Unlike other football clubs, the FC Barcelona mascot is not an animal, it is a human being. He is called “l’Avi” (grandfather in Catalan), an old, round-bellied man with a white beard dressed in a Barça T-shirt and shorts. He is the human alter ego of “l’Avi del Barça”, a character created by cartoonist and writer Valentí Casanys on October 29, 1924 for the sports magazine Xut.
The Xut cartoon became so popular that the Catalan club begun to be identified with him. Barcelona later paid tribute to the grandfather figure by commissioning famous Catalan sculptor Josep Viladomat to make a statue and placing it in the grounds of La Masia.
Some years later, a Barcelona fan named Joan Casals started going to Camp Nou games dressed as l’Avi, stating he wanted to honor the character by becoming its human alter ego. When Barça won the European Cup in 1992, he told the media that he would shave his beard if the club would win it a second time. After Barça defeated Arsenal in 2006, Casals fulfilled his promise and became even more popular with the fans.
But not all cules were impressed as some of them thought he unfairly grabbed the character of L’Avi. Marti Dalmases, chairman of Casal de l’Avi Barça (Senior Citizens Centre) publicly criticised Casals for “usurping” the character l’Avi del Barça. In a letter to Catalan newspaper Sport, Dalmases claimed that Casals assumed the personality without fully understanding its origin. Nevertheless, in March 2007, FC Barcelona named Joan Casals as the club’s official mascot “l’Avi del Barça”.
The year 2009 marks Casals’ 25th year as L’Avi, and fans continue to pay homage to him as he graces the gatherings of the “Penyas del Barça”, or Barcelona fan clubs. He would also go the Camp Nou stadium to watch the team, as he did recently in the Atletico Madrid match.