Change and discovery

What will happen when everything is different?

Supporting a football club is a weird thing, when you really think about it. We gather as a collective, no matter the time zone, to watch the exploits of a football club to which most of us have a tenuous connection in every aspect except the heart. Some don’t even have that, but are there in support of a player.

The difference between being a Barça supporter and being culer exists for some. For others, all supporters are culers. It depends. For some, being culer is that weird state of being all in, of suddenly having it all matter to a distressing degree — worrying about presidents, and budgets, and board comings and goings, and club actions and worry about the future, of youngsters capering about and what they mean for the future of the team. It’s strange.

As we gather, we have come to the club at different times and for different reasons. Some of us go back to that Rivaldo chilena. Others go back to the first treble. Still others are more recent, while others have grown up with the club. The difference — the personal difference — between being culer and a supporter was clear for me in 2007, the last year of Frank Rijkaard.

Barcelona Football Blog was Offside Barcelona then, and the blogging game was still relatively new. Making my first trip to Barcelona for an extended stay gave me occasion to meet up with a reader of the blog and a man with whom many a set-to over Thierry Henry ensued, a fellow named Genis. He told me the best apartment to choose, and said that when my wife and I got there, to look him up and we would tour the city, a view through his eyes.

Genis had been a soci for decades, long before I even knew that soccer existed. And we toured. Had food, argued some more about Henry, and learned. He bought me caganers and we learned about Caga Tio. We learned about that crappy-looking, pockmarked wall that wasn’t, as Genis explained about Plaça Sant Felip Neri and what it meant.

As our tour was winding up, he asked what we were going to do with the rest of our stay. “Oh, probably visit Montjuic and stuff,” I said. Genis and his mother exchanged a glance, then silence. He said, “We don’t go there.” And that was that. It seemed odd, but being a history devotee, off my wife and I went.

Above the main entrance of the castle courtyard that day was a splash of red paint, which struck my wife and I as odd. As we entered the castle, strolling down this corridor to access the grounds, a feeling that is difficult to explain, even now, came over me, as though this was a place I shouldn’t be. The tears came, and it became impossible to proceed. We wound up leaving, not getting much farther than that corridor.

Some research into the history of Montjuic explained some of that feeling, one that my wife said she felt while visiting a prison in Northern Ireland, that feeling that horrible things had happened at a place, history that was still there, like a fabric rent just enough to let an ill wind through.

It was on that day, on that trip, that I transitioned from a supporter and relatively new soci to a culer. The club suddenly mattered to me more than any player ever could, and everything changed. Walking around the city, there were Ronaldinho shirts galore, as he was still the magic man, even as night life and poor habits conspired to make him mortal.

Messi wasn’t Messi then, and the team was conspiring to find ways to lose, ways to screw up and squander a championship battle that it really had not much right to be fighting for, even as those of us believed until the math called us liars, dashed our hope even as we were only getting a listtle taste of winning, of a team that had a Liga and a Champions League in its recent past, times of wonder after years of futility. It all seemed so amazing.

And then came Guardiola, Messi became Messi, and everything was different.

What will happen when Messi leaves? What will the club mean to people? Many supporters, when their icon is gone, will stop supporting Barça and move on. Others will discover that the club has their soul, that it doesn’t matter who dons the shirt because it’s that blaugrana that makes their heart beat a little faster. We can revere and respect the players and coaches for what they do, and understand how great Messi is. And even as the Camp Nou will seem a little more quiet, significantly less dusted with the possibility of magic in his absence, that love for Barça will remain.

You won’t know it until it happens, that transition from supporter to culer to crazy. But Barça is a beautiful thing. You look past the board you wouldn’t trust as far as you can throw it, the one that even as it does so many of the right things, still earns sideeye. You look past warring supporter factions on social media, past cadres of people who have decided that x or y player is a toxin. And you look past that because at some point, all you see is blaugrana. And your soul stirs with passion.

Being culer is a state of grace, a blessing and a curse. It isn’t casual. Even as we say “It’s just a game,” it isn’t. A loss can ruin a weekend, a win makes one better. And we’re all in this together.

