With its famous slogan, “Mes que un club” — more than a club — visible spelled out across the seats of the empty Camp Nou stadium, the Catalan giants took to the pitch as scenes of unrest unfolded outside polling stations across the region.
After an emergency board meeting, the club said it had taken the decision to ban fans from the match against fellow Spanish La Liga club Las Palmas after the national league refused to postpone it.
Las Palmas indicated on Sunday that it opposed the breakup of Spain, sending its players onto the pitch with small Spanish flags sewn onto their jerseys.
The club explained its decision in a statement, arguing that the extraordinary events in Catalonia warranted a postponement, and failing that, the move to play in an empty stadium
“FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression,” the club said in a statement.
“Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”
More than a club
Alongside its motto, which speaks to the club’s importance as a Catalan institution, FC Barcelona’s history is knitted in to the fabric of the region.
The club was a touchstone of Catalan resistance to Franco’s fascist regime, which ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, and has long been a strong supporter of Catalans’ right to self-determination, if not specifically this unsanctioned vote.
“Throughout the most difficult of times, Barça was the standard that represented Catalonia and the Catalan people’s desire for freedom, a symbolism that has continued to be closely linked to the idiosyncrasy of the club and its members to this day,” the club says on its website.
Throughout Sunday’s game, the scoreboard of the Camp Nou read “democracia” — democracy.
Ahead of the vote, Catalan fans said that they were hopeful that the club would support the referendum.
“Barça and Catalonia have been linked historically and the club should be 100% committed to the people of Catalonia,” Carles Ordiales, president of supporters group Seguiment, told Marca.
“I believe the club should have an even stronger position in favor of the right to decide.”
Show of unity
Before the fixture, it was clear that each club would be on opposing sides politically as well as on the field.
Las Palmas, from the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, said it had sown a small Spanish flag into the jerseys of its players in a “moderate” gesture of support for the integrity of Spain.
“Regardless of how far away the Gran Canaria Stadium is, we have never felt the least temptation to be part of a country other than this,” the team said in a statement.
‘Unstoppable defending democracy’
Barça players have been vocal in their support of the referendum.
Star Barcelona player Gerard Piqué tweeted a photo of himself voting, and said: “I have voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy.”
The club’s legendary former player, Xavi, who retired in 2014, condemned the Spanish crackdown on the vote. “What is happening in Barcelona is a disgrace,” he said.
“It’s inadmissible that in a democratic country the people are not allowed to vote. I give my full support to the people who are peacefully trying to exert their right to vote.”
Barcelona’s players took to the field wearing red and yellow shirts, the colors of Catalonia, before reverting to its normal strip for the match which ended in a 3-0 victory for Barça, with star player Lionel Messi scoring twice.