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Protesting Spanish Style – Barca, General Franco & Mike Ashley

8 years ago
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Protests are a hot topic amongst Newcastle fans at the moment with the upcoming Time4Change march due to leave City Hall prior to the Liverpool game.

No doubt this game was picked due to the relevance of the Spirit of Shankly group’s success in campaigning against the former LFC owners. The march was an effective method used by SOS as a method of action and for recruitment of members. A more recent protest in the Europa league Valencia v Swansea game has particularly interested me though.

Hardcore Los Che fans situated in the lower tier behind one of the goals, fed up with performances of the players, decided not to return for the start of the second half. They remained in the concourses for the first 10 minutes sending a clear signal to the players, club and watching TV audience. The protests were then resumed outside of the ground after the game.

This is certainly not a course of action I would expect to see at St James’ Park. Talks of protest or boycott are often countered with the comments “I’ve already paid for my season ticket” or “that could have a negative impact on the players”.  There have also been fans expressing fear of taking banners into ground due to stewards’ instructions for anti-regime messages.

Valencia’s Catalan neighbours Barcelona had far worse a man to fear than Mike Ashley in the form of General Franco. I have often made comparisons between the cities of Newcastle and Barcelona which has led me to study the region and this time in history.

Our national patron saint is shared with Catalonia although Geordies may consider “Sant Jordi” more aptly named in Catalan. St George’s Day is celebrated in Catalonia by selling flowers and books from stalls on Las Ramblas, remembering when people received free books when they purchased flowers. The books were written in Catalan and illegal to purchase under Franco’s Law.

Franco sought to ruin FCB as a symbol and spiritual home of the people who were rebelling against him, the stadium being one of the few places people could express their dissatisfaction, having also jeered the Royal March during the previous dictatorship.

In 1936 Barca’s club president, also a representative of the pro-independence political party, was assassinated and replaced with one of Franco’s men. The club were forced to change its name to Club de Fútbol Barcelona from the previous Anglicised name. The Catalan flag, which shares its colours with the Northumbrian flag, was also removed from the club crest.

Political interference with the club went so far that Barca’s players were threatened by Franco’s director of state security, the referee, and Real Madrid players in a 1943 11-1 cup defeat following a 3-0 first leg win. In 1953 Barcelona reached agreement to sign Alfredo Di Stéfano but complications with player ownership meant that a strange federative manoeuvre with Francoist backing stipulated that Di Stéfano should play alternate seasons with Real Madrid. Barcelona relinquished the player in response. Despite all this hardship the club retained a membership and their team have recently been considered the best of all time.

Mike Ashley hardly has Falangist soldiers to call upon; instead he has his hapless lieutenant Joe Kinnear and his team of stewards to keep the fans at bay. Protesters do not have to go to war in order to force Mike Ashley to sell the club but there is one signal of dissatisfaction that can be borrowed from the Spanish fans. I was at the Nou Camp in a game where there was a disallowed goal against Villareal. A quick free kick was taken and a goal was conceded at the other end of the pitch. I was expecting to hear a chorus of ‘The referee’s a…’ in Catalan but instead white hankies were pulled out en masse and waved at the ref. This is a common sight in Spain and would be a great way for fans inside the stadium to unite in a legal, uncontroversial protest at the regime by coordinating this action at the end of a half in a televised game.

Many fans will remember one of our greatest European nights when Tino and Gillespie tore Barcelona apart. Let’s all show some passion and hope to get Newcastle back where they belong amongst the elite.

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