Sometimes it’s easy to look askance at people who criticize the club, and they do it for various reasons. It’s trendy, a big Twitter account has planted seeds. But there are those, culer to the core, who bring to mind the James Baldwin quote that explains so much:

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

29 Comments

  1. raj
    January 24, 2017

    Thanks for this Kevin.
    This is exactly what I wonder these days – what next after Messi and Ini? What next after the ‘Barcelona way’, because of which I started following the team in 2010? Will I be able to tolerate a Barca team which plays like a Chelsea or Athletico, because winning is everything?

    The big picture for me is that the club isn’t making enough efforts to breed players like Iniesta and Xavi, even as they are once in a generation kind. Well, you sell all the Thiagos and demote Sampers, bring in Lucho’s and Rakitic’s. You glorify the MSN (as good as they are) and reduce the midfield to a support function, what you get is anything but a ‘systematic, control-based, triangles-making’ team.

    Saying that the game changed or the opposition ‘figured out’ tiki-taka doesn’t convince me. Its not like what we are trying to do now is black magic. You make a decision on your philosophy of play and stick by it. You build your team on that philosophy and grow/ buy your players who suit the bill. That is what a football club is, for me.

    Winning anyway you can sounds like the motto of a profit-making multinational company.

    The big picture is that whoever is in charge is not realizing that Iniesta and Messi are bailing out this team. We will probably win something this season and the next. We will probably continue winning later as well. But how? That is the question I ask when I support a club.

    So yes, given how things stands, my support for this team will end with the careers of these two great players. I have always looked beyond institutions, into what the purpose for their existence is. In that sense, Barca the club is nothing to me if not the team it sends out to play and when that team isn’t good enough, so goes the club.

    I understand a club standing for a cause, other than football and that is reasonable enough. However, I don’t understand when someone is a die-hard fan of a club ‘no-matter-what’, even when their fav. player moves on, the style or system is no more, ethics are corrupted, owners and stadiums change etc. What exactly are you supporting, a flag?
    A club has to stand for something – a cause, a style of play (like Barca), or a history (like RM), or it maybe be your local club, something that sticks you know..

    • January 24, 2017

      Interesting thoughts. For me, I think the club is doing what it can, but the odds of lightning striking twice are infinitesimal. There are players in the system such as Alena, and Xavi Simons at the next level down who show promise, but things are significantly more complex than that for me as regards hewing to a notion of football.

      The football that Guardiola played, the avatar that so many cherish, was a tactical twist to the Barça style, which is attacking, possession football. It’s particularly interesting if you look at how similarly both treble teams — Guardiola and Luis Enrique — played. Aggressive and versatile. The question for me will always be whether the Guardiola style became “pure” because of personnel. Note that he played a different way at Bayern, more aggressive and wing-based, again based on personnel.

      I can’t resent the team for adapting. But it sticks to its philosophy of possession-based, attacking football. That is laudable.

      But the Barça supporter base will shrink significantly when Messi leaves. And that’s okay. It’s part of what happens. I just think that there is a misunderstanding about “Barça football” and what that entails. Guardiola was a tactic. So is Luis Enrique. So was Rijkaard. All three hewed to the notion of “Barça football.”

      For me, the club is the club. I have said before that Barça is what I support. I understand that respect that others are different. Passion is something that you can have for an institution, just as you can for a person. For me, my passion is Barça, just like so many other long-time socis who stick with the club because that is what they know and love. Players come and go, but a club is eternal, even if the people who support it come and go, like players. It’s all part of life.

      • raj
        January 24, 2017

        Well, that’s new for me. Thanks.
        Because I’ve always viewed institutions as a means to collect groups of people towards a cause. Aren’t countries and institutions made up of people? The more people there are, the more messy and chaotic everything is. Many times even disastrous. The reason I will not be a ‘Barca the club’ fan is same as the reason I will never call myself patriotic, these structures called institutions (or nations at extreme) are mainly paper and politics. I don’t see inherent value in them, only practicality and convenience. At best, kind-of tools towards some virtuous goal. And I only use and respect tools. Does one feel ‘passionate’ about MS Excel?

        What more, I think that all the add-ons like anthems, flags and common colors etc are essentially fancy packaging to promote this notion that an institution is more than a tool.
        Full disclosure, I do have my Barca tee’s and key-chains and somehow, pride on them.

        So my big question, I guess Kevin, is, “In short, what exactly do you feel passionate about when we talk about the club Barca? What is the essence in simple (or even sophisticated) words?”
        I am genuinely curious to understand this perspective. More philosophically than narrowly in Barca context. Because, as for patriotic people – I don’t have much respect for, unless there is proof enough that they are not sheep in the herd.

        PS: I know people feel strongly about being Culer here, so please take the above as my opinion only, not a statement of fact.

        • January 24, 2017

          Good points, Raj. What I react to when I think of Barça is — yes — the institution, that thing founded by the Swiss-turned-Catalan businessman, the history and the affection that a people have for their club.

          As I learned more about the club and its history, the enterprise did become rather political for me, not in the sense of nation/states but in the sense of being a singular entity, from the Camp Nou being the only place, for too long, that people could speak Catalan to the club’s modern progression from local cottage industry to global enterprise, propelled by bookends as unlikely as an irascible Dutchman, a flamboyant Brazilian and an otherworldly Argentine.

          The team is a part of that club, a whole that I support even beyond my rather narrow sporting interests. So it makes me happy when the hockey or basketball teams do well, when they beat RM in their own Classics. I love watching Barça TV and seeing the talented youngsters laying waste to opponents like their adult-sized counterparts.

          Even after many Camp Nou tours, I still get the same goosebumpy tingle when arriving at pitch level, still the same feeling when sitting in a seat at the Camp Nou and bellowing the hymn along with everyone else. In some way it is political, and tribal, as sport often is.

          I don’t wear Barça regalia as often as I used to, which is something of an odd rite of passage mirrored in the longtime season ticket holders and socis who go to matches, and you would only know what team they support by talking to them. At some point you carry something inside.

          … if ANY of that makes sense! And I hope it does.

        • georgjorge
          January 24, 2017

          At an analytical level, I totally agree with you. Institutions survive because they are practical solutions to certain problems – or tools – and nation-states do that on a big scale. However, the huge majority of human interaction doesn’t take place on an analytical level.

          So like anything having to do with humans, things become weird and diffuse. I wouldn’t dream of calling myself a patriot to my country, let alone a nationalist, yet when I take a two-week trip to a neighbouring country by car and then come back and cross the border into my own country, I feel a strange feeling of belonging and attachment. Maybe – as with supporting Barca – it’s mostly a matter of coming back to something you know, something stable. Whatever it is, I don’t think a purely rational or analytical approach can tell us everything here.

          • georgjorge
            January 24, 2017

            That was meant as a reply to Raj, by the way.

            • raj
              January 25, 2017

              Thanks to both of you. Great points.

              Gerogejorge – You are right. Reason and logic isn’t always the answer. But in case of institutional structures, I’ve trained myself in those terms despite my instincts to be emotionally attached (I still am in many cases but regard it as nostalgia). The reason is that you can be easily betrayed by the people in charge of the institutes and I don’t like other people controlling how I feel.
              I am feel strongly towards whatever principles I am prepared to understand/ believe but never the institutes which claim to promote them (consistently).

              Kevin – I get you. Thanks for taking the pain of associating words to those intimate feelings.

  2. georgjorge
    January 24, 2017

    For me, it was the beauty of the triangles in the first year of Guardiola. Messi was and is of course a genius, but what got me was the goal of – as I think about it – anti-football. Trying to take the core values of fight, emotion, and charging forward out of the game, and replacing them with calm and controlled passing, thus keeping possession forever. It seemed radically new, and very beautiful.

    I can’t say for sure whether I will continue supporting Barca for decades, long after Messi and especially Iniesta have gone. I just know I have both enjoyed them immensely and lost quite a bit of weight from nervousness during those last eight years, and that the Camp Nou is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

  3. Davour
    January 24, 2017

    Being a fan from afar is a strange thing. If you do not live in the city, you do not attend games, you have no ties… what is it that makes you remain a faithful? I was an AC Milan fan once upon a time, largely due to the flying Dutchmen, in particular Van Basten. These days? Hardly, and it’s been a while. As I grew older and became aware of Berlusconi, It was hard to muster; combine that with a team in disarray, awful to watch, and in a league with diminished appeal – I guess interest simply waned (other things were prioritised during the wild years of Uni). I also supported Liverpool once, and for a while, Newcastle.

    But Barca has been the constant in all this, with various degrees of intensity, must be admitted. I came to the club because of Michael Laudrup, the Danish magician. And it seems to me there has been a renewal of magic throughout the years; Barca is a club that attracts these players – Stoichkov, Romario, Ronaldo, Figo, Rivaldo (though I never took to him), Ronaldinho, and now Neymar. Messi is different due to the early age at which he arrived at the club. I hope that Kxevin and others are wrong in their predictions that Neymar will leave, as he would be the one shouldering this tradition. But there will be more – Barca has been playing great football for a very long time. There will surely be a post-Messiniesta depression, but isn’t renewal, new adventures and challenges what really shapes your relationship? I hope I survive it.

    To me, being a fan from afar can only really work if you follow the team through phases, and experience the joy of winning following times of hardship. I will admit that Guardiola’s team (combined with life situation) took my interest to a new level, but for me, you are not a fan unless you stick around for while (no value in this, just descriptive; it’s whatever you want to get out of it – pure entertainment, or a relationship!).

    • January 24, 2017

      Ha! Davour and I arrived at the club around the same time. Empirical evidence points towards 1988 for my Barça fandom to begin, which was the year Cruijff returned to coach the team, but my earliest memory as a Barça fan was watching them lose the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup in 1991. I still remember vividly Mark Hughes’ goal against us (though I didn’t know – or don’t remember knowing – it was a revenge goal of sorts since he failed as a Barça striker some years before).

    • January 24, 2017

      Davour, I too hope I am wrong about Neymar leaving. It would suck to have him roasting our FBs instead of doing the roasting for us.

      My most sincere hope is that the next Barça coach assures him that it will be his show to run someday soon, that he will unleashed as the classic Brazilian 10 that other suitors will promise him they will allow him to be.

  4. luisthebeast
    January 24, 2017

    I believe that if Lucho had Alves at his best years,Xavi at his best and a younger Iniesta in this squad he would be a genius like Guardiola.People and Journalists try so hard to convince fans that there are some semi god managers that can make an average team do wonders.Ranieri won PL and now try to avoid relegation.Mou did wonder with Porto and after that he went to teams with endless money.He won some titles.Yeah.So?Guardiola had the best players a Barca coach ever had and the he did go to a Bayern team,already a great team.Now they say,Tuchel or Sampaoli.Both of them found ready already good teams.Yes maybe some managers are better in some areas but the truth is for me one:Football is 15% the coach and 85% the players.Today a good coach is him that can convince young millionaires to try harder in every game and sacrifice themselfs for the team.They all know all the tactics,there are not secrets and magic in coaching.

  5. Messiah10
    January 25, 2017

    Excellent Kxevin. Great quote as well.

  6. dl
    January 25, 2017

    I think I’m in the ‘Raj/Davour’ camp in this one. I’m highly skeptical of institutions, nations, etc., particularly when I have no real connection to it. Here I am, based in the US, and I find myself identifying with some organization on the other side of the world, with a long and complicated history all tied up in various political battles, the tool of factions constantly indulging in silly internecine feuds, etc etc? On the face of it one can see how utterly silly that is..
    Barca, for me, is quite literally a mental construct — I have selected a variety of notions about it that appeal to me and built something out of it that pleases me. It’s all a fantasy.
    The football, on the other hand, is a different story. I have said before that I am a ‘fan’ of beauty and magic, and it doesn’t really matter to me where I find it. Whether it is painting, architecture, music of whatever genre, literature, performance art (in which category I place barca, by the way), whatever, it entrances me. It is to my mind a reflection of God, and I stop to rejoice in it, knowing that nothing in this world lasts. Nothing. Including Barca. So, I strive for pure enjoyment, and no attachment.

