In the second part of this ethnographic insight on El Clasico, the biggest match in world football, PDP Lead Researcher James Vaughan continues with his observations from his experience watching a masterpiece inside Camp Nou…


My friend and I part ways as we reach the Camp Nou and I walk the well-travelled path through access 18, in gate 39 and up to level 3. As I climb up and out into the open-air stadium I see the green grass and the colossal circular stands, and my heart rate accelerates.

I find my seat and sit in a daydream until whistling begins and boos breaks out; the white of Real Madrid is unmistakable as players emerge from the belly of Camp Nou. It’s only the warm up (see below) but the whistles howl. Ferocious whistling is commonplace at Camp Nou, especially at the beginning of European Champions League matches. Unlike the current whistles – directed at the opposition – the piercing noise at Champions League games is in protest of UEFA.

Last season UEFA fined Barça 150,000 euros when fans flew thousands of Senyera Esteladas during a Champions League game. A report said “UEFA believed that the showing of Esteladas violates Article 16 of the disciplinary code, specifically paragraph e) of paragraph 2: ‘the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not suitable for a sports event, especially messages that are political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative in nature.’”

I can only smile at the cluelessness behind this sociocultural insensitivity. FC Barcelona themselves took no responsibility but insisted that any sanction against Catalan independence flags is “unfair” and “an attack on freedom of expression”. Do Catalans see this as yet another injustice at the hands of centralising powers? Barça’s museum pinpoints the historic significance of the stadium wide displays, particularly the first occurrence. One month after Franco’s death in 1975 at the Camp Nou, Clasico spectators smuggled the Catalan flags into the stadium to protest the oppression of the city and its people under the Francoist regime. The game was broadcast on TV and a sea of Catalan flags represented a beacon of hope for many in Spain at the time.

After 36 years under Franco, Barcelona was dilapidated. Robert Hughes suggests that dictators have never trusted port cities, because they lose their centralist power as people, cultures and worldviews mix, spawning new ideas at the port. In an attempt to control Barcelona and its proudly independent people, Franco suffocated Barceloneta (the port Barri) with industry. Choking the life out of the seafront, the city was constrained and turned inward away from the Mediterranean. After Franco’s demise the city pivoted 180 degrees, re-locating the industry, re-embracing the Mediterranean and re-developing the seafront for the 1992 Olympics. The Ajuntament (city government) compensates for Franco’s years of neglect daily as Barcelona is brushed, sprayed and cleaned fanatically, almost 24/7.

At the finale of my gothic walking tour I conclude that 1992 was the year Barcelona became world-renowned. But not because of the Olympics… (I joke) but because of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, the team that won the European Championship for the first time that year.

Before this season’s Champions League match against Celtic, 30,000 Esteladas were handed out. As I entered access 18 that evening, a grandfather and granddaughter handed me a flag. At the Man City Champions League game my dad and I were sitting alongside a Catalan family – grandfather and grandmother sitting next to their son, who had their grandson on his lap – and the family atmosphere only intensified the ferocity of the whistling and the hostility of the booing aimed at UEFA (See below).



UEFA’s fines have only served to intensify the protests and reinforce a sense of injustice towards the governing body. Protesting against injustice seems to be a prominent cultural value and social practise within the Catalan way of life.

Walking into Camp Nou today I was handed another version of the Catalan independence flag, – a yellow triangle and red star  – a flag specifically established to counter Franco’s fascist regime and promote socialist and Marxist ideals. In the 1930s Barcelona was the hub of fascist resistance with people joining the rebellion from around Europe to fight in Spain’s Civil war, including a young George Orwell who later wrote Homage to Catalunya, Animal Farm and 1984. Orwell is commemorated with George Orwell Square, a plaça named after him in the gothic quarter.

In Camp Nou today, historical and symbolic gestures are coupled with a more blatant message: a massive banner written in English hangs from the second tier of the stadium saying: “Welcome to the Catalan Republic”.

At 4.12pm l’himne del Barça (the song of FC Barcelona) rings around the stadium and another famous Camp Nou mosaic materialises as the teams walk out – this mosaic depicting Catalonia’s national sport of building Castelles (human castles); an activity that literally builds on, and reinforces the strength of each local community. L’himne del Barcelona is played before and after all games; win, lose or draw and in FCB’s museum it’s translated into the language of every player who’s ever played for Barça. Today’s rendition is spine tingling.


