Don’t mention independence: the football fan who fell out with Barcelona
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Carlos Soler has been a passionate Barcelona fan for as long as he can remember. But then politics – and a divisive referendum on Catalan independence – got in the way.
A “lifelong Barcelona fan”, Carlos Soler was still a kid when he got his first job with the Blaugrana, as the Catalan club is commonly known. At 15, this passionate football fan was selling season tickets for the Camp Nou, Barcelona’s hallowed football ground. Two years later he moved to the stadium’s shop, before landing a desk job with the club’s youth teams.
Already, “they were telling me to speak Catalan if I wanted to move up", Soler, now aged 51, recalls. Founded in 1899, FC Barcelona have always stressed their Catalan identity, officially adopting the local language as early as 1910. Soler duly complied, though he never really understood why the club shunned Spanish. Born to a Catalan father and a Castilian mother, he grew up in Catalonia “but learnt Spanish at school”.
When he eventually stopped working at the club, “it was for professional reasons, because I wanted to do something else,” Soler says. But as the years went by he continued to follow the Blaugrana, sharing the passion with his son, now aged 13.
Booing the king
The fallout with Barcelona happened earlier this year, after a Copa del Rey match at the Camp Nou during which Spain’s King Felipe VI was booed by the crowd. “I found it insulting,” Soler says. “Why show such disrespect? Catalans are normally polite people.”
That’s when Soler flashed a red card at his childhood club. “Sport should be about fair play and the spirit of the Olympics, but Barcelona don’t play by those rules,” he sighs.
A few days before the match, the club had officially endorsed a bid by the Catalan regional government to hold a referendum on independence from Spain – a move the Spanish Constitutional Court has ruled illegal.
Barcelona are now dabbling in politics, says Soler, describing the club as a “mouthpiece for the pro-independence propaganda”. In doing so, he adds: "They forget that they also have supporters in Madrid, Andalusia and Galicia.”
‘Without Real Madrid, Barcelona are nothing’
During their team’s last Champions League match, against Juventus on Sept. 12, Barcelona fans held up a banner reading “Welcome to the Catalan Republic”, referring to the October 1 referendum. This kind of political message is banned from football stadiums under UEFA rules, and the Catalan club is regularly admonished by European football’s governing body.
“Politics should stay in the changing room,” says Soler, for whom a breakup of Spain is unthinkable. “I’m also Catalan, I love Barcelona, and I refuse to pay too much in tax,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean I want to leave Spain. [Catalans] already have everything: a language, an identity. What more do they want? Money. All this is about money, but it’s really not worth it.”
The estranged fan says he is not the only one to be disappointed with Barcelona, “though others manage to put the politics aside and focus only on the matches”. But, he adds, all true football fans know that the Catalan giants would be orphaned if deprived of their historic rivals in Madrid. “Without Real Madrid, Barcelona are nothing,” Soler points out. “And the reverse is also true.”