Photo by Rafel Royes Lopez
FC Barcelona rugby
Barça's rugby squad
Reaching the Foixarda Stadium—where FC Barcelona’s rugby team plays its game—is like descending into a dormant volcano waiting to awaken. Hidden in Montjuïc, on a field surrounded by cliffs, the pitch and the rusty grandstand reflect the current state of rugby in Catalunya—isolated and outshone by football.
On this mid-February Sunday, the Barça squad play the undefeated leader of the top division (the ‘División de Honor’): El Salvador, which is one of two professional teams from Valladolid. With four players on the national team, it is the only Spanish team that plays in the European Cup. On this occasion, the substitutes take their seats among a few hundred people yelling more in Spanish, French or English than in Catalan. But it has not always been this way.
Created in 1924 by a student who discovered the sport in France, the Barça rugby club welcomed 20,000 spectators annually to their matches until the Spanish Civil War. Until then, rugby had the honour to be played before the football matches. “Since then we’ve lacked public support,” Francesc Rosell, administrator of Barça’s rugby section, told Metropolitan. Although the team has won 15 national and 19 regional championships in the intervening years, rugby is hardly popular in Barcelona.
With less than 180 club members, and the team often far down in its division, the club fails to promote itself in Barcelona. Among the senior A-team’s 25 players, only two are Catalans. “My family doesn’t understand anything about it,” said the team’s captain, Daniel Lopez, who discovered rugby when he was 20 and at university. He does not believe it has much future in Catalunya: “There is nothing about it on TV, and clubs are not very good technically.“
Ted Shelton, an Englishman in Barça’s second line who used to play in London, disagreed. “Of course there is a catching-up to do here, but the conditions are ideal—a nice dry pitch with a nice dry ball.”
Like Shelton, who works for an Internet company in Barcelona, most of the players are still amateurs. But the league is opening up to professionalism. Important clubs have started to invest in rugby, and seem to believe in its market potential. Along with a sponsor, Real Madrid has just purchased a club.
Professionalism has to be combined with team spirit, insisted Francesc Rosell, who has been teaching rugby to the azulgrana club since 1988. Though there is a long way to go before it can become a professional league, questions relating to the issue have begun to affect the Barça squad. This season, the Senior A-team received an eight-point penalisation because six foreign professional players were playing without a licence from the Rugby Union. This caused dissension among the players and the resignation of the team’s two coaches in October.
Then Bernard Charret—a legendary French coach—tried to rescue the team. His efforts failed. The current coach is Arturo Trenzano. “After the crisis…we needed a big challenge to recover the taste of victory, because players were mentally down.”Barça has a lot of improving to do before recovering the glory days of yore, but on that Sunday in February the team had a big moment, winning 41-17 against El Salvador.
Was the Foixarda volcano finally waking up? Nothing in sport is certain, and it did not turn out to be much of an awakening. Barça was finally unable to avoid a descent from the first-division ranks when the season ended on April 6th. But that Sunday, in February, on the pitch, Barça certainly thundered.
Spanish Rugby Federation: