Can FC Barcelona introduce more atmosphere to the Camp Nou with the creation of a controversial ‘youth stand’?
FC Barcelona are currently enjoying the most successful era in their 112-year history, yet while captain Carles Puyol has been lifting trophy after trophy there is still one matter that the club’s board members are not quite satisfied with. Barça have won a staggering 12 titles in the last three years, they are current European and Spanish champions and widely regarded as the best club side of all time. The average attendance at the Camp Nou continues to rise this season, following the trend set in the four previous ones; in 2010-11, it stood at 79,390, the highest in Europe. So what could possibly be the problem?
It is something noticed by the thousands of tourists and foreign residents who visit the Camp Nou each week: they are blown away by the scintillating football and the imposing stadium but are left disappointed by the unexpectedly dull atmosphere. Indeed, the Camp Nou is often likened to a theatre, with spectators who expect to be entertained before they will show any enthusiasm about what they are watching.
This feature has not gone unnoticed by Barça’s board either, and the club, under president Sandro Rosell, has been considering ways to raise the decibels in the 98,000-seater stadium. After months of planning, a solution may have been found. The plan is to create a ‘Grada Jove’ or ‘Youth Stand’, that would accommodate 1,400 vocal supporters who would belong to a special group (yet to be formed) of 4,000 club members with access to half-price match tickets. The aim of the initiative is that these youngsters, in their enthusiasm, would influence the rest of the stadium to create an atmosphere similar to that already seen in many British grounds.
In late September this year, a General Assembly of FC Barcelona members voted in favour of creating a closed section for this group behind the goal of the north stand with 295 votes in favour, 198 against and 33 undecided.
Despite this support, the plans have caused a debate among some of the club’s most prominent figures; while Rosell and the majority of his directors support the idea, a section for youths to make more noise is not as innocent as it sounds. And someone who strongly opposes the idea is previous FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta, and with good reason.
From the early Eighties until not too long ago, in the same stand where the Grada Jove will be, a supporters’ group called ‘Boixos Nois’ (meaning ‘Mad Boys’) took up residence. While they were more vocal than the rest of the Camp Nou crowd put together, their noisy support came at a heavy price. Many of its members accumulated a long line of criminal offences for causing trouble in and around football stadiums, especially away from home.
In 2003, Laporta was elected president of Barça and became the first one to take stern action against the group, banning them from the stadium and away trips. It was quite a paradox watching the magic of Ronaldinho with a backdrop of anti-Laporta chants—who was then presiding over the most successful era in Barça’s history—coming from the small group of Boixos Nois that evaded the ban (at the time, there was no systematic way to recognise members of the group. Many were angry at Laporta’s attitude towards them and stopped going to matches, but a few did carry on). After an unsavoury saga consisting of death threats and personal harassment, Laporta eventually succeeded in reducing their existence to a bare minimum. But with these new plans in place, Laporta has warned Rosell that he could be inviting trouble to the ground after a first draft of members for the new group included over 100 previous ‘Mad Boys’ and others with criminal records.
The plans for the stand are currently at a deadlock as the Grada Jove’s lead campaigner and spokesman, Carles Vidal, is blacklisted by the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Although he was not apparently a registered member of the Boixos Nois, Vidal is thought by police to have a criminal past. While the club agreed to strike from the list of potential members the rest of the people that the police objected to, Vidal remained. Last month, El Periódico reported that talks between Barça and the Mossos regarding the project were being held up over the issue of allowing him to be a member of the Grada Jove. “If the problem is me, I’ll go,” Vidal said at the time. “I’ve told the club that I don’t want to be an obstacle to this project.” In the El Periódico story, police sources said that they had proof that Vidal was involved in a fight at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium during a Champions League match last season; however, Vidal denies being violent and expressed surprise at the “obstinancy” of the Catalan police towards him.
Despite this disagreement, in an attempt to ensure the security of the initiative from the outset, assuming it goes ahead, the Mossos have laid down seven key rules that the club must abide by in order for the youth stand to be implemented (see below). While they may not be able to completely guarantee safety, putting them in place is a positive sign and will go a long way towards calming the fears of those who believe the Grada Jove is a smokescreen behind which a more suspicious set of fans will hide.
The issues of the Boixos Nois and security aside, the question is, is it really possible to get all the fans inside Europe’s largest stadium chanting in unison? The Camp Nou has so many different types of fans that it will be difficult to make them all act as one, except when Lionel Messi produces a moment of magic, of course. Yet why should that be perceived as negative? In fact, it gives the stadium a unique character that makes it appealing to many fans.
The Camp Nou has become an attraction with a magnetism equal to that of the Sagrada Família or Parc Güell. The FC Barcelona museum and tour attracts over 1.3 million visitors each year, making it the most popular tour in the city. To put that figure into perspective, ‘only’ 200,000 people go annually to the stadium tour and museum of Manchester United, the team that FC Barcelona defeated in last season’s Champions League final.
What has been noticeable in recent years is a more positive collective crowd attitude, which is mainly down to the overwhelming success of a team that includes numerous homegrown players and technical staff including manager Josep Guardiola and his deputy Tito Vilanova. Together, they have managed to create a more understanding crowd that fully supports the team even if certain results do not go their way. It was incredible to witness in October’s match against Sevilla when, with the score locked at 0-0, Barça were awarded a penalty in the last minute of the game. Messi stepped up but his shot was saved. The response was remarkable: nearly everyone inside the stadium stood up and chanted the Argentine’s name and gave the team a standing ovation at the final whistle. This wouldn’t have happened in previous years; the attitude was different then and Barça fans were considerably more critical when the team failed to perform at its best. Now, the majority of spectators are in tune with the team’s patient approach.
Clubs around the world have tried to emulate Barcelona’s renowned football philosophy of intricate short passing and moving but their fans’ impatience has restricted them from fully reaping the
potential rewards. So, while the Camp Nou does lack consistent, collective chanting, it is a vital advantage that the fans understand the team’s style of play.
Memories of the past have understandably made a large portion of Barça fans apprehensive about a youth stand, but they have seen their club overcome greater challenges over the years, minimising rivals who long ago were considered insuperable. Yes, it is a risk but if the right balance can be found between old and young who support the team in full voice, without sacrificing safety, that would surely discourage some unwelcome fans from attending games, meaning the Grada Jove could turn out to be yet another great victory for FC Barcelona.
THE SEVEN RULES SET OUT BY THE MOSSOS
- The Mossos will communicate directly with the FC Barcelona board, not the spokesman of the supporters’ group.
- The Mossos have the right to prohibit any individual based on their prior history, either having been a member of the Boixos Nois or having a criminal record; the Mossos will have unlimited access to the club’s facilities.
- Photograph and fingerprint verification will be required to enter the youth stand.
- The stand will not be controlled by private security guards but by the Mossos.
- The club has to commit to punishing any members who don’t meet the security rules.
- The areas surrounding the stadium will be deemed ‘areas of risk’; this means that any disturbances in or around the Camp Nou will be treated more seriously and the club will hand out heavy sanctions to anyone involved in them.
- Banned members will not be allowed to travel to away matches.