I went to the most beautiful place in the world for the first time last week. This post isn’t a match report, although the Atletico game merits discussion. Nor is it a loving paean to Camp Nou, although I could most certainly go on (and on) about its majesty.
Instead, let’s talk about what it means to be a fan, and what it takes to be a member.
If you’re not up to speed on the latest developments in membership policy, Isaiah covered the most recent changes recently. In summary, the new policies are slightly less restrictive than the ones first announced by Rosell when he was elected, but the bias against non-local fans remains firmly in place.
Don’t agree? You can now pay €125 a year for 3 years in order to (possibly, if you’re lucky) earn the right to become a member, but only if you show up at Camp Nou in person to apply. My permanent residence is some 19,000 kilometers (or 12,000 miles) away from Camp Nou, so that bit poses a little difficulty.
But back to my trip. The chance to study in London for a year also provided me with the opportunity to finally visit Camp Nou. I’m treating it as a once-in-a-lifetime deal, because who knows when I’ll be able to do it again?
And dear reader, it was a wonderful experience. Every fan not fortunate enough to be born in close proximity to the club of their heart should get to watch their team in the flesh at least once, as a reward for all those days and nights spent watching your team play at the most awkward hours, and learning to navigate the culture, politics and language of another country in order to become a ‘better’ fan.
tant se val d’on venim, (no matter where we come from,)
si del sud o del nord, (be it south or north,)
ara estem d’acord, estem d’acord, (now we all agree, we all agree,)
una bandera ens agermana. (a flag unites us in brotherhood.)
Which brings me to my topic of discussion. What makes a fan worthy of being a member? Or, to flip this question around, what makes restrictions on membership, aimed at narrowing the base, permissible? Let’s look at the main justifications put forward by the main proponents, including our current president.
1) Every member must have the right to watch games at Camp Nou. Therefore membership numbers must not exceed the number of seats.
I went to one of the biggest games of the season. It wasn’t sold out. The ugly truth is that right now we can’t fill our magnificent stadium for 95% of our games, even though the football on offer is wonderful; even though prices are lower than at many Premier League grounds.
Yes, there’s currently not enough season tickets to go around, but the demand is hardly coming from foreign fans, who can maybe make it to one game a year if they’re lucky. In fact, for some of us, membership is a purely symbolic status from which we would derive little practical benefit. But the status itself is still important.
2) The dilution of Catalan identity.
We have already 3.000-4.000 Japanese club members, which is good but one day we could have 50.000. Or 50.000 Chinese or 50.000 Russians, it’s the same. And those 50.000 Russians could one day decide that the president of Barça would be a Russian. He should have his legal residence in Catalonia, but that’s easy. – Sandro Rosell
I hate to belabour the obvious, but this is ridiculous. Let’s break it down.
- So what if we end up with 50,000 Chinese members? Membership is a symbolic (and financial) commitment. Fans don’t apply to become members on a whim. You can bet your bottom dollar every single one of those 4000 Japanese members knows every word of Cant del Barca and probably backwards too. Maybe that’s a flippant way of introducing it, but the more serious point I’m trying to make is this: the fandom of foreign Cules is based upon the entirety of Barca’s identity. They’re not just in it for the superstar players. You only have to look at the number of fans who are trying to master Spanish/Catalan because of their allegiance to Barca to see that.
- We’re being asked to swallow the logic that a Chinese fan would vote for a Chinese candidate for president, regardless of policy positions. This is dubious at best, but as it’s a mere far-off hypothetical, we’ll leave it and move on.
- So what if a Russian-born person became president? As long as they have a sufficient connection to Barca, what does it matter where they were originally from? Rosell knows full well – or he should – that the appointment of Swiss, English and German presidents hasn’t bought the sky down in the past. Let’s not forget who our founder was.
Scaremongering aside, the dilution of Catalan identity is an entirely valid concern. As I’ve previously argued, tradition is the life blood of football clubs. Barca is not Barca without its sense of locality and history, which is closely entwined with the history of Catalunya. This is reflected in the prominence afforded to the Catalan connection in the literature put out by the club.
The number of club members from outside of Catalonia and Spain is increasing daily, and the club wants to respond to that show of passion for Barça. – fcbarcelona.com
However, the second key value loudly promoted by Barca in its advertising (and indeed in the Museum itself) is that of universality, reflected in the club’s outreach and charity work. Of course, no club is fully universal – that would defeat the point, identity-wise, but most of the so-called elite aren’t fully local either, Athletic Bilbao aside.
Does Barca want to be like Athletic? A great club, but let’s be blunt about the consequences of complete commitment to a localized identity. It means losing the ability to compete with others who aim for universality. It also means a betrayal of one important aspect of Barca tradition. I mentioned Joan Gamper above, a man who is a powerful reminder that the club’s identity has always had a cosmopolitan streak to it. At its best, the club has a powerful sense of localized identity while being open to new ideas and different cultures. The crucial historical influence of English and Dutch managers and players are good examples.
Most of the big names are a mixture of the local and the universal these days. Every club has to find a space on the spectrum that suits it, which enables them to preserve their identity and grow at the same time, integrating new fans into the fold without diluting what it means to be a fan.
Barca belongs to the family of four I met on the metro, who only get to go to a few games every season. It belongs to the little old ladies sitting behind the south goal who helped me find my seat, and to the passionate fans standing in the tier under ours who never stopped making noise all game. I’d like to think it has a place for those who stay up until 5 in the morning to watch games live from 10,000 kilometers away. I hope it has a place for someone like me.
Note: I recognise that this is an issue on which reasonable people may disagree. Hence the title, because this is me arguing my side.