The game kicks off and Barça patiently keep the ball – a pattern evident at junior, youth and senior levels, male and female – moving it from one side of the pitch to the other with short passes, long passes, quick and slow. The style is striking, the rhythm mesmerising. Patiently they all wait for the opportunity (a shared affordance) to play forward.

Expats in Barcelona often complain (because of the perceived ease with which Barça keep the ball) that Barça play on a wider pitch, but Camp Nou has pretty standard dimensions (105m x 68m) recommended by FIFA; the same as the majority of Premier league pitches.

It’s not the width of the pitch that’s important, it’s the emphasis on width or the appreciation of width. This appreciation is so pervasive that local TV coverage is zoomed out to capture all 20-outfield players and the full width of the pitch – I noticed this watching last year’s Classico in a local bar. A passion for width is also evident in the architecture of the famous Catalan Gothic churches. On my gothic walking tour I stop at Sant Maria Del Pi and Sant Maria Del Mar to explain this unique architecture. 

To paraphrase my “spiel”, it’s said that you can see the Catalan passion for width in the way they build their churches. It comes down to Catalonia’s founding value of equality. If you have a church that’s long and narrow, certain people get to sit at the front and certain people end up at the back. But the aim with the Catalan Gothic style is to make the church as wide as possible – architects even developed special techniques to create shallow arches and expand the distance that could be supported. This wide, one-room church allowed as many people as possible to get in the same room and gather around the altar. 

Unlike Barcelona’s other Gothic churches Sant Maria Del Mar was built “for the people, by the people” in the “original community of Barcelona”, El Born. The widest of all the Catalan Gothic churches, it represents an attempt to embody the people’s value in, and passion for, a more egalitarian society. Sant Maria Del Mar “only” took 50 years to build because, they say, every able-bodied person in Barcelona lent a hand. It is the width and height of the Catalan gothic church that allows it to hold more space – truly a sight to behold – and share that space equally among the people. 

The parallels before me are striking; the wide positioning of Barça’s players maximises (holds) the space on the pitch, while their positional awareness means space is constantly created, re-created and shared equally. The ball is also patiently shared (switched) from side to side, involving numerous players in each possession. This spatial awareness is also evident in the play of juniors at La Masia and even their Catalan opposition – it’s almost as if this understanding is embedded in the Catalan soil and infused within their way of life.


At the Barça museum they explain the emergence of their playing style like this: “Our values underpin and guide our style, our way of thinking, and our game. It is through them that we will achieve the goals we set ourselves.” If the design of the Catalan Gothic churches was underpinned by a desire for a more egalitarian society and farmhouse metaphors, could Barça’s style of play be underpinned by these ideals too?

It is no surprise that Barça’s golden period was built on this sentiment by Pep Guardiola: “The target is not to win titles; the target is to achieve a unique style of play”. An ideal that reinforced the intrinsic development at La Masia and balances the extrinsic obsession of the modern world. Barça’s playing style has become their focus and foundation, the why at the intrinsic heart of what they do.

As I watch the play below I become aware that Barça’s playing style also represents the Catalan desire to be simultaneously independent (unique) and innovative, while respectful to traditional roots. A paradoxical balance like the one found between the Catalan values seny and rauxa. The patient passing – sharing the ball from side to side – is reminiscent of seny while the creative outburst a moment of rauxa; something different, uncontrollable, unusual and unexpected. The style of play could represent a self-organising pattern of this paradox: the patient passing of seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny, seny and then a moment of rauxa – a dribble, through ball, deception, shot at goal, leading to the ultimate moment of ecstatic celebration and rauxa as around 99,000 thousand people scream, shout, jump and hug each other in delirium… A moment transcending social bias, consensus and language in this universal emotional outburst.

The paradox between seny and rauxa or tradition and independence (self-direction) emerges in many of the cities most prominent sociocultural artefacts. At Plaça del Rey on the Gothic walking tour, I explain the diverse spectrum of the Catalan culture using two significant symbols.

Firstly, La Sagrada Família, the famous basilica, a religious centre founded by conservative Catalans but also featuring Gaudí’s creative self-expression and ability to defy both social norms and the rules of architecture.

And then, across the square we see, in a shop window, a series of small figurines known as El Caganer – “the shitter” or “the crapper”! El Caganer, who appears in traditional nativity scenes, represents both the traditional Catalan farmer, “giving back to the land”, but also a complete disregard for social norms – an uncontrollable outburst of Rauxa.

Robert Hughes reinforced the idea that rauxa and seny coexist like heads and tails, you cannot separate them, and he pointed to Joan Miró as so quintessentially a Catalan artist because he displayed both at once in such abundance. Barça’s play also contains both seny and rauxa, and it can often reflect the beauty of La Sagrada Família but it has awkward moments like El Caganer.

