Supporters of FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona is a Catalan club based in Barcelona, formed in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English and local players led by Joan Gamper. It has been part of the Spanish top-flight, La Liga, since the league's inception in 1928 and has won La Liga 23 times, along with 28 Copas del Rey and 5 UEFA Champions League victories. The supporters of Barcelona have played an important part in the formation of the club's Catalan identity during the club's 116-year existence. From the authoritarian rule of Spain under Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1923, which later ended with the autocratic rule of Franco, various forms of cultural oppression were enacted against Catalonia and FC Barcelona in particular, causing the club to become a symbol of rebellion, although this has been disputed. After Spain's transition to democracy in 1978, several support groups of FC Barcelona evolved, most notably the Boixos Nois, who later mixed their support of the club with a demand of secession from Spain.
The arrival of Ronaldinho in 2003, and Barcelona's subsequent success in La Liga and Champions League, has been seen as crucial to an increase in the national, and worldwide, fan-base of the club. This development of a larger national fan-base has created friction between the Catalan nationalist supporters, who wish to secede from Spain, and the club's other Spanish supporters.
There exist four different types of supporters of Barcelona; one is the soci or club-member, who is eligible to vote in the presidential election of the club and other matters. The penyes, who are closely affiliated with the socis, are fan-clubs, which in the past have been responsible for large donations to the club. Also, there are Barça Fans and this term refers to the official online fan community of the club where these registered fans participate in games and other activities. Lastly there are the ordinary fans of the club, the culers, who do not possess any formal membership.
Before 1909, Barcelona played in various stadiums, none of which were owned by the club. On 14 March 1909, the club moved to the Camp de la Indústria which had a capacity of 6,000 people, and it was the first ground owned by the club. Barcelona moved to Les Corts in 1922, which had an initial capacity of 20,000, which was later enlarged 3-fold to 60,000. The top-row of Les Corts was the origin of the nickname culer, derived from the Catalan cul (English: arse), as the spectators at the first stadium, Camp de la Indústria, sat with their culs over the stand. The English author, Phil Ball, notes that "all you could see was row upon row of bums".
In the mid-1940s, the club invented the notion of penyes, a mix between a fan club and a financial support club, during a time when the club was in need of financial and public support in face of the hostility of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. The first Penya Solera, was formed in 1944 by a group of supporters and former players of the team. The penyes would later exhibit their financial prowess in 1953, when they proposed the building of the Camp Nou. Inspiration was drawn from the financial plan Athletic Bilbao, a rival team, used to build San Mamés, where an association of penyes pledged to finance the construction. As a result, the subsequent construction of the stadium put the club into its supporters' hands, giving the penyes political influence over the club, which still lasts today.
During the same period, Franco's oppression of Catalonia caused the relationship between the club and its supporters to change. For the supporters, FC Barcelona became synonymous with Catalonia, a feeling incorporated in the club's Més que un club motto (English: More than a club). The socio-political impulse Visca el Barça (Long live Barça), gradually evolved into Visca el Barça i visca Catalunya (Long live Barça and Catalonia) and was the same as a protest-song against the central government in Madrid.
In 1975, the death of Franco marked the beginning of Spain's transition into a democracy and four years later, Josep Lluís Núñez became the first elected president of FC Barcelona. Since then, the members of Barcelona, called socios, have elected a club president.
In the early 1980s, one of the most notorious penyes, the Boixos Nois (English: Crazy Boys) was founded. The peña who identified with left-wing separatism, repeatedly demanded the resignation of president Núñez, openly defying his presidency through chants and banners at matches. At the same time, the city of Barcelona experienced a rise in the number of skinheads, who identified with right-wing separatism. The skinheads slowly moved the Boixos Nois' political ideology from liberalism to fascism, which caused fractions within the group. Inspired by British hooligans, the remaining Boixos Nois became violent, which often lead to mass-scale arrests.
According to the protest organisation L'Elephant Blau (English: The Blue Elephant), formed in part by later-president Joan Laporta in 1998, the former president Núñez promoted the emergence of skinheads among the Boixos and gave them permission to roam freely around the stadium, using them for his own political gain. When Núñez resigned in 2000, his vice-president Joan Gaspart took over as president. Gaspart publicly expressed his sympathies for Boixos Nois, claiming that he would join the group as soon as he resigned as chairman. The comment caused the Boixos Nois members to occasionally be referred to as 'the chairman's boys'.
The same year saw the controversial transfer of the Barcelona vice-captain Luís Figo to arch-rivals Real Madrid. When Figo returned to the Camp Nou with his new club in November 2002, the Boixos responded to Figo's perceived treachery by whistling and jeering whenever he went near the ball. The abuse peaked when the Boixos threw a severed pig's head at him, while he was taking a corner. The match has since been known in Spain as the "Partido de la Vergüenza" (English: The Game of Shame). It was suspended for 13 minutes by the referee, who took the players off the pitch because of fears for their safety. It ended in a 0–0 draw.
During the first decade of the new millennium, president Joan Laporta, a supporter of Catalonian nationalism, repeatedly expressed his support of Catalonia's secession from Spain and characterised the club as the symbol for Catalonian separatism. The politicalisation of the club drew criticism from several club members who accused Laporta of alienating Barcelona fans, both within and outside of Catalunya. By 2003 Barcelona had 1,200 penyes around the world, causing other Spanish clubs to copy the concept. With each individual peña (Castillian Spanish spelling) having different names and rules, it has become a custom in Spain to name a new peña after their favourite player or match, and in turn the player usually attends to the inaugural supper.
In the presidential election of 2010, the rise in club-members during the last seven years caused the campaign to focus on whether to allow votes from non-Catalan members, through internet or post. The balloting committee decided to only allow votes from members who registered at the home stadium on the day of the election.
As of November 2010, membership of the club is no longer open to the public. Only close relatives to current and former FC Barcelona members can join the club as well as previous members with at least a two-year history of membership. This ruling however will not apply to children under the age of 15.
In Spain, 26 percent of the population supports Barcelona as their primary club, with another 7% supporting Barcelona while having another club as their primary. Throughout Europe many fans regard Barcelona as their second club. Since the 2003–04 season, the club's membership figures have risen from 100,000 to 170,000 socis in September 2009, a 70 percent increase. The sharp rise was attributed to the influence of Ronaldinho and then-president Joan Laporta's media-strategy, which focused on online media in Spanish and English. As of June 2010 there are 1,335 officially registered penyes around the world, representing an 11 percent increase since 2003.
Many prominent people are recognised as Barcelona supporters, including the former Pope John Paul II, who was an honorary member, former Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts.
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