Sunday October 1st will be a day that lives in infamy for many reasons in Spain, the Catalan independence referendum split the country as a whole, it sparked violent disturbances throughout the Catalan region, locals were met with significant force and some even appeared to be denied their right to vote.
Inevitably the chaos spilled into the world of football, Barcelona were due to welcome Las Palmas to the Camp Nou that afternoon, the match was always going to be a potential powder-keg when it fell on this specific date.
Chaos in Catalonia
As chaos unfolded throughout Catalonia, the images were beamed around the world, people felt pangs of horror as videos showed elderly voters being dragged away from polling stations with sizable cuts on their head, tensions were high, especially amongst Blaugrana supporters.
It was clear that home fans with an affinity for the region did not want this match to go ahead, for context it is worth remembering that a large portion of Los Cules’ match-day gate is made up of tourists, with not all fully understanding the significance of the issue.
Those in power behind the scenes at the Camp Nou did what they could to try and get the match postponed, they made numerous formal requests to LaLiga for the match to be rescheduled, all of which were denied, especially when police forces confirmed they had the man-power to steward the event.
This is where the decision that created a split in the fan-base was taken by the club’s board.
In the face of pressure from La Liga, they were threatened with a double punishment, Las Palmas would have been awarded a 3-0 victory and the Catalan giants would be deducted a further three points. This would have been a total 6 point swing, all as a result of not playing the match.
Sporting context is once again important, Los Cules currently hold a 7 point lead over fierce rivals Real Madrid, this aforementioned punishment would have cut that lead to just one point, through no fault of Barcelona’s players who have made a flawless start to the campaign.
Barcelona thus made the call to allow the match to go ahead, albeit behind closed doors.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu has since suggested that this was a measure of defiance, to highlight the cause to the world, but it also came after several of the club’s fan groups threatened to force the match to be postponed by running on the pitch in protest.
Football over basic ethos
Since this moment the organisation has been engulfed by disorder.
You cannot underestimate how important an issue Catalan independence is to groups of people in the region, furthermore in this case, many were angered not by the vote itself, but the lack of democracy that manifested itself in the police force’s actions.
The fact that Barcelona put football matters first over the supporters and ethos of the club has horrified sections of both supporters and members.
Vice president, Carles Vilarrubi, resigned from his post in the wake of the match being played; he was then followed by another board member, Jordi Mones.
For supporters, it is yet another move which calls into questions Los Cules’ mantra and whether or not the current administration lives by it.
Unprecedented pressure on unpopular Bartomeu
It is no secret that the Bartomeu administration has come under unprecedented pressure from supporters; a vote of no confidence against him was only recently presented.
From the Qatar sponsorship, albeit agreed under Sandro Rosell’s stewardship, right through to the club’s vast recent spending on players, supporters have a sense that their beloved Barcelona are becoming less unique and more like Real Madrid than anybody is comfortable with.
Sunday’s events further their angst. Barcelona’s club motto is ‘Mes que un club’ and this translates to ‘More than a club’ in English. Fans are asking themselves how a club can consider itself to be more than that when they prioritise football over the community.
Those in the Catalan region feel that Sunday’s events were a direct attack on the entire community and the democratic rights of the people within it.
It is clear the board weren’t intending to upset anybody, they were put in a difficult position and it must be remembered their job is to look after the sporting operations of the club.
With that being said, it is very difficult to maintain the mantra of being more than a club, if six points are seen as more important that showing solidarity with the region in which they are based, especially when the club has made no attempts to hide messages supporting Catalan independence being brought into the stadium previously.
Right on a footballing sense, but not enough to appease angry supporters
This is an issue that will rumble on, the club have elected to take part in planned strikes across the region on Tuesday, but it is unlikely this will be enough to appease some supporters.
Barcelona’s board did what was right for the football team, they didn’t deserve to have a lead they had legitimately worked for at the top of the table cut through no fault of their own.
Unfortunately for some this is a betrayal of the principles of the organisation and it will be interesting to see what Barcelona can do, if anything, to get those fans back on side in the future.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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