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More than a club?

Updated: Feb 9

It’s over fifty years since FC Barcelona started using the “more than a club” expression and since then it’s been adopted or adapted by clubs around the world. In Barca’s case, in the midst of Franco’s dictatorship, its espousal indicated that FC Barcelona wasn’t just about football, it also regarded itself as a symbol of a then seemingly threatened Catalan identity. Post-Franco, some Catalans may have hoped that the phrase would evolve beyond “identity”, towards something altogether more radical, a subtle nudge towards nationalist sentiments. That now seems very unlikely. There are very serious implications for FC Barcelona if Catalonia ever became an independent nation and these days none of the home rule consequences are attractive to those in power at Camp Nou. An independent Catalonia of 7.5 million people would be four million less than Belgium, At best, big-fish-in-a-small-pool Barca would be on a par with Anderlecht; a club with a great past but one which no longer troubles the European elite on a consistent basis. A Catalonian league would be less competitive than its Belgian equivalent, it would have smaller TV revenues but in common with the Jupiler League, it wouldn't attract many world class footballers. The Barcelona club has stated in the past that it wishes to remain in La Liga in all circumstances (except presumably if the European Super League was resuscitated), thus rendering "more than a club" claims basically meaningless in the new millennium. That decision, to remain in La Liga in all circumstances, will not be theirs. The chances of the Spanish football authorities, in tandem with the Spanish government, granting permission for a post-independence FC Barcelona to remain in La Liga are next to non-existent. Indeed, it is in the interest of those wishing to discourage support for secession to hammer home the simple message that independence means La Liga expulsion for all Catalan football clubs. As has been seen elsewhere, it's not always promises of a better tomorrow which affect the outcome of referendums, threats can be equally effective. If Spain lost prosperous Catalonia, its main industrial centre, there’s no doubt that, initially at least, there would be a adverse effect on the finances of the redefined Spanish state but it would still be a country of nearly forty million people. Its football would more than survive, with the Madrid derby immediately promoted to El Clasico status and there would be plenty of other regional rivalries to savour, not least in Seville. Those who passionately believe in a separate Catalonia, both culturally and economically, are unlikely to be deterred by any peripheral football considerations – and the same goes for those committed to the status quo. As usual in such matters, it's those who are less committed at the outset who will decide the outcome. Many will be FC Barcelona supporters. Will they risk Barca banishment from La Liga and the consequently drastic reduction in their club's world-wide prestige or will they consider it a price worth paying to restore Catalonia's independence? “More than a club” v More than a region – a result that really would matter for the people of Catalonia.

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