A Homage to


The army of a defenceless country

On a certain historic occasion, a president of the Barcelona Football Club said that 'Barça' was 'more than a club'. He said this during the time of the Franco regime, at a moment when everything in Spain was more than it was: writers were rather more than writers, silences rather more than silences, memories rather more than memories, impotence rather more than impotence. Everything that was not blind acceptance of the official and absolute truth of the Franco regime became an act of objective opposition, and Barcelona's football team polarised the nationalist anxieties of the Catalans, as if it were the disarmed army of a country whose identity had been crushed by the conqueror after the Civil War.

When Barcelona won a football match against Real Madrid, considered the government team, Catalonia made up slightly for all the civil wars it has lost since the 17th century. And when Barcelona lost against Real Madrid, Catalonia confirmed its metaphysical condition of a people doomed to lose, a hapless people under the tyrannous yoke of the centralist hordes. The euphoria of victory and the masochistic bitter-sweet melancholy of the loser licking his wounds in a comfortable den are contradictory images which describe not only the followers of a football team but all the citizens of Catalonia. Every now and then, beating Real Madrid propitiates a collective catharsis and makes up for 300 years of historical humiliations, but for Barcelona Football Club to win all the time would be excessive and difficult to swallow, so from time to time a defeat is convenient, blamable on the referee if possible, to recover the image of the privileged victim, which is after all a historical identity like any other, at a time when it's very difficult to hold on to one's historical identity or even one's History.

Practically the day after the Civil War ended, many Catalans who wanted to carry on being just that, felt that the best way of demonstrating their identity was to join Barcelona Football Club. It was rather less risky than joining a clandestine anti-Franco movement, and allowed them to exhibit their dissent -dissidence we would call it now- in broad daylight, tolerated by the Franco regime. There was nothing daft about this regime, and it preferred to let the masses shout in the stadiums on Sundays between five and seven in the afternoon, in exchange for silence in the streets on working-days. But that communion of the Barcelona saints gradually consolidated itself, from the survivors of 1939 to the present club with its 110,000 members ... members, did I say? ... 110,000 troops, all of us ready to liberate Atlanta from General Grant's army, all of us Japanese in the jungle, scornful of the news that Hiro Hito has surrendered to MacArthur. I don't know if I've managed to explain why 'Barça' is more than a club. At least, I tried.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, in Catalonia, UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, 1987. Translation AL-D.