Today has been an interesting day in club news, and not because of anything on the pitch. Reports came out today from Catalunya Radio, that were expanded upon by ARA.cat, linking club president Sandro Rosell with a released 2010 document that alleges to be evidence of a pact between the club and various supporters’ groups, prior to his election. This is video from 2010 of Rosell categorically denying that any such thing existed, when the rumors first popped up:
Those skeptical of such denials wonder about the powerful voting bloc presented by the support of strong groups of club supporters, many of whom are also socis, and what that could mean to someone running for president.
But let’s begin at the beginning.
The Camp Nou can be a quiet place, for many reasons: it is immense; the supporters understand the beautiful game, and prefer to watch it like a symphony or jazz concert, cooing in appreciation of a lovely solo. People have wondered why Barça, the best team in the world, doesn’t also have the loudest fans in the world.
To that end, the club proposed a Grada Jove, or youth section. This later became the Grada d’Animacio. This was to be a designated section of supporters, who would chant, scream, howl and generally bring life to the sometimes church-like proceedings. But there were problems with this plan with the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Barcelona police, who said that the Grada Jove would be a most excellent way for groups of ultras, such as the Boixos Nois, to regain access to the Camp Nou, after past president Joan Laporta fought tooth and nail, up to and including death threats to him and his family, to get these people out of the Camp.
Subsequently the club proceeded with the Grada d’Animacio, where groups of devoted fans (1,400 of them), aided by reduced-price tickets, would be able to fire up the crowd and show their love for the team and its players. The club vowed to work with the Mossos to ensure that appropriate security measures were in place, and that no banned groups or supporters would be able to enter the Camp. These efforts, aimed at denying access to a group of previously banned persons, would include frisking and fingerprint checks.
Then came the flare incident at the Copa del Reig semi-final match, in which a lit flare was hurled at a Real Madrid fans section. The club said it was a single flare, etc, etc, those responsible were being sought in conjunction with the Mossos. As this video shows, the reality of the situation is a bit more complex:
To its credit, the club, at the same press conference during which Rosell announced his unconditional support for Tito Vilanova, also announced the end of the Gradas. This is a very good thing.
Those who follow me and others such as Lee Roden and Albert Limos on Twitter, will already know that we didn’t like that the board didn’t seem to show any contrition in this matter and that further, members said it was somehow approved by the players.
As blitzen and others pointed out, when you ask the players if they would like a vocal group of supporters to have access to matches, they would undoubtedly have said “You bet!” But the fullness of the situation, and the looming specter of hooligan groups, would have certainly elicited a very different response.
So. Dead Gradas, but matters weren’t ended. Today came the bombshells from various Catalan news agencies, that there was an accord in place with supporters clubs that included the Boixos Nois as well as the following groups: “Tóxicos,” “ICS,” “Taliban Barça,” “Grup Fidel,” “Nostra ensenya,” “Unibarçataris,” “Almogàvers” and “Supporters Puyol.”
No, all of these groups are not the typical ultra group. Even the Boixos are not universally the way that they are portrayed, to be absolutely clear about this. Hell, even the word “ultra” has come to mean “violent, racist fiends from hell,” when in reality it also denotes ultra-devoted supporters of a football club. But it is without question that nobody, and I mean NOBODY, considers the return of groups that have the potential to upset the calm, family friendly environment at the Camp to be a good thing. The flare incident, irrespective of who was in fact responsible (the investigation is still ongoing), was a very bad sign as part of a new project. And the club did the right thing.
But today’s news reports via Catalunya Radio are potentially explosive, particularly considering Rosell’s previous denials of such things during the presidential debates when he was running for election. The story is, obviously, still developing, but we wanted to present you with what we know so far.
Reaction from some of the supporters’ groups named in the Catalunya Radio report has been swift: Many of those groups, who make themselves known by congregating behind the south goal at the Camp, leading chants and being devoted supporters in their own, impromptu Grada d’Animacio, announced today that they are on strike until the end of the season and will only do their thing at the Milan match.
These groups of supporters feel like the club isn’t supporting the honest fans who just want to come out and support Barça, bang drums, blow horns and lead chants, in allowing them to be tarred as flare-throwing hooligans.
The Boixos Nois also issued their own statement in which the group denies any agreement with the club or involvement in the flare incident, and that people could claim to be anything, including a member of the Boixos, as they wreak havoc. The group also asserts that efforts to besmirch their name come from the hands of those in league with Joan Laporta.
And that is where we are.
What does this mean for cules, not only in Barcelona but internationally? Nothing and everything. For me, return of groups of ultras (using the term in the negative sense) to the Camp Nou, whatever names they might have is, as a black supporter of Barça who loves attending matches and appreciates that Laporta’s efforts made it safe for everyone to enjoy matches at the Camp Nou, distressing in the extreme.
As a cule and soci, the return of such groups means that the club has not only sold its soul for money, but is potentially about to lose it. It isn’t something that makes any part of me happy.
It also raises potential questions of governance, deals that might or might not have been made and a club that isn’t anything approaching transparent, which was one of the major promises made by Rosell as he was running for office as the anti-Laporta. Things have happened during this current presidency that I most vehemently don’t agree with, including the sale of the shirt to a group that ultimately led to the club’s first full-time corporate sponsor.
But that is all big-picture stuff that is significantly more distressing to me than a few matches lost. Allegations are flying, denials are being issued and nobody knows really WHAT is going on, except that something happened. It’s either as simple as a flare being thrown, or a bomb being dropped.