On Friday, they were being written off as no hopers in the media. Good guys, they said. Match-going Barca fans with their hearts in the right place, but no, they’re not serious and they don’t have a chance of getting the 2,545 signatures from Barca season-ticket holders to enter the presidential race proper.
“The actual words in one newspaper were: ‘No Chance’,” explains Jordi Camps, a 41-year-old import/exporter and lifelong Barca fan from Villasar, 20 kilometres north of Barcelona. He’s part of the Seguiment FCB (Follow FCB) group.
“The newspaper listed the chances of the eight people wanting to be president and their chance of getting the necessary signatures. So it said Joan Laporta – Yes. Josep Bartomeu – Yes. And then said that we didn't stand a chance.”
The feeling was understandable. Seguiment FCB was only formed two weeks ago by Barca fans disillusioned that the main presidential candidates didn’t speak for them, the match-going fans who wanted to address core issues which affected them.
Seguiment had no budget like the other candidates, no pretty girls handing out flyers. Instead, they used social media to canvass support and they soon realised it was possible. When the other candidates paid to have canvassing stalls outside a big Barca basketball match, Seguiment set up stall nearby on a table outside a fast-food restaurant. They were inundated. Other candidates had offices in central Barcelona. Seguiment have one of those too after a follower donated it for free.
Seguiment have shaken things up
Image credit: Eurosport
Seguiment’s two issues are the lack of atmosphere inside Camp Nou and why travel for supporters to away games using the club’s preferred travel agency is so expensive. That’s it.
“I’m actually embarrassed by how poor the atmosphere is at Camp Nou,” explains Camps. “It’s so bad that you can hear the players in some games. The vocal fans are spread all around the huge stadium or in tiny pockets where it’s hard to be heard. There are tourists all over the stadium who add nothing to the atmosphere. They sit there like it’s the theatre; they don’t know our songs, share our feeling or know our culture. And it seems that the people who run our club are more interesting in appealing to them than the long standing fans.”
Camps agrees to meet this column and at the end of a blazing hot weekend, we’re given directions to a terrace outside a supermarket overlooking the Mediterranean north of Barcelona. We then follow Camps on his scooter through the backs streets of Vilassar de Dalt to the apartment of Joan Batiste, the name who appears on the ballot papers of the club elections. He’s a 46-year-old lawyer in public administration who gets the bus to work each morning. He’s unlike the other candidates, who their group consider to be posh boys from the rich end of Barcelona with sufficient banking connections to put up €75 million in guarantees.
Beers are opened and pizza is ordered and the pair explain the story of Seguiment. It’s the end of a weekend when they’ve stunned everyone by making the final cut. Batiste’s face is on the front page of Mundo Deportivo, a paper which had written them off days earlier.
The Seguiment logo
Image credit: Eurosport
Getting signatures isn’t easy. It’s not likes on Facebook or favourites on Twitter. Only season ticket holders are eligible to vote. They must provide proof of ID and they needed 2,545 confirmed names. On Thursday they had 870.
“While they were writing us off, we were driving round getting signatures,” Batiste says, recounting his actions before Saturday’s deadline. “We’re very motivated. One guy was in hospital – room 621. We went there to get his signature. One lady is 102. We obviously had to go to her. They believe in us.”
By Friday evening they’d gathered 2,000 – 95% of them from fans in Catalonia. They still needed 545 more, from people they hoped would vote for them and nobody else. When the ballot papers were counted, they had 2,734. Established and well-known candidates Jordi Farre and Jordi Majo (Jordi is not the only name in Catalonia) didn’t make the cut. Seguiment did.
“We were delighted,” said Batiste. Newspaper pictures showed all the successful parties. A suited Bartomeu was flanked by two attractive ladies and looking professionally happy as he held the ballot box. He’d won the most signatures, 9,124. Former president Laporta was second. He stood wearing sunglasses and a suit. Agusti Benedito and Toni Freixa also made the cut. More suits, more ladies. Then came Seguiment – a group of lads in shorts and Barca shirts punching the air.
Spanish politics has been revolutionised with ascendant new parties Podemos (Yes We Can) rising from nothing to challenge the establishment. Seguiment don’t have the political aspirations of Podemos, they don’t even want to be Barca president, despite it being the most important position in Catalonia. They want whoever is elected to listen to them. And suddenly the main candidates are dialling their number.
