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Barcelona FC: Catalonians against the world

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The walk to Camp Nou stadium is less a stroll than a pilgrimage.

Walking to the massive stadium at the Universitat de Barcelona, you find yourself ducking in and around a sea of red, blue and yellow, a legion of fans here to bow at the altar of Barcelona FC, football's greatest club.

It is May 9, 2011, and I've been in Barcelona for four days. I've seen sights like Sagrada Familia, the city's iconic cathedral, as well as magic fountains, beaches and architecture standing there since the early 1900s.

Before coming here I worried about being confined to tourist traps. I wanted a glimpse of the real Barcelona, and what better way than to go to a soccer game featuring the best players and the world's most passionate fans? Camp Nou is their home; Barcelona FC is the team.

About a month before my departure we booked tickets to a game against RCD Espanyol, the latest in what's known as the "Barcelona Derby," a series of matches between these two clubs. Barcelona, now at the top of the Spanish League, won in their last meeting and there's little doubt they'll do it again.

"More than a club" is how Barcelona FC describes itself, and there doesn't exist a more accurate descriptor. Founded in 1899 by Swiss entrepreneur Hans (Joan) Gamper, it has since evolved into a nationalist symbol for Spain's Catalonian region.

In 1899, Gamper put an ad in a newspaper seeking "anyone who feels enthusiastic enough" about the sport to meet at the paper's offices any Tuesday or Friday.

From there 11 players met at the Gimnasio Sole and founded Foot-ball Club Barcelona. It would share a coat of arms with the City of Barcelona, demonstrating a commitment to the city, and its colours would be blue and claret.

Once a symbol for the city, it has become a proud symbol of the country's Catalonian region, where Barcelona resides, and a focal point for distinction from the "Spanish" identity.

At a game in 1925, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, fans jeered the Spanish national anthem. Rivera, a supporter of rival team Real Madrid, shut down the old Les Corts stadium for six months and forced Gamper to give up his presidency of the club.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, pitting Republican forces against a group of conservative generals led by Francisco Franco, several Barca players joined a war of independence to keep "Spain" from eclipsing a distinct cultural identity. Later on, the dictator Franco would ban the flying of the Catalonian flag altogether.

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