History of FC Barcelona

On 22nd October 1899, Hans Gamper, a young Swiss businessman, placed an ad in a Barcelona sports paper calling for people interested in forming a club to practice the new game of football. The ad attracted the interest of other expats and some forward-thinking Catalans and a meeting was arranged at the Gimnás Solé for the 29th November, where FC Barcelona was founded with Englishman Walter Wild as the club’s first president. The first game was played against a team of expats a few weeks later and Barcelona lost 1-0.

After playing for almost a decade on makeshift pitches, the club’s successes in the long-forgotten Macaya Cup and the Catalan Championships made it clear that FC Barcelona needed a ground of its own and so Carrer Indústria, with a capacity of 6,000 and a two-tier stand, unique for its time, was opened on 14th March 1909. The following decade brought a period of success with the team dominating the Catalan Championship and winning the Spanish Championship on five occasions.

By the twenties, FC Barcelona had become a sporting institution and in 1922 moved to the 30,000 capacity Les Corts stadium – capacity later grew to 60,000. Barca had a great side at the time which included Samitier, Alcántara, Zamora, Sagi, Piera and Sancho but its popularity was also growing because it came to increasingly identified with Catalan identity. Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship from 1923 to 1929 brought Barca’s first clashes with the right-wing Spanish state and unwittingly, the English were in part to blame. On 14th June 1925 an English ship docked at the Port of Barcelona, and as the ship boasted an excellent brass band, the band was invited to play at Les Corts, Barca’s stadium. Ignorant of where they were and the current atmosphere of cultural oppression, the band launched straight into the Spanish National Anthem. The assembled crowd began booing and jeering; arrests were made, the stadium was closed down for six months and FC Barcelona were not allowed to participate in La Liga, which drove the club almost to the point of bankruptcy. Five years later Gamper, the club’s founder committed suicide and Barca entered a period of financial, social and sporting decline as the black shadow of politics hung over Spanish society.

In July 1936, civil war broke out and a month later, Barca president Josep Suñol was murdered by Franco’s soldiers near to Guadalajara. Fortunately, the squad was on a tour of Mexico and USA, which although it proved the financial saving of the club, also resulted in half the team seeking exile in Mexico and France. On 16th March 1938 the fascists dropped a bomb on the club’s social club and caused serious damage. A few months later, Barcelona was under fascist occupation and as a symbol of Catalan nationalism, the club, now down to just 3,486 members, was facing a number of serious problems. In March 1940 a close collaborator with the Franco regime, Enric Piñeyro, Marqués de la Mesa de Asta was appointed President. At the same time, the name of the club was changed from its Anglicized original Futbol Club Barcelona, to the more Spanish Club de Fútbol Barcelona,(a change which was finally reversed in 1973), and the four red bars of the Catalan flag on the coat of arms were reduced to two, the original not being put back until 1949.

Franco gained power in 1939 and after a period of violent repression, the dictator saw football as a way of channelling aggression away from politics. An avid Real Madrid supporter, it was Franco that established the political rivalry by treating Real Madrid as the symbol of Christian Spain and Barcelona Club de Fútbol as that of Red Catalunya. However, during the 40s, the club gradually recovered from a crisis which had seen them nearly relegated in 1942, but the next season, in a scandalous game against Madrid, which saw the Barca players threatened by referee and police. Piñeyro, a fascist supporter, but honestly disgusted at the treatment his team had received, resigned from the presidency of the club. With the conquest of the Spanish Leagues of 1944-45, 1947-48 and 1948-49, as well as the Copa Llatina in 1949, the club finally seemed to have turned the corner and put the problems of the previous few years behind them. Barca celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1949 boosted by member numbers of 24,893 and boasting a total of 21 Catalan Championships, 9 cups and 4 Spanish League titles.

With the arrival of Ladislau Kubala in June 1950, it soon became clear that Barca were growing too big for their Les Corts ground. Between 1951 and 1953, Barca won every title on offer -the Spanish Leagues of 1951-52 and 1952-53, the Spanish Cup in 1951,52 and 53. During the 1951-52 season, the team won the five cups: Spanish League, Cup, Latin Cup Eva Duarte and Martin Rossi trophies, with their famous forward line of Basora, César, Kubala, Moreno and Manchón. 1951 also marked an important moment in the Catalans stance against Franco. Tram fares were raised and so the people of Barcelona refused to use them, preferring to walk fro Les Corts into the city after a Barca game rather than breaking the embargo.

