Football and Politics: Barcelona's Influence on Catalan Independence

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Football and Politics: Barcelona's Influence on Catalan Independence
David Ramos/Getty Images

The match clock hits 17:14 at the Camp Nou and a chant gains voice.

Independencia! is the cry from the Barcelona faithful. The red and yellow of Catalonian flags light up the dull arena.

Real Madrid, the enemy, the oppressors, felt a shudder. Never before has a football team been the backbone of a political ideology to this extent.

1714 is an important number. On the 11th of September that year, Catalan troops were defeated by the troops of the King of Spain, Phillip V. Catalans, at this moment, began to lose their identity.

Throughout the next two centuries, Catalonians were culturally oppressed. FC Barcelona was the only outlet for Catalan culture. Fans and players spoke Catalan to each other, which kept the language alive by its fingertips. The flag was banned, replaced by the current Spanish version, and all nationalism, bar Spanish, was banned completely and forcefully.

The end of the Franco regime resulted in the reintroduction of a more sensible Spanish attitude towards Catalonia. The language and flag were reintroduced legally but this resulted in a possibly more anti-Spanish view from Catalonia. Right-wing separatist groups such as the "Boixos Nois" became influential behind the scenes at Barca.

This leads me to retell an anecdote from my father. He was on a small bus going from Hospitalet to Barcelona while on holiday, and many Barca fans on the bus were playing Irish Rebel songs. Being an Irishman, this amused him and, in broken Spanish, he asked them why they were playing such songs. They told him, in broken English, that they followed the ideals of the IRA and Irish Republicans. This may not indicate a general view from Catalonians, but it portrays the fundamentalist view from the region.   

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A month prior to the venting of frustration at the Camp Nou, a million-strong march for Catalan independence had brought the city to standstill. Among the red and yellow banners were many flags depicting Cruyff, Guardiola and Messi beside the FC Barcelona crest. 

The famous motto of the club: "Mes Que Un Club," is famous all over the sporting world. It is only when you see the struggle of the Catalan people that you can start to understand how important Barca is throughout their culture.

The "Cant Del Barca," the club's official song, is a second national anthem to the region, and children can be heard humming the tune at an early age.

Across the city, the supposedly pro-Spanish club Espanyol is seen as the antithesis of Barca. Only in 1995 did they change their name from the Castilian version, Español, to Espanyol.

Joan Laporta, a former president of Barca, is now heavily involved in Catalan politics and is in favor of secession. 

And now with an impeding referendum on Catalonian independence approaching, the power of Barca as a cultural and social force will be there for all to see.

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