  7. realdox
    January 25, 2017

    I haven’t post here 4 a while now but I’m fond of quality , comprehensive article and good commenter of this space so i always took my time when reading kxevin article and to give credit where it due he has been doing a wonderful job here nd also those the way commenter like jim ,ogaoga,dar vinchi and lot of people i can’t be mentioning here bring out there point is really breathtaking.Actually I’m a distant fan and probably the youngest of you all here @ just 25yrs of age.my loves for barca team goes a long distance as far back as 2006 when i was intrigued and inspired by ronaldinho play against zaragoza ,then i was about to choose Chelsea during there FA cup final against arsenal in 06 because my brother was a die hard fan and has a young boy with little interest in club side football because have been watching NIGERIA national team then i nearly make mistake of choosing Chelsea ahead of barca but thank to ronaldinho magic i chose barca instead and since then my love for barca keep increasing to the point that i do get furious whenever will lose match and sometimes i may not be able to eat ..but i think have grown up now the only thing left is anger anytime we lose

    • Jim
      January 25, 2017

      Welcome and thanks for the comments, Realdox. I like to think this is a nice safe corner of the Internet to share our thoughts about Barca so hope to hear more from you in the future. I, too, came to Barca because of the magic of R10 but then visited the city and decided that Barcelona was something special all round.

  8. ciaran
    January 25, 2017

    For me it started with Hristo Stoichkov, then came lots of other magic players and some terrible ones but if you are a fan of the club then you have to take the good with the bad.
    Did I love Fabio Rochemback any less than I currently love Suarez? Probably not, even though I understand that he was never a really good player, he was still Barca.
    I remember the excitement of signing Vitor Baia way back when or Saviola was the new Maradona.
    Still, the excitement of this player or that was mostly just related to their time at Barca. I love this club and will make sure my son does the same. It’s part of me and even though football goes in cycles and at some stage we’ll be celebrating getting into Europe, I’ll still be there shouting for my club

  9. Hamid
    January 25, 2017

    I understand how some fans may feel let down when they look at the team’s performance in recent games and compare it to the “glory days”. What I don’t understand is that one can decide to stop supporting a team because a player will leave or because the team does not ALWAYS play a certain way.
    Truly supporting a team reaches beyond today’s and tomorrow’s players, coach and board. What you are mostly passionate about is the history, the legacy and the attempt (successful or failed) to preserve them. And this legacy did not start with Guardiola and will not stop with Messi.
    You don’t choose to become a culer. It just happens. And when it does, you forever waive the right to “control how you feel”. Moments of utter joy and moments of deep sorrow were yesterday brought to me by Romario, Stoichkov, Rivaldo, Henry, Eto’o, Deco, Ronaldinho and Xavi. Tooday, they are brought by Iniesta, Messi and Neymar and Suarez. I expect Denis Suarez, Rafinha, Gomes and Alcacer to do the same tomorrow.

    • untoxgsd
      January 26, 2017

      All the wins and all the streaks in the world dont really matter if at the end of the day you get out of a trophy race by January!! We must be really focused today! Long time reader Kevin, i really appreciate all the work you put in for this blog. I wish i was more grammaticaly inclined to help out but i think i’ll just stick with commenting every now and then!

  10. Davour
    January 26, 2017

    Well done, Celta! True to the nature of a Barca-fan I rejoice in RM’s loss, but am simultaneously worried this will free up energy for RM to focus on Liga and CL… I mean, what is life without looking on the downside of things?

    But no treble for them, at least!

    • georgjorge
      January 26, 2017

      By now, I strongly belief that if RM are no more than three points ahead of us before the Clásico, they will not win the league. They had a great run, but I don’t think they will replicate it again this season, while Barca is coming together more and more.
      Sevilla could still beat Barca to it of course, but that would actually be awesome.

  11. Gogah
    January 26, 2017

    ~
    My two (hundred) cents.

