Instantaneously, as I arrive in the Spanish city of Barcelona, it is a captivating, welcoming place to be. Lush greenery lines the contrasting stone grey streets which whizz by whilst the glowing amber remnants of the spring sun disappear altogether from the horizon as my over friendly Taxi driver, transferring me from the airport to the hotel, takes zero notice of the speed limit whatsoever.
There seems to be a lack of Catalan citizens and tourists to fill these relaxed streets however; yet it is for a very obvious reason.
Satisfying my curiosity, the Taxi driver explains, in fluent Spanish, that Barcelona are beating Milan 3-1 at the Camp Nou in the Champions League quarter-final second leg. The excited tone in his voice confirms him to be a Barcelona fan, delighted that Messi’s penalty brace and Iniesta’s short range caress are sending his team through to the next round, overcoming the stubborn Milan in the process. I try to make sense of the cab’s radio, but can only pick out “Pique”, “Messi” or the odd “Fabrégas” mentioned amongst the jumbled adjectives and ecstatic commentary.
The driver is far from alone in his support: the ground floor of my hotel, albeit empty, has the final stages of the match proudly broadcasting from a television on the wall, making the familiar style of pass and move, near faultless football unmissable. I have already spotted one or two maroon and blue striped shirts in the dark as I briefly explore the deserted concrete maze. A simple late night café, almost predictably, has a poster of the world’s greatest club side pinned to the wall. Messi, Xavi, Puyol and colleagues look on, and in doing so prove that Pep Guardiola’s side mean much more to this city than I had ever expected.
In my first experience of a Catalan morning, I see adjacent from my hotel room a number of rooftop football pitches, with wire mesh acting as a barrier stopping any rogue passes in their tracks; not that they are often needed of course, given the on the floor, tiki-taka style of play that is the religion here, practiced and perfected day in, day out by all ages-Barça of course, are the role models for such interpretation of the game. La Masia (the youth system), obviously promotes and plays this style of football; there are 12 youth teams in all: 10 male and 2 female, plus Barça B who play in the Spanish second tier.
Unsurprisingly, a local Catalunya newspaper, el Periódico, freshly laid out in the hotel’s reception has dedicated the first 7 of it’s pages to Barcelona’s win at the Nou Camp, prioritising the 90 minutes over any politics or economics. The text bombards the reader with reviews, statistics, player ratings and (naturally) heavily biased opinions. “El Barca tumba al Milan,” it reads. “Quinta semifinal consecutiva en la Champions“.
In the congested city centre, countless stalls sell unofficial merchandise, Catalan coloured confectionary fills boxes in the market and Barcelona crests are emblazoned on flags which hang proudly from the balconies of flats. Shirts, jackets and scarves are never far from sight and various other newspapers, both of the city and nationally continue the Spanish media’s trend: the front pages are either decorated with a triumphant Cesc with his arm around Messi or a huddle of celebratory Barça players. A moderately busy restaurant I enter at lunchtime has a treasured banner in the window reading: “Campions, 08/09, Copa Liga Champions“-it is signed by the whole team from Guardiola’s incredible debut season in charge. Several disgruntled Milan fans, giving oblivious Barça fans a glare, are dotted about, their attention now turned to the numerous tourist attractions around the city.
It’s fairly clear why the club has such a communal connection not only with the people of *Catalonia*, but with a fan base of millions around the world that grows by the day. Watching Barça TV in my hotel room made it clear to me why this is. The engrossing channel primarily focuses on the football club’s past and present success, however as many of you will know, Barcelona is not only a football team; there are no less than 15 sports teams overall included in the club (4 professional sections and 8 non-professional) , like basketball, handball or futsal for example, therefore including many more sports fans in their worldwide followers than most other clubs ever could. The channel shows that Barcelona, in addition, help children with disabilities partake in sport, is involved in democracy, and has teamed up with Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, to create the *Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation*, who’s aim is to help eradicate Polio across the globe. Gates explains that no other club has the same “passion for social issues like Barça“.
The most notable example of said involvements is the partnership with Unicef signed in 2006, expanding Barça’s work and image to even more locations around the globe. However, the official guide I picked up states that the FC Barcelona Foundation promotes “solidarity based on sport but fostering values and education“, an objective that the club works with children and young people to achieve.