FC Barcelona: Visca Barça!
More than a club…
By Duncan Rhodes
We take a look at Catalonia’s unofficial national religion…
Ask any local about the sacred Sardana dance of Catalonia and he will probably shrug his shoulders disinterestedly. Inquire about his opinion on Gaudi and he will no doubt stifle a yawn. But start a conversation about his beloved Barcelona Football Club and the chances are (providing you don’t support Real Madrid) that this previously laconic fellow will take great pleasure bending your ear about the magnificent skills of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi et al. whilst recounting the scores of epic victories and glistening trophies sitting in the team cabinet. In the famous 2008/2009 season alone Barcelona FC won a historic treble, topping La Liga, taking home the Copa del Rey (the Spanish domestic cup) and outplaying Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United to win the Champions League Final in Rome. Not bad going!
Football is something of a national religion in Catalonia (even more so than in the rest of Spain) and come match day all the bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants in Barcelona will be showing the big game – and what’s more they’ll all be packed to the rafters with football fans shouting Visca Barça!, and singing the Cant del Barça, the football club’s famous anthem at the top of their lungs. If you want to endear yourself to the fiercely Catalan locals, a rudimentary knowledge of the team’s history and current squad will get you much further than impeccable manners and a smile… in short, dear friends, read on, after all FC Barcelona is ‘més que un club’ (more than a club!).
History of Barcelona Football Club
Barcelona FC was in fact established, not by a Catalan, but by a Swiss man named Max Gamper in 1899 (who, falling in love with Catalonia adopted the more local sounding name, Joan Gamper). Gamper assembled a cosmopolitan crew of players after placing an advert in a local paper. Not long after, in 1902 the team won their first trophy, the Catalan Cup, known as Copa Macaya. After his playing years Gamper later went on to be president, serving five times between 1908 and 1923 and, with the help of Englishman Jack Greenwell as manager, FC Barcelona won the Campeonato de Cataluna eleven times, the Copa del Rey six times and the Coupe de Pyrenées four times during this golden period. Difficult years followed under the Riviera Republic and Spanish Civil War, and when Franco emerged as dictator in 1939 things got worse for the club. Franco was determined to suppress Catalan nationalism and the team were forced to change their name from the Catalan ‘Futbol Club Barcelona’, to the Spanish ‘Club de Futbol Barcelona’ and remove the Catalan flag from their crest. Minor changes but a major insult to Catalan pride and identity! Although the club continued to do well during the Franco era it was always overshadowed by the state-backed Real Madrid CF, whose riches bought them both domestic and European success and made them the most successful club on the continent.
With Franco’s power on the wane, a new era dawned for Barcelona led by the mercurial Johan Cruyff, who signed for Barca in 1973, despite overtures from Real Madrid. Cruyff won instant cult status in Catalonia when he told the international press he would never play for a team associated with Franco. The Dutchman immediately led the club to its first league title since 1960 and won European Player of the Year into the bargain. Cruyff had even more success as a manager. Returning to Barca FC in 1988 he assembled the legendary ‘Dream Team’ consisting of Gheorghe Hagi, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romario and Pep Guardiola (who of course went on to similar levels of success as manager himself!). The Dream Team won back to back La Liga titles from 1991 to 1994.
With players like Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, Luis Enrique and Rivaldo gracing the grass of Camp Nou, Barca was able to considerably add to its trophy cabinet in the late 90s and with the appointment of Frank Rijkaard in 2003 the new millennium has also been generous. Players of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Deco, Henrik Larsson, Ludovic Giuly helped FC Barcelona win a glut more titles, notably the European Cup in 2005/6 (when the idiotic German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann got himself sent off in the final leaving Arsenal to do battle with just ten men).
Sadly for Barca fans the team was unable to build on this success and after two barren years Rijkaard was replaced by Pep Guardiola in 2008. The sharply-dressed former Dream Team captain instantly delivered the goods, and with a squad built around a devastatingly creative midfield, Barcelona FC won a historic treble consisting of La Liga, Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League in the 2008/9 season. And they did it playing some of the most attractive football on the planet! Under Guardiola the team continued to thrive adding two more La Liga titles another European Cup (beating Man United 3-1 in Wembley Stadium in 2011) and signing off with Copa del Rey win.
The post-Guardiola era has seen the additions of Neymar and Suarez to the team, who have formed the most potent attacking force in world football either side of Lionel Messi, a trio that score goals for fun. Since the Catalan coach left the team has secured three more La Liga titles and another European Final, this time defeating Juventus 3-1 in Berlin with Luis Enrique as coach.
FC Barcelona Players and Manager
Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have all won the hallowed crimson and blue shirt in seasons past, collecting plenty of trophies en route, but today’s squad certainly boasts some illustrious players too. None of course more impressive than the peerless Lionel Messi, who in 2014 surpassed Telmo Zarra’s near fifty record of 251 all time goals in top flight Spanish football… and he’s still going strong! In recent years the team has also added the much-hyped Brazilian star, Neymar to the squad (now sadly departed), as well as the controversial but brilliant Luis Suarez.
Buying Tickets for Barcelona FC Matches
So the all-important question… Where can I buy tickets for the big matches? Well that depends. If you’re lucky enough to live in the city you can choose to queue outside the gates at Camp Nou for tickets to any given match, once the club has announced they’re available, or you can even purchase them via La Caixa ATMs. For those flying into BCN to catch a game your best bet is to buy tickets in advance through a respectable agency, for example Spain Ticket Bureau. Established in 1994, Spain Ticket Bureau are an official and authorised vendor of FC Barcelona tickets and they offer the best prices on the online market (in fact they will offer to refund the difference if you can find any cheaper, so you know you haven’t been stung!), a cancellation policy and secure payments, so all in all a safe bet. Remember for popular games, like Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (aka ‘el clasico’), or for Champions League games, you will have to be very quick off the draw.
If you are looking for box seats or VIP tickets to a game then check out our article about corporate hospitality, which includes a big section about corporate entertainment at FC Barcelona. Or more simply, drop us a line with your requirements and we’ll be able to get you a quote.
Getting to the Camp Nou Stadium
The team’s legendary Camp Nou stadium (often called Nou Camp by mistake!) seats a whopping 99,000 with a Norman Foster-designed extension in the making. To get there by public transport take the metro line 3 (L3) to Maria Cristina station, and simply follow the crowds.
Where to Watch the Game Live on TV
Obviously the numerous sports bars in Barcelona should be your first point of call if you’re desperate to catch the action live, although you’ll never struggle to find a place to watch the game – almost every venue in the city screens Barça matches, from fancy lounge bars to greasy kebab shops. For some English-speaking company you’re best rocking up to an English or Irish pub.
For the latest team news, transfers, gossip, insider info, results and more check out the superb FCB News blog, whilst the official FC Barcelona websitehas information in both English and Catalan – and surprisingly in Spanish too!
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.