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FC Barcelona © Carlos / Flickr
FC Barcelona © Carlos / Flickr
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A Glimpse into Barcelona's Football Fan Culture

Picture of Tara Jessop
Updated: 31 March 2018
The Catalan capital is famous for being home to one of the world’s most successful – and most popular – football teams of all time. Unsurprisingly, most Barcelona locals are completely football mad and there’s much to know about the city’s football culture, from fierce rivalries to rather quirky celebratory traditions.

Two football clubs

One of the first things to bear in mind when thinking about football in the Catalan capital is that, although FC Barcelona are by far the most famous club associated with the city, Barcelona actually has two football clubs. The RCD Espanyol are not only nearly just as old as FC Barcelona but they’re also one of the country’s top clubs and play in the Spanish championship, La Liga.

RCD Espanyol player in 2009 | © Tsutomu Takasu / flickr

At home, the clubs both have huge fanbases and there’s considerable rivalry between them, which is most visible during the Barcelona Derby when the two teams meet. The rift between the two clubs is not just sports-based but to understand this, it’s necessary to know a little more about the local political climate and background of the clubs.

FC Barcelona’s home is Europe’s largest football stadium, the Camp Nou, which is able to hold a whopping 99,000 fans. Unfortunately, in recent years the stadium has got a bit of a bad reputation for its lack of atmosphere which even some players have criticised. On the other hand, the RCDE Stadium is known to have a much livelier atmosphere with large numbers of local supporters attending matches regularly. Some say the higher prices of tickets at Camp Nou – driven by demand from tourists and sports fans from abroad – is what’s keeping fans away.

View from the back of Camp Nou | © Damien McMahon / flickr

Origins and political affiliation

Interestingly, FC Barcelona was created in 1899 when Swiss-man Hans Max Gamper, a.k.a. Joan Gamper as the Catalans call him, put out an advert to form the city’s first football club. Just one year later, in 1900, a second football club was formed in the upmarket neighbourhood of Sarrià with the name Sociedad Española de Football – later becoming the Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol de Barcelona or RCD Espanyol.

Rapidly, RCD Espanyol was seen as the club of the rich and more traditionally conservative Barcelona residents, whereas FC Barcelona was seen as the everyman’s club. However this rivalry also developed a political angle over the years, with FC Barcelona adopting an openly pro-Catalan attitude throughout the Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship whereas RCD Espanyol was seen as more pro-Spain.

To this day, FC Barcelona remain politically outspoken on some levels and as recently as last year during the Catalan independence campaign the club was critical of the Spanish government’s handling of the crisis. A number of high-profile current and former players such as Pep Guardiola and Gerard Piqué also came out either in support of the movement or against the central government.

Rivalry with Madrid

However, perhaps the biggest rivalry for Barcelona football fans is the ongoing feud with Madrid. The El Clásico – when FC Barcelona play Real Madrid – is the second most watched of any football match worldwide and more generally one of the most viewed sporting events each year.

The rivalry between the two clubs is a reflection of the wider rivalry between the two cities generally, with Barcelona representing the Catalan nation and independence movement and Madrid representing the central government. One episode which reflects this deep-seated tension well is the game between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona which took place in October 2000 at Camp Nou.

Former Barcelona player Luís Figo had recently been signed to Madrid after a rather controversial acquisition and was returning to Barcelona for the first time in a Madrid shirt. Barcelona fans were furious with Figó and pelted him with insults and projectiles throughout the match, including someone throwing a pig’s head at him which caused the match to be interrupted for 12 minutes.

El Font de Canaletes

Fortunately there’s also a much cheerier side to football in Barcelona and this is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than at the Font de Canaletes. This simple water spout located on the city’s famous la Rambla boulevard has become synonymous with victory for FC Barcelona fans.

Whenever the team win a big match, thousands of fans gather besides the Font de Canaletes to celebrate together. This tradition started in the 1930s when fans would rally outside the offices of the La Rambla newspaper to see the football scores hung on a board outside the office.

Fans celebrating in Barcelona | © Ben Sutherland / flickr

If visiting the Camp Nou stadium is undoubtedly something most Barcelona fans will want to do at least once in their life, one of the best ways to really soak up the local atmosphere is to watch the game at a bar. This is where most local fans can be found and it gives a real sense of the diversity of backgrounds of the team’s supporters and just how deep their passion for football really is.