But with the team going from strength to strength, there were plenty of reasons to justify the construction of a new home for the team. Francesc Miró-Sans, president from 1953, was one of the driving forces behind the project, and the Camp Nou was eventually inaugurated on September 24, 1957. The new stadium could hold 90,000 spectators, including 49,000 club members, and was the new stage for a team that was promising big things after winning the 1957 Cup final at Montjuic. However, after losing the European Cup Final in Berne in 1961, the sixties were to be a fallow period for Barca.

But the fan base was increasing regardless, in no small part due to the increasingly more important social significance attached to the club. This was made particularly clear when Narcís de Carreras became president in 1968, and coined a phrase that has gone on to become something of a club slogan, ‘More than a club’. FC Barcelona had become associated with some of the most fervently pro-Catalan and anti-Franco sentiments in Catalonia, and this contributed to making the club hugely influential in local society, bolstered by an increasingly closer relationship with the cultural world. After signing Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff, Barca went on to win the league title in 1973-1974, which happened to coincide with the club’s 75th anniversary, a moment that brought Barca fans closer than ever, despite the limitations that were still being imposed in the twilight of the Franco regime.

The signing of foreign players had been a controversial issue ever since the Di Stéfano affair in 1953. In the 1970s Barca suffered from the arbitrary nature of the sports authorities, such as in determining the status of foreigners with Spanish parents. But the go-ahead was finally given for Cruyff to join the club and he made his debut on October 28, 1973. The Dutchman made an immediate impact as Barca stormed to the league title. The most memorable night of all was an emphatic 5-0 win away to Real Madrid, Barca fielding a powerful attacking quintet of Rexach, Asensi, Cruyff, Sotil and Marcial. Cruyff was one of a new generation of players, a natural leader both on and off the pitch, and attracting massive media interest.

The arrival of democracy not only meant major changes in the country on a political level, but also in all other aspects of society, sport included. Clubs now had to be run democratically, as did federations, all under the auspices of democratic governments, both in terms of Spain as a whole, and in terms of the autonomous region of Catalonia. FC Barcelona was able to return to its original statute of ‘a private association without profit motive, owned and controlled by its members.’

After several years without being able to hold free elections, in May 1978, the members were able to choose their own president. It was a close result between three candidates: Josep Lluís Nuñez received 10,352 votes; Ferran Ariño, 9,537; and Nicolau Casaus, 6,202. Nuñez would stay in office until the year 2000.

1979 was an important year for Barca, as they won the Cup Winners Cup for the time ever, in Basel. But it was not just the win that impressed, but also the amazing presence of almost 30,000 fans at the final in the biggest display to date of the colours of Barcelona and Catalunya in Europe. There were unprecedented celebrations in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan cities. Barca would win the Cup Winners Cup again in both 1982 and 1989.

The club never stopped growing through all that time. There were 66,000 members in 1974, which had become 77,000 by 1978, and as many as 98,000 in 1992, although at one point in 1986 the figure had been as high as 108,000. There were also more and more supporters clubs. There were 96 in 1979, while there were almost 700 by 1993. The Camp Nou was also expanded on occasion of the World Cup in 1982, the same year as the Miniestadi was built. The truth is democracy looked as benignly on Barca as it did on Catalunya as a whole.

But there were to be no further League titles until the 1984-1985 season, when Barca ran away with it, securing the championship in Valladolid with four games still to play. That game was decided when goalkeeper Urruti saved a penalty in the last minute to mathematically clinch the title. The emotion of the moment was perfectly captured by commentator Joaquim M. Puyal’s famous cry of “Urruti, I love you”, which has gone down in club folklore. The squad that year included such greats as Julio Alberto, Migueli, Archibald, Schuster, and captain Alexanco and were coached by Terry Venables.

Disappointment followed the 1985 league winning season, when Barca lost the 1986 European Cup Final in Seville. Further problems followed shortly after, culminating in the infamous Hesperia Mutiny, in which the players demanded the resignation of the board. The directors needed to find a way of changing the way the club was heading, and that change came in the form of Johan Cruyff, who had a whole new philosophy of the way football should be played and immediately set about rebuilding the squad. What he created was a team with a new winning mentality, and which would come to be known as the ‘Dream Team’. That legendary side enjoyed success after success, including four consecutive league titles from 1991 to 1994, and the club’s first ever European Cup.

