'More than a club'
We examine why Barcelona's motto has always represented a romanticism unparalleled anywhere in football.
Last Updated: 26/05/09 3:57pm
Long before the commercialisation of football led to an obsession with marketing, slogans and globalisation, Barcelona's 'More Than A Club' motto represented a romanticism and cultural eminence unparalleled anywhere in the world of football.
When Barca fans boast of their club's history they do not necessarily mean the trophies in the cabinet or the superstars in the hall of fame. They often mean the adversity it has overcome, the traditions for which it is revered and ultimately, the country it represents.
Because as cliched as it may have become, Barca are synonymous with Catalonia, the autonomous region of Spain which lost its independence in 1714 and has been striving to reclaim it ever since.
Former manager Bobby Robson spelled it out to the uninitiated when he said: "Catalonia is a country and FC Barcelona is their army".
His compatriot Gary Lineker had a spell as a striker with the club in the mid-1980s and echoed Robson's assessment, ingratiating himself quickly with the locals due to his understanding of the politics of the region.
During the reign of fascist director General Francisco Franco from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s until his death in 1975, the Catalan people were brutally suppressed with the language, flag, national anthem and any kind of 'independentist' spirit illegal.
Catalans had been through it all before during the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera between 1923 and 1930 and in both instances Barca's role within the community became hugely more significant, an identifiable symbol behind which the people could rally and express themselves.
Yet despite such a strong Catalan identity, Barca has come to represent a haven for the city's many migrants from all over the world and the proudly independent natives stand shoulder-to-shoulder with adopted 'Cules' of many colours and creeds.
While the phrase 'Mes Que Un Club' was only coined in 1968 by then-president Narcis de Carreras, it was simply a fitting way to sum up the tradition of the club rather than an Obama-style soundbite.
Indeed, the club's own website is refreshingly candid about the origins and ideals for which it has historically stood.
"FC Barcelona is 'more than a club' in Catalonia because it is the sports club that most represents the country and is also one of its greatest ambassadors," it says. "Also, for different reasons, FC Barcelona is 'more than a club' for many people living elsewhere in Spain, who see Barca as a staunch defender of democratic rights and freedom."
Those democratic values are in evidence within the club itself, with Barca the most famous and successful exponents of the member-ownership model whereby the club is ultimately run by the supporters.
There is no doubt the prestige attached to the club has enhanced its success over the years, attracting more supporters - and therefore money and power - and leading players.
Indeed, for all the global admiration of the club's history and core values, there is no doubt that it is football for which it is most revered.
But despite greats such as Maradona, Romario and Ronaldo gracing the Camp Nou turf in the famous Blaugrana jersey, the real legends of the club are players the average Briton will have never heard of.
The greatest player in the club's history is generally recognised as Ladislao Kubala, a hard-drinking Hungarian refugee who had comparable talent to his great rival, Real Madrid's Alfredo Di Stefano, but not the application or stage upon which to showcase it.
In 11 years at the club, the all-singing, all-dancing Kubala scored 274 goals in 345 games winning four league titles and five Spanish cups.
From other eras the likes of Paulino Alcantara, Josep Samitier, Urruti and Sandor Kocsis are close behind Kubala in the popularity stakes while Johan Cruyff and Hristo Stoichkov are more contemporary bona fide superstars afforded legendary status.
Ability alone has never been enough at Barca - as the great Maradona found. To be truly cherished, players must embody the 'More Than A Club' sentiment and stand out for more than mere footballing ability.
Cruyff, for example, embraced Catalonia to such an extent he gave his son a Catalan name - Jordi - in clear defiance of Franco's regime. Stoichkov, a player of guile, aggression, skill and passion, was adored as much for his vociferous hatred of Real Madrid as his performances on the pitch.
"I will always hate Real Madrid," he famously said. "There is just something about them that gets up my nose. I would rather the ground opened up and swallowed me than accept a job with them.
"In fact, I do not like speaking about them because it makes me want to vomit."
Even by the high standards set during its 110-year history, this has been a spectacular season for Barca already, winning the league and cup double and reaching the Champions League final.
Like any team, Barca's homegrown players are afforded special affection by supporters and that sentiment is only amplified within a club so fiercely proud of its cultural identity.
If rookie Catalan coach Pep Guardiola and battle-hardened Catalan captain Carles Puyol can add the Champions League to an already memorable season, it will not be Spanish flags being waved in Rome.