Catalan journalist Guillem Gómez authored Francesc Calvet, El pagés que va triomfar al Barça, a book that tells the story of Calvet, a country man who took part in the mythical team of les Cinc Copes. In addition to being a part of that legendary Barça team, Calvet was also one of the first set of players who can be considered ‘La Masia players’. Gómez took time out to discuss with totalBarça his book and a little bit of blaugrana history. At the moment, the book is published only in Catalan, but a Spanish version is set to come and there is also a possibility for the book to be released in English.
To start off, could you introduce yourself and describe what motivated you to write this book?
Yes. Well I am a journalist and I started writing books because I like football and history. The first book I wrote was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of my club, a Third Division Catalan team called Santboià, and this is the second one. I wrote it because I work for a newspaper in Sant Joan Despí, which is the town where Calvet was born and even has a municipal sports centre named after him. This job gave me the chance to interview him a few times when he was still alive. I had spoken with him quite a lot of times and his story was really interesting and I wanted it written down in a book. I started gathering all the material I would need about him and decided to publish the book.
Could you describe, in short, what the book is about?
Sure. I wanted it to be focused on the post-war* period at Barça, writing it from this player’s point of view, who signed for the club just when the Civil War ended. At that time Barça had lost a lot of players (some in exile, some in concentration camps and some had died during the war). So, if they wanted to have enough players for a team, they had to sign really young players (about 17 or 18 years) and thanks to these young players the club did not disappear.
Calvet was a Barça player during this post-war period till 1954, if I am not mistaken, which is the year of the Cinc Copes**. Here, when Barça was at the top, he ended his career as a player. He can be considered as, what we call now a “La Masia player”, maybe one of the first of them.
*Referring to Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939.
** The team won Liga, Copa (then named “Copa del Generalísimo” to honour the dictator who was leading Spain at that time), Champions League (called then the “Latin Cup”), Duward Cup and the Martini & Rossi trophy (given to the Liga team who had the best goals scored/goals received ratio)
Why Francesc Calvet, what is so interesting about him?
Well, I chose him because I knew him and because it was really interesting how he combined being a football player while working as a peasant farmer. I found it really curious. But then, if you think about how life had been during those times, you realize that being a footballer was not the same. They played really few matches and as soon as they finished the training they all went to work and helped their families; in Calvet’s case this help was working on the land but each family had their business.
It was a difficult period but Calvet started to fit in the team, despite combining the football field with the ‘peasant field’ and succeeded at Barça.
Another motivating factor was that he was not a renowned player. We know the Cinc Copes team and when we remember it we think about the strikers, as Serrat’s famous song said: ‘Basora, César, Kubala, Moreno and Manchón’*. Well, he was a defender and maybe defenders are not as famous! But he was an integral part of that legendary team and this was an extra motivation for me.
* “Temps era temps” (which would be like “Once upon a time” in Catalan) is a song by the Catalan composer and singer Joan Manel Serrat which is about the post-war period and as he is a declared Barça fan includes this line about the Cinc Copes team (minute 1:40):
How long did it take to write the book and what was the best thing about writing it?
It took me about three and a half years to write it. The best thing has been getting to know many ex-Barça players, whose opinions and statements are included in the book, who are almost myths now. For example we have Ramallets, Seguer, Manchón, Vila, some of whom passed away in 2012.
From your investigation, what was the most surprising thing you discovered?
I would say the anecdotes. For example, I did not know that Calvet was the youngest Barça player to score a goal, despite being a defender! And he kept that record until Bojan Krkic, only months younger than he was, scored for Barça’s first team.
How rough were the post-war times for Barça? Is it true the club almost disappeared?
Yes, it is. According to historic documents I consulted while I was gathering information for the book and some statements, it seems that the club, indeed, almost disappeared. They even wanted to destroy Les Corts field (where Barça played by then) to transform it into a tank field. Many documents and other material disappeared. Also, as I said before, the club did not have enough players to build a proper team.
Thanks to the initiative and strength of directive and other staff who ruled the club then, many documents and other things which were set to be destroyed were finally saved. They spoke with and convinced many authorities to save the club.
How influential was the Cinc Copes team to the fans, especially in those times of distress?
It was a period when football was the only good thing for the fans, who were going through really bad times. The only joy they could get during those times of scarcity was watching their team play. And the fact that the Cinc Copes team was such an extraordinary team influenced them in a positive way.
And then there was Kubala, who was the one who totally turned the tide. Kubala was the first football player to be paid and after him all the players were paid as well. Being a football player started to be more like a job. Before him the salary that players earned was meagre and their contracts were not serious. It is even said that they built Camp Nou thanks to Kubala’s signing since, after his signing, there was so many people attending the matches that Les Corts field was not big enough for all of them.
How important/difficult was the transition between a very troubled Barça and that Cinc Copes team?
In those times of distress, Barça did not perform well, they won a few Liga titles but nothing important. They faded into the background but thanks to those young players we were talking about before, Barça could keep playing and existing.
In addition to the trouble they were facing they had to fight against the influence of Spain’s dictator, like in the famous 11-1 against Madrid at Bernabéu*. That match was the very example of police coercion. The atmosphere was infernal, every single fan was whistling, that match was a farce. When the players decided, during half time (they were already losing 8 -0 and it was a Copa second leg match. Barça had won the first leg 3 – 0), that they would not keep playing under these conditions because it was a barefaced football robbery, the police chief went into their dressing room and threatened to send them all to jail if they did not come out and play the second half. Calvet was the only one who faced him, explaining to him that they could not bear all the pressure out there.
*One of the most controversial encounters between Real Madrid and Barcelona took place in 1943 at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey (then known as Generalissimo). Madrid won 11-1, the biggest win ever in a game between the two squads. It was rumored that Franco had told his troops to threaten the Catalans to lose the match else the players and their families would be imprisoned. A few Barça players from that time have later confirmed the rumors to be true while also adding that they didn’t believe the referee was a Real Madrid fan or that it was his intention to make things easier for Real Madrid. Barça players strongly believed that the referee acted the way he did because he was also threatened and the players could see true fear in his eyes.