Barça’s critics call there style of play boring, saying they pass and pass but go no-where, while some say they are too structured (too much seny)? But these people don’t understand the nuance of this dynamic masterpiece; they don’t understand the sociocultural historic context from which it’s evolved, they don’t understand that seny and rauxa coexist.

Others critics say Barça are no nobler than other football clubs because they still need to buy foreign players to add creativity (more Rauxa?) and solve problems in the final third, the area on the pitch where space is suffocated by the opposition, who pack players around their goal and defend in a “deep, deep block”. And there is truth to this; historically Kubala (a Hungarian refugee) and Johan Cruyff (Netherlands) added creative problem solving in the final third. As did the Ballon D’Or winners Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria), Romário (Brazil), Ronaldo (Brazil), Rivaldo (Brazil), Ronaldinho (Brazil) and today Messi (Argentina), all of whom were outstanding for Barça and came from foreign lands. In the documentary Barça Dreams its acknowledged that:

“Barça’s culture has always been about play (represented in the amount of festivals each year), but the person who showed this on the field was a foreigner… this is another thing that doesn’t happen much in many clubs. Barça can create a team but it’s a foreigner that usually makes the difference, soaking up a lot from Barça’s game system and culture and giving it a dimension that would be difficult for a player from here. And it’s very much in line with Gamper’s spirit.”

I watch as Messi enters the attacking third – the limited space patrolled, oppressed and controlled by the opposition defenders – he bounces a pass off Suarez before switching it to Neymar, who begins to torment his defender. Barça’s MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) are the most prolific strike force in world football; originating from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil respectively (however in Argentina Messi is called ‘the little Catalan’ in recognition of his multicultural upbringing). They certainly make the difference in and around the 18 yard box.

To me the Catalan coexistence of seny and rauxa mirrors the tension between order (balanced equilibrium) and disorder (creativity disequilibrium) in Barça’s playing style: a dynamic disequilibrium that can breed self-organisation and creative expression. Does this disequilibrium generate space, physical and psychological, for creative expression? Can this explain why no other club has more Ballon D’Or, or FIFA World player of the year winners? Eight Barça players have won the accolade for world player of the year on 17 occasions over the years.

Boos and whistles explode as Madrid commit the first foul of the match and break up Barça’s passing rhythm – the noise is unreal. Fans demand retribution for the offence but its just a free kick, no card – to some it is another perceived injustice. The relationship between Barça, La Liga referees and president Javier Tebas has been rocky since the bottle-throwing incident against Valencia in October. After scoring a late penalty Barça’s players were pelted with bottles and then criticised by Tebas for “feigning injury”. Barça responded by releasing a statement of non-confidence against Tebas, calling for disciplinary action.

I attended the next La Liga game at Camp Nou and witnessed the protest against Tebes and La liga, held in the 12th minute. For the whole minute the Camp Nou crowds waved white hankies, hissed, and held a mosaic of red cards while chanting for Tebes’ resignation! 

As the game in front of me progresses the fans’ frustration builds and fouls bring more whistling and booing. Some fans cannot hold back and “uncontrollable emotional outbursts” are frequent.

As another free kick is awarded I’m aware of building tension. Suddenly fans around the stadium are on their feet, Senyera Esteladas are unveiled and chanting booms… Independència…Independència…Independència! It’s 17 minutes 14 seconds in the first half and the ritual remembrance of the year that Catalonia lost its independence begins. At every game on 17 minutes 14 seconds in both the first and second half fans launch into this ceremonial commemoration and ongoing protest. I’ve experienced it before but nothing could prepare me for today’s rendition. I remember that it’s the exact same chant taken up by the thousands outside the courthouse protesting the legal action taken against the Catalan politicians who arranged the 2014 independence referendum (seen in part 1).


Following the Spanish war of succession, the collapse of the house of Hapsburg in Spain and siege of Barcelona that lasted for 14 months, the city eventually fell to the forces of Felip V of the house of Bourbon. Catalan constitutions put in place by Count-kings of Barcelona and the King of Aragon in the 13th century were disbanded at the treaty of Utrecht and the kingdom of Catalonia was no more. The Catalan language was banned, part of Born destroyed, and an infamous citadel was built to keep the city oppressed and under military control. Vestiges of this oppression remained as late as the turn of 20th Century when the old city walls constrained Barcelona’s industrial growth. After years of stalling, the government in Madrid eventually sanctioned their removal and the city’s extension – Eixample emerged under the influence of the modernist architects. This was also the time that Barça was founded and enjoyed its first golden age until the Civil War and Franco.

