The calm but eerie silence under which Barcelona played out their 3-0 win over Las Palmas was a complete juxtaposition to the chaos and turmoil outside the confines of the Camp Nou.
Avid football fans could hear every kick and scream on the pitch, and the world could hear every kick and scream on the streets of Barcelona and beyond, as police clashed with those seeking to cast a vote in a Catalonian independence referendum.
While they say sport and politics don't mix, for a club like the Blaugrana it has always been a factor. They wanted to postpone the game on what was a monumental day for the people of Catalonia due to safety concerns. Given the scenes of blood and brutality beamed worldwide from polling stations in the region, it seemed a reasonable request.
Not only did LFP deny the appeal, they told Barcelona that not only would they automatically lose if they refused to play, but would be docked an extra three points. And though the match went ahead without fans, Barcelona didn’t suffer from a sporting perspective.
What does stink of politicking – or at least hypocrisy – is La Liga’s decision to later allow Gimnastic and Barcelona’s B side to cancel their encounter, as if imposing a punishment on the football team for the actions of those who they represent.
League president Javier Tebas has done little to endear himself to Barca fans in the past, accusing players of play-acting after projectiles were hurled at them from the crowd during last year’s 3-2 win at Valencia. He also stated last year that they and Espanyol will not be allowed back in to the league should a legal vote for independence take place. His unreserved love for Real Madrid and a recent twitter profile picture change to a heart of the Spanish and Catalonian flags show where his allegiances may lie.
What is clear is that the club do care. Their pre-match statement was one of condemnation for the actions of the state and support for the people of Catalonia to express their views, whether they want independence or not. Ahead of kick-off, the players emerged from the tunnel sporting a kit in the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag, before reverting to their more familiar burgundy and blue.
Throughout, the scoreboard periodically flashed the words “Democracia”. Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique both took to social media to announce they had placed a vote, with the latter tearing up in his post-match press conference and saying: “I am Catalan and I feel very Catalan today. I am proud of the people of Catalonia.”
Former Barcelona President Joan Laporta once headed a pro-secession political party called “Democracia Catalana”. He took to Twitter to say: "Playing the game behind closed doors is to be an accomplice of those who impede the peaceful exercise of democratic rights and freedoms."
The subsequent exodus at board level suggests many agree. But in many ways the image of the 99,000-seater stadium without a soul in a seat sent a more powerful message.
Barcelona’s match being postponed would have been a footnote with the violence at polling stations rightly capturing most of the media spotlight. Few are talking about Lionel Messi's magical goals, Luis Suarez's dismal form or Andres Iniesta's hamstring injury as politics invades the back pages.
It provides a telling reminder of how intertwined the club and is with its people. To deal a blow to the Blaugrana is to deal a blow to Catalonia. Though the club has always held a neutral stance in this matter, it has been a vehicle for the advertisement of the pro-independence movement for some time.
At every home match swathes of Catalan flags engulf the stands and those with a keen ear can hear the chants of “in - inde – independencia” cry out around 17 minutes and 14 seconds into a game - a reference to the fall of Barcelona when Catalonia became part of Spain in 1714. Despite their increasingly global outlook, never has Barcelona's motto ‘mes que un club’ been more accurate.
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