resignation of the president. A new radical board led by the charismatic Joan Laporta was ushered into power with a landslide election victory and a dramatic recovery began to unfold. With enterprising new marketing strategies, Barcelona fully exploited its financial potential while the club returned to the pinnacle of the European game with their unique brand of swashbuckling football, forged out of Johan Cruyff’s innovative approach as coach in the early 1990s when Barcelona were last at the top of the tree.
Barça had a major impact on the Spain national team, which adapted their style of quick passing football, and they had seven players on the World Cup's winning team in 2010.
Planning a short or long stay in Barcelona can be much more interesting if your visit is timed to coincide with a Barcelona game. Tickets are usually easy to get with the exception of 'El Classico' games against Real Madrid and the final stages of the Champions League. That said, just being in a packed bar full of Barca supporters to see the game on the big screen is also an experience in itself.
Which ever way you look at it, politics, history, language, sports and culture, Football Club Barcelona will forever be an integral part of the story of this great city.