Football and the Politics of Place: Football Club Barcelona and Catalonia, 1975-2005

By Shobe, Hunter | Journal of Cultural Geography, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Football and the Politics of Place: Football Club Barcelona and Catalonia, 1975-2005


Shobe, Hunter, Journal of Cultural Geography


Although Football Club Barcelona has been closely tied to Barcelona and Catalonia throughout its history, the narrative of that relationship has varied. Those narratives provide different understandings of how FC Barcelona is implicated in the social construction of Barcelona and Catalonia as places. The relationship between club and place is dynamic and constantly renegotiated. Not only does the club change, but the political and social context in which FC Barcelona relates to these places also changes. This paper examines the place/identity/club nexus from 1975 to 2005 to illustrate how the club is mobilized to advance different ideas about Barcelona and Catalonia as places.

Keywords: cultural geography; place; sport; identity; Catalonia; Barcelona

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   Barca is not only a ball, not only patrimony, not only numbers and
   a treasury; but also emotion and sentiment ... Barca [still today]
   represents a nation, Catalonia, that does not have complete
   recognition of its personality. (Antoni Rovira 2004)

   The only factor that I think shapes the adhesion, enthusiasm,
   participation and identification with the club [FC Barcelona] in
   present times is purely sport related. (Jaume Sobreques 2004)

Academia and the popular press recognize that Football Club (FC) Barcelona (often called by its nickname Barca) functioned as an important vehicle for the expression of Catalan identity and Catalan national sentiments under the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco (Subartes 1982; Shaw 1985, 1987; Sobreques 1991, 1993; Kuper 1994; MacClancy 1996; Colome 1997; Espadaler 1998; Burns 1999; Ainaud de Lasarte et al. 1999; Barnils et al. 1999; Ball 2001; Foer 2004). As the quotes above suggest, what is less clear is the place-related role of the club in recent times, particularly since Franco's death in 1975 and the establishment of a new constitution in 1978. Catalonia has regained degrees of autonomy. The Catalan social, political and economic institutions outlawed during the dictatorship are now thriving. Given this, how are we to understand FC Barcelona's relationship to Barcelona and Catalonia today? To date, there has been little academic inquiry into the identity-related role of FC Barcelona in post-authoritarian Spain. In what ways has the club's role in local politics changed? Sobreques suggests that under democracy, Catalans "express themselves through political parties, democratic associations and a million civic organizations" rather than football (2004). Here, I argue the contrary--that FC Barcelona continues to be deeply implicated in the politics of place and the social construction of place-based identities in Barcelona and Catalonia.

Highlighting the role of place, this article explores the depoliticization and re-politicization of FC Barcelona along nationalist tropes in the 30 years following the fall of authoritarianism in 1975. The relationship between FC Barcelona, Barcelona and Catalonia is complex and dynamic. This article is concerned with how the narrative of that relationship has changed under different club presidents since the fall of the Fascist regime. Sport is not a simple reflection of identity politics, but is itself implicated in how identities are socially constructed. This becomes clear when looking at FC Barcelona and the narratives of place advanced by the club leadership and sport tabloid media from 1975-2005.

Elsewhere, I discuss the historical development of FC Barcelona as national/banal/invented tradition (Shobe forthcoming) and its role in facilitating mass and popular connections to Catalonia during the periods of dictatorship in Spain (1923-30 and 1939-75). Here the focus is on how contemporary club officials have discursively rejected or embraced these connections. Specifically, I look at how the nationalist and place-based role of the club has been alternatively depoliticized by Josep Lluis Nunez (1978-2000) and Joan Gaspart (2000-03) and strongly re-politicized by Joan Laporta (2003-present). …

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