“Few institutions, sporting or otherwise, have been able to match the aura and mystique that FC Barcelona as a football club exude. Even if the team is doing badly, as it has done for long spells in its history, Barca has still always been symbolic with Protest Football - be it during Franco's reign where it became a potent symbol of Catalan identity to the incident in March 2002, when anti-capitalists protesting the WTO, stormed the Nou Camp pitch during a Barca-Real Madrid game. If ever there was an anti-capitalist entity sitting among the world's elite, it was Barcelona, or so it was perceived by people not even footballing. So what better place to showcase your ire, then, than in its backyard - with the whole world watching.

That this could happen at any other venue, with any other club is slightly unimaginable, for even if Manchester United's supporters showing their protest against Malcolm Glazer's advances at Old Trafford is heartening, it is a direct reaction to something that is likely to affect them and not so much an instance of lending the world's richest club to an issue totally outside soccer's purview.

FC Barcelona does that. It stands for that and more, like its motto, 'More than a club,' states. The Nou Camp has historically lent itself as a mammoth platform for silent social protest beginning from thumbing its nose to Franco's cultural subjugation to currently, stoically withstanding tidal changes in footballing attitudes by its one act of not allowing a sponsor's logo figure on the azulgrana, the club's red and blue colours -- ones that have come to be identified with rebellion via football.

Which is why it is completely staggering to learn that by the month's end, FC Barcelona would agree to finally sport a sponsor's logo on its shirts - only 106 years after having resisted it. The news comes like a sharp stab in the back, a punch in the solar plexus.

Big deal, you might ask? It's just a logo after all. Every club has them, and it means money for the cash-strapped team - $24.83 million per season for five years to advertise the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Guangzhou Asiad - probably the biggest in footballing history.

But that is the basic point. A large part of Barcelona's charm has been its stand against all of this, even if at some level, it was never intended. The very image of the club, the attractive, often tragic, football it played, automatically lent itself to this.

It is difficult to explain, especially in a time like now, where following football or a club has become the easiest of things. The choice is at the push of a button, and if you didn't support Man United earlier, or Real Madrid of late, you were footballing dork. The slightly discerning always fell for Arsenal. But back then, it was much like rock music much, much before MTV came home. You were to fall in love with football just as you fell in love with Rock: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain (with apologies to Hornby).

There came a time when you could reel off names of the logos that appeared on all the clubs and still felt a vicarious sense of pride that Barca never had one. You smirked when Paramalat figured on as many as half a dozen club shirts in leagues across the world, but Barca was too big to be touched by anything. In a sense, that helped shape your early thinking.

And now you are at a loss to explain, or come to grips, with what was perhaps inevitable. The team is poised to win its first title in six years, and yet the developments of the last two weeks leave a bitter taste. True, the club needs the money, but then they've tided over worse before, and that's why they're perhaps one of the most-loved clubs in the world. A shirt logo may mean nothing to other outfits, but in Barca's case, it could mean the ultimate betrayal.

For old time's sake, alone, here's praying, the deal falls through. For somehow, football, and thus hope, will never remain the same. Even if it's only a logo."

 

 

 

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