A general view of the Nou Camp Stadium, home of Barcelona (PA Photos)
Image credit: PA Photos
“We want a singing section inside Camp Nou,” explains Jordi. “We were promised one before and it didn’t happen. Presidents find it hard to separate fans who want to make a noise from those who want to fight. We don’t advocate violence. We advocate making Camp Nou have an atmosphere to match the quality of the team. We look at what Manchester United tried to do with their singing section. We look at Borussia Dortmund and the German clubs who have a great atmosphere.
“We want whoever is elected to have it written down that he’ll do something to improve the poor atmosphere at our home – and not just say that he will.”
Travel is the other issue. Most Barca fans don’t go to away games and away followings can be tiny. Lads from Seguiment do. They made their own way to Berlin for the Champions League final. One is going to Tbilisi for the European Super Cup final in August. They’re going to the Spanish Super Cup final in Bilbao. Support Barca and you have a lot of games to attend. Yet if fans travel with the club approved agency, to get a guaranteed ticket, they pay for the privilege.
“€575 for a return charter flight to Berlin for the final,” explains Camps. “I pay that to go to China for work. I want to give my club money to support them, not go into business with them. A travel agency should facilitate travel for fans and put the interests of fan ahead of making money.”
“€400 to go to Paris for the quarter final,” adds Batiste. “Do they forget that low cost airlines exist? Not surprisingly, not enough fans didn’t pay €400 and the trip was cancelled days before, meaning those who had paid were left without flights.”
Barca is a club in constant change and attitudes among their fan base reflect that. They won only one league title between 1963-85. “I grew up in a generation who celebrated by the Canaletes fountain if we beat Real Madrid once a season,” explains Batiste. “Barca simply didn’t win the league until Terry Venables came.”
Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique delivers a speech as he takes part in the celebrations held for their victory over Juventus, one day after the UEFA Champions League final football, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on June 7, 2015
Image credit: AFP
“The club has great players like Maradona but it was a madhouse,” adds Camps. “I celebrated when Milan knocked Madrid out of the 1989 European Cup semi-final. There was no chance of Barca being at such a stage in the competition and we didn't win our first European Cup until 1992. Now, the young fans think we are the best and we’ll win trophies every season.”
Barca’s rise was reflected by the rise of the city. “It was a rough place before the Olympics,” explains Camps. “Now it’s all cleaned up, beautiful and looks like a museum.”
And don’t the visiting hordes know it. The city has become so popular that its residents seldom go to the central thoroughfare of La Rambla. Locals complain that there are too many tourists, pushing prices up and destroying the social fabric in certain barrios by as apartments are reserved for tourist rentals. The behaviour of those tourists – the northern Europeans on stag dos coming in on budget airlines – causes social issues. A new 41-year-old mayor, Ada Colau, has promised to tackle these problems.
FC Barcelona are part of the attraction for tourists and the club eventually realised they could capitalise on their presence. Ticket booths are located on La Rambla, charging a fortune for big games, while the diehard fans who go every week pay among the lowest prices in Europe. Camp Nou, with its 99,000 capacity, is big enough to cater for almost all the fans who want to go to games, but the make-up of the stadium is odd.
An old ultra group, the Boixos Nois (Crazy Boys), was banned from the stadium by Laporta when he became president 12 years ago. He received death threats for his troubles. Some of the Boixos were fascists; some were criminals; some hooligans. Laporta was applauded for his stance when plenty of club presidents are in cahoots with undesirables in their ultra groups, but the majority just wanted to make a noise and go to games with like-minded people.
Seguiment don't think they can win
Image credit: Eurosport
No Boixos meant the Camp Nou atmosphere suffered further and though the small Almogavers group makes a good noise, Camp Nou could be so much better.
“We have fans who are spread around the stadium,” explains Camps. “They stand, sing and the old guy near them tells them to sit down. We want the vocal fans to be together. Everyone will benefit and we won’t need to hear the players anymore.”
With their limited ambitions, Seguiment don’t want or need to court the opinion of Johan Cruyff like others, nor the newspapers with their alliances to Laporta (Sport) or Bartomeu (Mundo Deportivo) ahead of the final vote on July 18. Social media, predominantly a Facebook group, has shown there is another way.
Seguiment don’t want to tell their followers who to vote for. They just want the core fan issues to be core issues of whoever gets in, not hear people talking about sponsors in Qatar and pre-season tours in America and Asia.
Now, the candidates who were ignoring them want to talk. They’re too big to ignore and Batistse will spend the next few weeks debating on all the main media channels.
“We weren’t even invited to them last week,” says Batiste as he finishes off his pizza in his kitchen. “People would ask us if we were at the big debate in Vic (a small Catalan city). We didn’t even know about it, nobody invited us. Now, we’ve created something. We could be a platform for change, we don’t know our limit…”