With just minutes remaining, a decision was made for Barcelona to play behind closed doors despite referendum violence across Cataluyna
As the world now knows, on Sunday there was quite a bit of tension around the Spanish region of Catalunya. Heightened friction and the political climate had evolved over the past months towards a full-frontal pro-independence movement as well as a defiant attitude from their government towards Spanish authorities.
Their stubbornness to push forward an referendum over independence from Spain, regarded as illegal by the constitution, was answered by the deployment of law enforcement organizations in large numbers. Their mission: to prevent the vote from happening. Chaos ensued. Several hundred people were injured in brawls across Catalunya between voters and the police who tried to stop them.
However, we’re not here to talk politics. It is true that both Spain and Catalunya are unlucky enough to sport the largest number of selfish, unprepared, blatantly stupid politicians across the board, but the fact is that the Catalunya incident had a direct impact on sporting events. In particular, a football game played behind closed doors in another example of idiocy and stupidity taking the spotlight.
The political situation was not unexpected when LaLiga’s calendar scheduled the game to be played on Sunday. Incidents and brawls were only the logical conclusion after weeks and weeks of teasing and provocative statements from both parts.
Barça’s board should have known better. LaLiga’s officials should have known better. In turn, the frantic minutes before the match proved that this competition and its top brasses are hapless and unprepared to deal with any contingencies once the plan doesn’t go as expected.
Two hours before the kick-off (4:15pm local time), the Camp Nou gates remained closed. Fans outside were clueless on what was going on. After the incidents in the morning, FC Barcelona as a club didn’t want to play the game. They had, in fact, released a statement on September 20th pointing out that they supported the “popular voting” taking place this Sunday. In turn, Las Palmas played their part: in a statement released at midday, they announced that they would play with a tiny Spanish flag sewn next to their club badge in their shirt.
Unofficial sources confirmed, two hours before the kick-off, that Barça wouldn’t play. They didn’t want to, but both LaLiga, the Spanish Federation and the TV providers didn’t believe there was a reasonable motivation to skip this fixture. LaLiga’s statement claimed they had been in touch with Barça and police officials many days before, and that security measures were more than enough for the match to take place.
Las Palmas, after a long trip, obviously were there to play. But some individuals both inside Barça’s locker room and board wanted to show solidarity with the voters that had been injured earlier on Sunday.
Soon, someone decided to look-up what exactly would happen if Barça didn’t make an appearance on the pitch. The game would be lost 0-3 against Las Palmas, but that would be followed by a three-point sanction and a fine. Barça’s board wanted to make a statement and not play, but also didn’t want to get punished for it. Therefore, match officials started looking for a middle-ground answer to this predicament, and finally settled on carrying-on the game behind closed doors.
This didn’t please some of the Barça players that allegedly didn’t want to take to the pitch. Also, division amongst Barça’s Board was clear after Josep Maria’s Bartomeu second-in-command, Vice-president Carles Villarrubí, resigned from his position after Barcelona released their official statement announcing that the game would indeed take place in a supporter-less Camp Nou.
— Carrusel Deportivo (@carrusel) October 1, 2017
Playing behind closed doors didn’t stop Barça’s staff from adding fuel to the fire. The huge scoreboard in one of the stadium’s stands showed a message of “Democracy” with a picture of a ballot box, while Messi and company took on Las Palmas.
Outside, the initial confusion and puzzled faces soon turned into angry people feeling either tricked (they had paid to see the game) or appalled by Barça’s lack of solidarity with the voters. Everyone was locked out regardless of their particular circumstances. All in all, the fans were the ones to get the short end of the stick.
At Camp Nou. Much confusion. Speaking to this family who've travelled from Melbourne…booked 3 months ago to see Neymar. pic.twitter.com/xC0mt252uo
— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) October 1, 2017
At the end of the day, Barça’s board’s attitude towards the event fell flat in a grey afternoon where they didn’t have the guts to go all the way. As wrong or right as they might be on their ‘More than a Club’ ideology, not sticking to your guns in such a delicate matter showed once again the frailty and unacceptable lukewarmness of Bartomeu & company.
What about the game itself? While we wait to see if LaLiga fines Barça for not having fans on the stands (they have done it in the past with Celta for the poor attendance in a single game), the match provided plenty of unusual imagery and sounds, as every yell and shout was picked up by the microphones around the pitch. You could hear a pin drop to the ground.
The first half ended without goals and with a confident Las Palmas, especially after Jonathan Calleri slammed his strike into the woodwork. On the second half, however, Sergio Busquets’ early opener led the way to another Messi-esque evening, with the Argentinean scoring twice to close the game (0-3) and amass 11 goals in seven games.
But another Barcelona win is never going to make the headlines in a depressing day for all in Catalyuna.