Nou Camp deserted as Barcelona play in front of empty seats amid Catalonia vote

first_imgBarcelona was adamant its league game against Las Palmas should not go ahead amid protests against the Spanish Government’s attempt to halt Catalonia’s independence vote.La Liga disagreed. In the Spanish capital, hated rivals Real Madrid handed out cards with Spanish flag colours to its supporters as Los Blancos fans sang songs in support of their nation.So Barcelona did the next best thing. They closed the doors to their 99,354-seat stadium, and played their La Liga match in front of masses of empty seats.The club said playing in an empty stadium was a way to show its discontent with the incidents in Catalonia.”We tried to suspend the game all day long but it wasn’t possible,” Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said.”We could lose points if we didn’t play, so we decided to play behind closed doors as a way to show the entire world that we were not pleased with what happened [in Catalonia].”Key points:FC Barcelona wanted La Liga match against Las Palmas postponed amid Spanish Government’s attempts to halt independence voteClub was denied request, instead closed its doors and played in front of empty seats in Europe’s biggest stadiumHated rival Real Madrid hands out Spanish flags to its fans in show of national unityBarcelona beat Las Palmas 3-0, with a brace to Lionel Messi following Sergio Busquets’ opener.By day’s end, Catalonia’s health services said 844 people had been treated in hospitals for injuries, including two in serious condition, asSpanish authorities tried to stop the independence vote that the central government said was unconstitutional. Thirty-three police were also injured.Barcelona had openly backed the referendum and criticized the Spanish government for trying to impede the vote.Centre-back Gerard Pique, one of the most outspoken players defending the referendum, called Sunday’s incidents “shameful”.”Today was my worst experience as a professional,” said Pique, who could not hold back tears as he talked about the incidents in Catalonia.”It was a tough day. I am and I feel Catalan, and I’ve never felt prouder of the people of Catalonia.”Las Palmas added a Spanish flag to the shirts that the players wore against Barcelona to show its support for a unified Spain.”It was very strange,” Busquets said. “This game was marked by all that happened today [in Catalonia].”Why are Real Madrid and Barcelona worlds apart?In the capital, hated rivals Real Madrid appeared a symbolic polar opposite to Barcelona as its fans displayed Spanish flag colours before the team’s match against Espanyol, another Catalan club.There were very few Espanyol fans at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, but they displayed at least one flag with the red and yellow colours of Catalonia.The ‘El Clasico’ rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona transcends sport. Barcelona’s burgeoning reputation as a symbol of Catalan identity in the 1930s opposed the capital’s biggest club, and an FC Barcelona club president was arrested and executed by Francisco Franco’s troops.During Franco’s reign, regional languages and identities in Spain were frowned upon. It was in this period that Barcelona forged its motto ‘Mes que un club’ (‘More than a club’). The words are emblazoned on the Nou Camp’s seats, which were very visible during the match against Las Palmas.Many Barcelona fans regarded Real Madrid as an establishment club, and over the years the rivalry has been further fuelled by spats over players and transfers, including a heated dispute over the registration of superstar Alfredo Di Stefano, and Portuguese forward Luis Figo’s move from Barca to Real.Game didn’t need to be behind closed doors, police sayBartomeu said police had guaranteed the safety of fans and everyone else involved in the La Liga match at the Camp Nou, and the club could have allowed them in if it wanted.”FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression,” the club said in a statement.”Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”Barcelona made the closed-doors announcement with less than 30 minutes to kick off, with thousands of supporters already waiting outside the stadium.”We were aware of what happened here today, we don’t live in an igloo,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “It was very difficult, a strange situation for everyone.”The Spanish league said it was in contact with local authorities and there was no reason to postpone the game because of safety reasons.Barcelona’s Camp Nou, Europe’s largest stadium, is often used as a rallying point for Catalan nationalists.Spanish media said Barcelona vice-president Carles Vilarrubi resigned after the club decided to play the game under these conditions.Las Palmas said the match had become more than a sporting event, especially because of the recent statements by Barcelona expressing its support for the referendum.The Canary Islands club said the club did not want to limit itself to being a “quiet witness at an historic crossroads”. It said that by wearing the flag it was showing its unequivocal support for a “united Spain”.Las Palmas said that even though it is based far from the mainland, it “never felt the slightest temptation to become another country”.”We are doing this to show the world that we are hurt by what is happening,” the club said in its statement.The Catalan football federation cancelled all local games organised by the federation, most of them involving youth squads and lower divisions.The Spanish league said late on Sunday that the second-division game between Gimnastic and Barcelona’s “B” team was suspended because of lack of security at Gimnastic’s stadium in Catalonia.AP/ABClast_img

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