    While it is true that personalities are what captivates most of us, some of us fall in love with an idea. That idea loses its magic over time and also gets corrupted and we subsequently start to see it for what it really is. But we retain that feeling that drew us in the first time and hold on to it because the feeling was very real and most beautiful.

    It was July 2005, and I had just joined my undergraduate studies in Design. At that point, I was a semi pro basketballer and had probably watched, in all my life, a grand total of 2 minutes of football (probably michael owen highlights as my cuz was a liverpool fan) I knew nothing about football or its personalities.

    All it took was someone sharing a bunch of Nike freestyle videos of Ronaldinho.
    ​Th​at did it. ​
    For someone who always thought of football to be a limiting, magic-less game where one couldn’t use their most versatile instruments (hands), I saw this long haired brazilian dude doing the most atrocious things with his feet that most would find challenging to do with their hands and immediately started enquiring into who this guy was, and where he played.

    Almost exactly 10 years later, I took the biggest risk and gamble of my life and uprooted my life and planted it in the city of Barcelona, Long after this guy who drew me into football and Barcelona had left. Personalities come and go and when they do, it does feel like a part of your heart has fallen off never to return.

    In those 10 years between the first video of Ronnie i watched and the day i stepped in barcelona with bags packed ready to start a new life, I hadn’t missed many minutes of Barca football. ​But I was now living in the city that seemed like a distant mythical place. I watched epic games live, rallied on the streets with a million cules, fought with Madridistas, played football and poker and partied with many of the Barcelona players​ and had many other incredible experiences including a kickabout with messi and his teammates and a grocery shopping incident with puyol and shakira.

    ​IT is surreal to type the above lines casually. Just a few years ago i was an ordinary fan watching these guys on the tele.​ Now​,​ ​I​ don​’​t watch many matches. Mostly i don’t have time but more than that, I know exactly how much I love this club​ and where i stand​. ​One needn’t prove one’s fandom anymore. ​It is exactly like those friends you cannot stay in touch with, but can start immediately where you left off when you do meet them. the bond is there and strong.

    ​I started this post by saying we fall in love with an idea. While Ronaldinho was the hook and the infatuation, the idea became the love. The idea of Unicef. The idea of Cruyff. The idea of La masia and our commitment to attractive and possession based football. The idea of being good to our players. These things are unlikely to change all that much even as some of them go away. Would barcelona have ever treated her own Iker casillas or Raul ​in the manner EE did? Would another top competitive club treat an Abidal the way we did?

    How do we know when we love a club and not the players? We know it when we seek to know everything about the club. We know it when ​a player that we loved and worshipped fall from our eyes and attention when he leaves the club and puts on another shirt. We know it when players we don’t particularly like put on the shirt of the club we love and then proceed to immediately enjoy the most vociferous support from us. We adopt these guys. And we let them go. The only constant is the shirt. And the Club we love. Rosells may come and drag this club through crap. Guardiolas may come and give the club a heavenly aura​.

    But we know.
    The only constant is the shirt.
    And the love for it.​

  12. Jim
    January 26, 2017

    Just one word for us oldies. … Federer !

  13. georgjorge
    January 26, 2017

    Five goals against La Real? Incredible.

    Pretty composed game, and when things got turbulent and La Real scored, the team just scored another one or two to cancel it out. And three times by midfielders no less.

    • Davour
      January 26, 2017

      Yes, looking like we’re back to rebound-mode, responding instead of becoming nervous. Team looking confident; Messi sprinkling divine little moments without too much effort, Luis looking lethal, and Neymar – my word, he must love the club or Messi (most likely) or Lucho, judging from the work he puts in. This amazing player, who would be untouchable in ANY other team, runs and hassles and dribbles and creates and orders chaos to descend on defences. He told his father to forget the money; he wanted to play with Leo Messi. Understand the level of humility and respect this shows. People going on about him scoring must start watching his game.

      Denis is still sloppy at times, but is growing. Gomes is, however, immensely frustrating. He has these glimpses of great potential, and then he screws things up (caused first goal, but Jasper should have done better, too, undecided), slow in defence and attack. I still believe he could be pretty great, when (if) he finds his mojo and stops thinking.

      And I admit it: I liked Masche’s game today!

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