Sport Is Politics For 73-Year-Old FC Barcelona Fan

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Next weekend FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao will meet in Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium to play the final of the Copa del Rey, or King’s Cup, Spain’s national soccer championship. Named the Generalisimo’s Cup during the reign of dictator Francisco Franco, the cup has served as a kind of proxy for the Spanish political situation since it was first played in 1902. This year’s version is no different.

In his 73 years, Marti Dalmases has seen a lot of Barcelona soccer games at Camp Nou. Exactly how many? Well, that requires some thought.

Being a Barcelona fan is like a philosophy. It’s not a normal club. There are lots of people who sign up their child as a Barça member before they go to the registry to get the birth certificate.

Marti Dalmases, FC Barcelona fan

Dalmases is the president of the Casal de L’avi Barça, which roughly translates as "The Barça Grandpa’s House". Tucked into a few rooms at Camp Nou, the Casal is a clubhouse for retired fans who are paid up on their team dues. The walls are decorated with images of a Santa Claus like character in burgundy and blue tights: The Barça Grandpa. Around Dalmases, old members — called socios -- play cards and bang down dominos with the force, if not the finesse, of a Lionel Messi goal.

“Being a Barcelona fan is like a philosophy," Dalmases says. "It’s not a normal club. There are lots of people who sign up their child as a Barça member before they go to the registry to get the birth certificate.”

According to Dalmases, his father showed great restraint. He waited until Dalmases turned 7 before registering him as a paying fan, making him No. 909 of the 150,000 or so current members. During the Franco dictatorship, Dalmases grew up in Gracia, a town that was swallowed by Barcelona as it expanded. In an era before traffic jams and parking meters, he spent his days doing what all kids did: playing soccer in the streets.

Archrival Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are constantly competing for Spain's greatest club team. But for fans like Dalmases, Madrid represents something more than just a soccer team, Madrid represents the government. (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
For fans like Dalmases, Madrid represents something more than just a soccer team: it represents the government. (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

“I have experienced a lot of soccer. When I was little, in bad times — not to mention names --all there was was football.”

Dalmases eventually reached the youth squad of a nearby professional team, but soccer stardom was not in his future. So Dalmases learned his father’s trade as a leather goods sales rep, and became a professional Barça fan. During his years of intense fandom, he’s learned the essential truth of Spanish sports:

“In Spain, sports is politics, a lot of politics. And with so much politics, we want our enemy to lose no matter what, even if it’s unfair.”

The enemy Dalmases refers to is Real Madrid. For many fans in Barcelona’s region of Catalonia, where a good number of people want to secede from Spain, Real Madrid stands in for the hated central government and for Generalisimo Franco, who singled out Barcelona for heavy bombing during the civil war and banned the use of the local Catalan language after he won.

Having spent decades marinating in this cultural loathing, Dalmases hates Real Madrid so much he won’t even attend the games when they come to play Barcelona.

“My religion and my doctor don’t permit me to. I’m sorry. To say it in a nice way, here we believe that the official institutions still exert pressure in favor of Real Madrid.”

That brings us to the Copa del Rey. This year, the finalists are Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. The obvious place for the final would be Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, a huge venue in a neutral city. But as you might imagine, there were issues. When the same two teams played a Copa del Rey final in Valencia six years ago, Barcelona fans holding Catalan independence flags took advantage of the opportunity to voice their dislike of the royal family and other Madrid-based institutions, loudly. Dalmases was there, of course.

The Catalans won their last Spanish Cup in 2012. Barca has taken home the trophy a record 26 times. (Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Barca has taken home the King's Cup a record 26 times, last winning it in 2012. (Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

"It was all Catalan and Basque flags," Dalmases remembers, "and they whistled down the national anthem when the king and queen entered."

And so, when Barcelona and Athletic asked Real Madrid to borrow the Bernabéu for the 2012 final, Real said they couldn’t because the team was supposedly renovating the stadium bathrooms. When the teams asked again this year, Real Madrid didn't even bother to make up an excuse.

“They didn’t allow us, as they believe we’re foreigners."

Another big stadium in Madrid wasn’t available because AC/DC was scheduled to rock out there the same night, and locations in Valencia and Sevilla were deemed too small or far away. So the game ended up in Camp Nou. And, yes, Dalmases will be present.

"At the end, when the players go onto the field, everything else is forgotten. We’re going to win the game because it’s an important cup. Barcelona can win the three cups it’s playing this year."

And, he is quick to add, Real Madrid cannot win any.

This segment aired on May 23, 2015.



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