Despite what common sense dictates, there are drawbacks to supporting a successful team. As Barca wins more trophies, so does it garner more fans, but in the process is diluted. The number of jersey sales increase, but the passion beneath those threads is dulled. Who are these unfamiliar faces in the pub with Messi emblazoned across their backs, huddled in front of the game? Where did they come from? The answer is twofold.
The first is human nature: these are what Americans call bandwagon fans. Can they really be blamed for being seduced by the Catalans’ beautiful play? Even in a country where football is played by men in helmets, it is impossible not to notice the joy with which Guardiola’s men play the game. These fans should be welcomed and educated, their budding interest cultivated.
The second answer is far more sinister, and is indicative of the general direction of football. Barcelona’s success on the field has been matched with increasingly aggressive marketing campaigns, the ultimate aim of which is to sell merchandise, specifically jerseys. Started under former president Joan Laporta and strengthened under Sandro Rosell, the club’s collusion with Nike now sees the team’s summer break cut short, to fly off to Asia or North America. Is it in the best interest of the players to fly across multiple time zones to play in the sweltering heat of summer only a few weeks before the start of a new season? Of course not. As Guardiola mentioned in a recent interview to fifa.com, “What is tough for a team like ours is that we don’t get to do a pre-season, so it’s harder for us to get into our stride.”
To be fair to the business-minded board members of Barcelona, it isn’t as though they are trying to hide their intent. How else can one interpret the recent discussions to force members to physically renew their membership in the Catalan capital? The message seems to be “We’re happy to take your money in the club shop, but when it comes to being a member, the policy is locals only.” If the club wants to cast its net across the world, then that is its choice, but it can’t have it both ways.
What does all of this mean for the average fan? In practice it means that the pub is a lot more crowded on game days. What was once a solitary endeavor surrounded by oblivious Premier League fans has now become an increasingly crowded affair, but still remains noticeably quiet. These fans in their blaugrana jerseys don’t sing, because they don’t know the chants. They know Messi, and maybe the tall guy who dates Shakira, but that’s about it. They ask how Ronaldinho is playing. This is not their fault, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.
So what can we do about this? The best that we can offer is to help educate these startled-looking Barcelona fans, direct them to some reading material (Barça: A People’s Passion is a good starting point) and hope that things follow their natural course. Hopefully, one day, I won’t be singing alone.
Image credit: Diver & Aguilar