There is a match on the dirt field in front of the Sagrada Familia. It is 1915 and the image shows a goalkeeper catching the ball, with the temple half built in the background. Little data is preserved from that meeting, apart from the fact that it was the soccer field of the Club Deportivo Europa, and that the snapshot was taken by sports photographer Frederic Juandó Alegret. It is one of the graphic signs –beyond the founding dates of the clubs– that in Barcelona there have been people kicking a ball for more than a century, and that football has not only historically conditioned activity sports in the city, but has participated in its social, urban and political evolution.
Against modern football: this is how assembly clubs that reject sport as a business organize
“Football is part of the life of the city”, explains Joan Roca, director of the Museum of History of Barcelona. These days the MUHBA Oliva Artés, in the Poblenou neighborhood, exhibits the exhibition Barcelona and soccer. The great social game of the 20th century. A century recovered from photographs, sports clothing and clippings from the press of the moment.
The Club Deportivo Europa, together with FC Barcelona or Real Madrid –all of them born between the late 19th and early 20th centuries–, was one of the founders of the current Spanish football league, which began in the 1928-1929 season. and that, by the way, Barça conquered. In the Catalan capital, football came from the hand of English citizens with purchasing power, such as engineers or managers settled in the city.
Although its success seems later, in the 1920s this game already became a mass phenomenon, according to both Roca and Carles Viñas, historian and professor of Contemporary History at the University of Barcelona (UB). In addition, they add, it had the particularity that it was a sport practiced by both the wealthy classes and the most humble.
The neighborhood team, meeting point
Barcelona was growing, especially from the 60s, and in areas such as Guineueta, Zona Franca, Carmel, Nou Barris or Besòs, football made a gap between empty lots that were soon to be converted into large blocks of floors. The fields became a meeting point in these new neighborhoods for newcomers, most of whom came from areas such as Andalusia or Extremadura, places with less industrial projection than the Catalan capital. The first thing that many of the new neighbors did, the exhibition points out, was to visit the neighborhood team, which became a form of union, a feeling of belonging to a group, to some colors and a team to defend.
But the brick fever led not a few football clubs to have to abandon their field because the land had appreciated and the property had been sold to the highest bidder. Then, “when the team moved to another place, the neighbors lost this role of social cohesion,” says Roca. All this in neighborhoods where there was no excess equipment. It was then that the Barcelona City Council wanted to counter it. “In the 1980s they created a network of public soccer fields,” explains the museum director.
The proliferation of playing fields in the last century shows the fever for this sport in Barcelona, as in so many other Spanish and European cities. While in 1900, when the first matches began to be played, there were five public soccer fields and six clubs in the city, in 2000 there were 31 fields and 175 teams.
Why did soccer triumph so much and so quickly? The experts consulted point to the ease of the game as a formula for success. You hardly need material, you don’t even need a grass pitch or a goal, since two stones separated at a certain distance already serve as a perimeter. To this is added another factor, points out the director of the Museum of History of Barcelona: “The antagonism of competitiveness with that of solidarity”. Roca explains that football can face irreconcilable rivalries, but it also allows opponents to unite who simply want to enjoy and share in a friendly way.
“It is a space for interaction and sociability, both for those who play and for those who fill the stands”, summarizes Viñas. The working-class residents of the Baró de Viver neighborhood have had a lot to say about this, who have fought for 35 years to recover their field, which was demolished in its day to build blocks of flats there. Finally, the City Council found them an alternative in the neighborhood. “The feeling of joy was great,” recalls Manuel Martínez, president of the Besòs del Baró de Viver Football Club.
But according to Martínez, the 21st century has changed social relations regarding football. “I had the feeling that the field would be a meeting point, but people have become disappointed. The time before is not the time now. Now you have television and you have football at all hours at home and people have locked up “, he has nostalgia. The figures seem to indicate the same. Today this small club has 170 members, while in its golden age, more than 30 years ago, they managed to be 300.
The most commercialized phase of football, which has marked the sport since the end of the last century, has an effect on small clubs. While the big ones are true business giants, the most humble ones “are suffering a retreat and are once again looking for the genuine values of football,” explains Viñas.
Football, politics and Barça
Football has also become the space for political demands, such as labor or Catalanism in Barcelona, recalls Roca. The temporary closure of the FC Barcelona stadium in 1925 at the hands of the Civil Guard is noteworthy. The reason? A loud whistle to the Spanish anthem by the fans of Barça and the Club Deportivo Jupiter – a historic club in the city, too -, the two teams that played the game, in response to the policy of persecution of the Catalan of the Primo dictatorship of Rivera.
On March 4, 1951, another notable episode of politics and football was experienced. Those days the tram strike was held, a protest against the increase in the price of this transport and which was remembered for being the first major mobilization against Francoism in Barcelona. On the 4th he had left, they were playing Barça against Santander. At the end of the match, the Barcelona fans returned on foot, leaving the trams completely empty, despite even the heavy rain that day. “If you are a good citizen, from March 1 and until the rates of the Tram Company match with the Capital of Spain […] move on foot “, people were asked those days through leaflets.
1914, first women’s game
Women also had their role in the football “boom” from the beginning and this is reflected in the exhibition. On June 9, 1914, the first all-female match was played in Barcelona. The players of Spanish Girl’s Club they formed the Giralda and Montserrat teams and fought on the RCD Espanyol field. However, from that meeting there is an ellipsis –which largely coincides with the dictatorship– until the 1970s, when women’s football picks up momentum, thanks to established and internationally renowned teams, such as Barça and Espanyol. .
Dolors Ribalta speaks about women’s football in the city. “From the beginning I liked football, I played with my father in the hallway at home,” says this former player of the RCD Espanyol women’s first team, from 1995 to 2007. She defines as “strange” the feeling of being the only girl in recess was after a ball, surrounded by children. “I had no female referents,” he says.
Ribalta, who grew up in Malet, a Lleida town of less than 100 inhabitants, explains by telephone to elDiario.es that until she was 17 years old she did not see a women’s soccer match on television for the first time. “I always did my homework in my room, but one day I decided to change and go to the dining room. I turned on the TV, watched the game and I no longer did my homework,” he says.
Before that revelation, and also thanks to the unconditional support of her father, she played a small local tournament with other girls. There he met a girl who played for Espanyol, who suggested that he take the train to Barcelona to watch a game. “When I came to Sants for the first time that seemed enormous to me,” he acknowledges. From there he began his ascent to the first team of the Blue and White club.
In the struggle for the conquest of women’s rights, this sport is experiencing today a phenomenon of historical popularity. “Now we are in the best moment of women’s football in Spain”, Ribalta affirms emphatically, who quickly adds: “Although it is the best moment does not mean that it is a moment of equality.”