On a day marred by violence in Barcelona, the city’s football team played their La Liga match against Las Palmas in a surreal and serene atmosphere.
The club had asked the Spanish football authorities to postpone the game on account of Catalonia’s independence referendum on Sunday, which saw violent clashes throughout the day as police tried to prevent the vote from going ahead. But the demand was rejected. La Liga said the match should take place as usual because the safety of spectators had been “guaranteed” by the Catalan police.
Barcelona FC disagreed. Half an hour before kick-off, it decided the match would go ahead but behind closed doors in protest against what they regarded as La Liga’s intransigence. The dispute led to the resignation of two officials. Vice-president Carles Vilarrubi and director Jordi Mones both stepped down, reportedly because of the decision to go ahead with the game.
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According to BBC Sport, Barcelona “asked for a postponement because they did not feel it would be appropriate to play the game”. The league refused and club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said they were threatened with a points deduction if they called off the game.
“It would have been a six-point loss – three for not playing and three as a punishment,” he said. “We decided the game should be played in a unique manner. We want the world to see what we are living in Catalonia.”
In a statement published on their website shortly before the 3.15pm kick-off, the club said: “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. 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.”
Earlier in the day, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique tweeted a photograph of his voting in the referendum along with the caption: “I have already voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy.”
After the match, having seen some of the TV footage of heavy-handed policing on his city’s streets, according to The Sun a tearful Pique said: “During many years people could not vote here and this is a right that should be defended by all means within the law possible. I am Catalan and I feel Catalan, and today more than ever I feel proud of the Catalan people.”
During the match, which Barcelona won 3-0 thanks to two goals from Lionel Messi, the scoreboard at the Camp Nou displayed a picture of a ballot box with the word ‘democracy’ on it. The BBC says that Barcelona’s players warmed up in yellow-and-red-striped club shirts – the colours of the Estelada flag that is a symbol of Catalan independence.
But in a sign of the divisive nature of the independence referendum in Spain, Las Palmas wore shirts with the Spanish flag embroidered prominently in a show of support for a united country. Meanwhile, Goal.com reports, thousands of Real Madrid fans held their national flag high and sang patriotic songs during the club’s match yesterday against Espanyol.
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