Andrés Iniesta enters the game as a second half substitute to thunderous applause and Barça begin to click through the gears as their rhythm intensifies. Anxiety turns to appreciation as Iniesta links play between defense and attack; he wears the coveted number 8 shirt and plays in the revered number 8 position. While MSN draw worldwide acclaim, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets draw the most frequent applause at Camp Nou. Playing in the #8 and #6 (central midfield) positions they represent the Catalan heart at the fulcrum of Barça’s playing style. The importance of Barça’s midfield is well recognized:

“The Barcelona midfield this season has been a merry-go-round, with constant rotations meaning the team can hardly control matches anymore. Even when everyone has been healthy, rotation has been to blame for a lack of cohesion in the middle of the pitch. If MSN are to decide matches, they need the ball in favourable positions, something which hasn’t happened enough this season for the Azulgrana.” Wrote MARCA that weekend.

Within eight minutes of coming on, Iniesta picks up the ball in the #8 position and slides Neymar in, he skips past his last defender and has the best chance of the game to date – the opportunity to double Barça’s slender lead after Luis Suarez’ 53rd minute header. He blazes the ball over the bar!

On 82 minutes Iniesta receives the ball, opens up and faces forward – the trigger for his teammates to make forward runs. Neymar pulls wide and Iniesta shapes his body to play this pass and utilize the pitch’s width again – a clear pattern in Barcelona’s play. But Luka Modric reads this intention – Real Madrid’s best player and today’s MVP – he’s constantly broken up attack after attack and moves to intercept.

Somehow Iniesta perceives this movement while drawing his right leg back to make the pass. Instantly he turns his passing action into a deceptive movement and fakes the pass. Modric falls for Iniesta’s deception and lunges to cover the wide pass leaving a small channel, a chink of light, in the center of the pitch, a gap through which a dormant Messi is loitering. Iniesta sees this gap and fires a world-class through ball, weighted to avoid the lunging defenders and perfectly arriving at Messi’s back foot, putting the world’s best player (Cristiano Ronaldo is FIFA’s current player of the year – he has been completely anonymous for Madrid today) beyond the final defender with only the goalkeeper to beat. For once Messi’s mesmerizing first touch lets him down, taking him a couple of meters wider than he’d want, his angle is narrowed and he drags his shot wide of the goal… (See the below – notice Iniesta’s deception around 16/17 seconds on video timer).


It’s 1–0 to Barça and tension builds as the clock winds down; Barça fans jeer every decision made by the referee – where is the seny? The fans’ frustration seeps from the stand onto the pitch. Attempting to appease fans’ frustration after a minor mistake, Arda Turan overenthusiastically bundles into the back of Real Madrid’s Marcelo on the left side of Barça’s penalty area. The referee gives the free kick to Real Madrid – its the 90th minute. The Camp Nou howls in frustration and anguish. Luka Modric sends in a pinpoint cross and Sergio Ramos rises above the rest. The captain of Real Madrid and Spain glances a header past Barça’s goalkeeper: 1–1.

The game ends and Barça fans are left with an uncertain, uneasy, uncomfortable stalemate, leaving us in a situation that slightly favours Madrid – symbolic of the movement for Catalan independence perhaps?

I sit as the stadium empties and remember Xavi Hernandez’s perspective on the tension between Barça and Real. “It [being a fan or player] wouldn’t be as passionate and perhaps we wouldn’t be as ‘culé’ (as devoted to Barça) as we are now, because everyone sometimes needs a bit of animosity [tension/disequilibrium] to perhaps somehow improve”. Is Xavi describing a type co-adaptation that inspires high performance? Is this why Barça and Real have emerged as the world’s best football clubs? And is this co-adaptation why Catalonia’s capital city is creative, diverse, accepting, politically aware and ready to stand up to injustice? 

As I walk out of the stadium I stumble across a thought: perhaps the sociocultural tension between seny and rauxa, order and disorder, collaboration and independence cultivates the conditions – an ecological niche – that create a form of life open to disequilibrium, self-organisation and collaborative, yet, self-expressive creativity.

In the context of football, Catalonia and FC Barcelona this form of life may be best represented by Barça’s socially, culturally and historically constrained style of play and the development ethos at La Masia. Captured in the excerpt from Barça’s museum (below) called: Our Fruits.



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