Catalonia’s derby takes toxic turn

2016 has begun with football and politics mixing again in Catalonia with unfortunate results — during three ‘derbi’ games packed with plenty of regretful incident on and off the pitch.

The first meeting finished at Espanyol’s Cornella-El Prat stadium on January 2 was a goalless draw marred by racist chants aimed at Barcelona forward Neymar and coach Luis Enrique.

Three days later, Barca won a Copa del Rey game 4-1 at the Camp Nou.

Visiting goalkeeper Pau Lopez stamped on blaugrana talisman Lionel Messi, and a post-game tunnel confrontation led to alleged instigator Luis Suarez being banned for two Copa games.

Last Wednesday’s return Copa game saw Barca seal a 6-1 aggregate victory, and was this time scarred by Espanyol fans insulting Barca defender Gerard Pique’s wife and son.

After the first leg, Pique had mocked an advertising slogan used recently to attract new Espanyol fans.

“They call themselves a ‘marvellous minority’,” he said then. “They cannot even fill their own stadium.”

The Spain international also tweeted a video of Espanyol fans singing abusive songs aimed at his wife Shakira and young son during the previous week’s La Liga game.

A supportive “Tots soms Pique” or “We are all Pique” banner was flown during Barca’s 4-0 home win over Granada on January 9.

Espanyol fans reacted with their own banner last Wednesday, which said “Shakira es de todos”.

In Spanish this means “Shakira belongs to us all”. It was widely and correctly interpreted as another insult.

“It was horrible,” Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau told local radio station RAC1. “There are certain macho cultural values that can generate macho violence.”

There had been lots of aggression shown, some from the Barca side, but mostly from Espanyol — who received 16 yellow cards and two reds over the three games.

In an extra surreal turn of events, authorities in Madrid are considering punishing Pique for his social media use, while none of the individuals holding up the banners or making the chants have been identified.

Espanyol president Joan Collet has also defended his fans against any claims of racism, saying the local media was biased against his side.

This sense of always being looked down on, along with Espanyol’s ‘marvellous minority’ idea, has deep roots.

Inside and outside the Camp Nou, many see FC Barcelona as a manifestation of Catalan identity.

This sense has increased recently amid growing support for Catalan independence from Spain.

Last weekend, Barca congratulated the region’s new ‘independista’ president Carles Puigdemont, with a tweet which was condemned by many conservatives in Madrid, including both Spain’s sports minister Miguel Cardenal and La Liga president Javier Tebas.

However, another banner on Wednesday night was a reminder that the situation is not so simple.

It said Espanyol were the real Catalan club in the city, calling Barca ‘Swiss’, as its founder was the Zurich-born Hans Kamper [more commonly known now as Joan Gamper].

There is also a class element to the debate. FC Barcelona was formed as a cosmopolitan club supported by the Catalan bourgeoisie — who owned and managed the factories which employed Español fans [and sometimes players] who had moved to Catalonia from elsewhere in Spain.

Barca were even known as ‘the foreigners’ in early, better mannered, jousting between the two sets of fans.

Espanyol have looked to ditch their ‘Spanish’ identity in recent years. In 1995, the club’s name was changed from ‘Español’ to the more Catalan-sounding ‘Espanyol’.

Even still, the smaller club are still viewed by some as a foreign presence in their own city.

This must not be difficult to take — and Barca’s regular successes in recent seasons can’t have made it any easier.

But no political or historical context excuses the behaviour of many Espanyol fans, directors, and players over recent weeks.


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