The first European Cup, won on the night of May 20th 1992 at the legendary Wembley, was a special moment for all of us. The opposition was Sampdoria of Genoa, and Barca won 1-0 with Ronald Koeman’s brilliant free kick in extra time. The team that won the club’s first ever European Cup title was: Zubizarreta, Nando, Ferrer, Koeman, Juan Carlos, Bakero, Salinas (Goikoetxea), Stoitchkov, Laudrup, Guardiola (Alexanko) and Eusebio.

Johan Cruyff left under controversial circumstances in 1996 and new era began, which bore its first fruits in 1997 with another Cup Winners Cup and the Copa del Rey. The following season, Barca won the League, Cup and European Super Cup.

Despite the results on the pitch, the departure of Cruyff created something of a divide between the membership, which would have a profound effect on the way club was run. And this all happened against a background of further major developments in the way football was financed, including huge sponsorship deals, television and image rights, pay per view coverage, and rescission clauses in players contracts. The management of big football clubs in this unstoppable climate of change was becoming an increasingly more complex process.

With Bobby Robson and then Louis Van Gaal on the bench, the club achieved some good results, especially in 1996-97, when the Cup Winners Cup was won, to be closely followed by two consecutive League titles. But there was still a feeling that this was the end of an era, and the rift between the membership grew wider. The poor results of the 1999-2000 season were enough to convince President Nuñez that it was time to resign.

Not many organisations get to enjoy their centenary, something which can only be achieved through consistency and continuity. The celebrations of Barca’s centenary went on from November 1998 to November 1999 and involved an intense year packed with all kinds of different events and activities. Painter Antoni Tápies designed the official poster and singer Joan Manuel Serrat performed ‘Cant del Barca’ from the centre of the Camp Nou pitch. The Centenary sought to be the bridge between a glorious past and a future full of new hopes and expectations.

Following Núñez’s resignation, elections were held in the year 2000, won by Joan Gaspart, who had been the club’s vice president for 22 years. The defeated candidate was Lluís Bassat. But the Gaspart presidency failed to produce any major sporting successes, and the club fell deeper and deeper into crisis. Gaspart resigned in February 2003, and the club was left in a state of uncertainty until new elections were held in July. But despite the troubled mood, the club was able to enjoy one of its greatest ever sporting triumphs when the basketball section finally conquered its first Euroleague in May 2003.

On June 15, 2003 new presidential elections were held, won by young lawyer Joan Laporta ahead of publisher Lluís Bassat. This was the beginning of a bright new era, with renewed optimism at the promise of a new direction, and the signings of such world superstars as Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o. That team did not take long to start winning titles, starting with the League in 2004-2005, which was retained the year after. But the finest hour of all was the club’s second European Cup, which coincided with a new move to modernise and promote the social implications of Barca, expanding the values of being ‘more than a club’. The membership was growing to record levels thanks to the ‘Great Challenge’ project, eventually surpassing 150,000 in 2006.

2006 will go down as one of the most memorable years in Barca’s history. The club won its second European Cup crown, beating Arsenal 2-1 in the Paris final. This was the same year that the Joan Gamper Sports Complex was opened in Sant Joan Despí, and that Barca signed its historic agreement with Unicef at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The agreement attempts to portray the most caring side of the Barca spirit and globalise the meaning of being ‘more than a club’, but many fans wonder if it’s not just another piece of clever marketing.

FC Barcelona is in a constant phase of expansion. The new historical record number of 156,366 members attained in June 2007, paved the way to the major event represented, in the month of September, of adjudicating the work to restructure the stadium to British architect Norman Foster. The new Camp Nou will become the symbol of a Barca that sets standards in every way.

The end of the Rijkaard/Ronaldinho era provoked a crisis of confidence at Camp Nou following two seasons in which Barca were beaten to La Liga title by a poor Real Madrid side. President Joan Laporta brought in ex-player and local boy Josep Guardiola as first team coach and with a side made up of young players the magic started to happen. The 2008-09 season in which Barca won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League was the best in the club’s history and FC Barcelona start the next season on the crest of a wave. From there things just got better and the club completed a treble with three La Liga championships on a row. In fact it has been three years of continuous silverware with the Copa del Rey, The Champions’ League trophy, The Spanish Super Cup, The UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup all being added to the trophy room.

The club’s official web site (in English) is here. Please note you can purchase tickets direct from here.

© Simon Harris

Continued here

“Going Native In Catalonia” by Simon Harris ISBN-1905430302

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