Fútbol Club Barcelona is the biggest club in the world. Yes, Real Madrid and Manchester United can lay certain claims on the table and get a bit stampy-feet about such a statement, but Barça is the real deal and it is "Més que un club" or more than a club. However, this club that is seen as the unofficial national team of Catalunya, came into this world thanks not to the work of of a Catalan, or even a Spaniard, but the efforts of a Swiss ex-pat.
Before we look at the
stadium that Barça used for the 35 years prior to the move to the Camp Nou, let's throw some light on the six other grounds the club used in
the first 20 or so years of its existence. First of all we need to go back to October 1899
when Swiss national Hans Kamper found himself working in Barcelona. Keen to
continue his sporting activities, he placed an advertisement in Los Deportes,
declaring his wish to form a football club and at a meeting on 29 November 1899
with 11 like-minded individuals, FC Barcelona was founded. Kamper would play
for and later become president of the club, taking the Catalan version of his
name Joan Gamper.
|Barca's original club crest from 1899|
|Tall, dark and sporty Swiss ex-pat WLTM |
like-minded individuals for ball related fun
Between 1899 and 1909, Barça would play at five different grounds, starting with Velódromo de la Bonanova, then a year later, they moved to Campo del Hotel Casanovas. Both were extremely basic grounds with a roped-off dirt pitch. During 1901, the club moved to Campo de la Plaza de las Armas, another simple ground, before settling down for a few years at Campo de la Carretera de Horta. This was the first enclosure that resembled a football ground, with a short stand on halfway and bleachers on the remaining sides of the pitch. In 1905 the club moved to Campo de la Calle Muntaner, which was slightly larger, but if anything, more basic than Campo de Horta. The reason for all the moves in the early years was due to the rapid expansion of Barcelona and any open space was quickly swallowed up for housing or commercial use.
|Barça's first five stadiums|
After a brief exile, Gamper returned to the club as president in 1908. After initial success in the Campeonata de Catalunya, the club had not won any competition since 1905 and with significant debts, was in the brink of folding. Gamper set about refinancing the club and in 1909, with the help of local businessmen, Barça purchased their first ground at Calle de Industria. He also signed new players and membership grew to 10,000 socios by 1914. The ground at Calle Industria would be known as L'Escopidora or the Spittoon and was inaugurated on 14 March 1909 with a league match against Català SC. In the next match at L'Escopidora, Barça regained the Campeonata de Catalunya and the first Golden era of the club was under way.
|L'Escopidora or the Spittoon |
ground was a revelation at the time with its twin decked stand and initial
capacity of 6,000. It was also the first ground in Spain to experiment with
floodlights. Such was the popularity of the team that the ground was bursting
to capacity whenever Barça played, so much so that some supporters had to sit
on the perimeter wall. Passers-by would see the ungainly sight of the fans
backsides hanging over the edge of the wall and nicknamed the supporters
"culés", that's "arses" to you and me and the name has
|Insert your own ass-related humorous comment|
As Barça's success continued on the pitch, and the number of socios
grew, it became apparent that L'Escopidora was never going to be large enough
for the club's needs, so in February 1922 work started on a new stadium in the
Les Corts district of Barcelona. The new stadium would have an initial capacity
of 22,000 and opened on 20 May 1922 when a Catalan XI recorded a 2-1 victory against St Mirren. Les
Corts staged the 1923 final of the Copa del Rey between Athletic Bilbao and CE
Europa and La Selección played
Austria at the venue in December 1924.
However, three years later the club and the stadium were at the centre
of a national storm.
|Les Corts on opening day and a Catalan XI take on the mighty Buddies|
club continued to be at the forefront of Catalan fervour and when Spanish
Leader Primo De Rivera attended a match in June 1925, the crowd gave him and
the Spanish National anthem the bird. The band from the Royal Marines who had
been invited to provide the musical entertainment, were somewhat flustered by
the commotion and cut short the Spanish anthem and played "God Save the
Queen", much to the delight of the partisan crowd. Primo De Rivera,
showing the sort of humour one associates with a dictator, ordered that the
ground should be closed for three months and forced Joan Gamper to resign as
was the club’s popularity due to their dominance in the Campeonata de Catalunya
and Copa del Rey in the mid-Twenties, that the club needed to extend the
stadium. In 1926 a new cover was added to the west side and terracing was
extended on the other three sides. Les Corts new capacity was 45,000 which was
tested to the full when the club won the inaugural Spanish League in 1929.
However, the first golden era was about to come to an end, and with no national
titles during the thirties and the small matter of the Civil War, Barça's world
had switched from the brightest of lights to the darkest of shadows.
month after the start of the war, Club President Josep Sunyol was executed by
Falangist soldiers after inadvertently crossing the front line near Guadarrama. Back in Barcelona, the club formed a workers co-operative in order to keep Les Corts out of the grips of the anarchists. In the summer of 1937, Barça went into exile, touring
the Mexico and the USA. Ironically, it was the money raised from the tour that
secured the club's future, but when they finally returned in late 1938, it was
a very different Catalunya they encountered. With membership down below 3,000
and their club offices destroyed, Barça suffered the further indignity at the end of the war when Franco's Nationalist regime removed all forms of Catalan identity from club.
The club's name was changed to Club de Fútbol Barcelona, the President was
appointed by Franco and even the Catalan flag was removed from the club crest.
The Government was unable to change the fans however, and soon Les Corts became THE place for Catalans to gather en-mass and celebrate their identity.
|Extended, but about to experience the club's darkest hour|
|Les Corts in 1940 - A little part of Catalunya in Francoist Spain|
The arrival of Nationalist Government would have dire consequences for the former separatist areas of Catalunya and the Basque Region. However contrary to perceived perception, the 1940's was a very successful decade for Barcelona. Whilst Real Madrid struggled in the seasons following the Civil War, Barça and Athletic Bilbao racked up a series of wins in the league and cup. Buoyed by the improving finances the
club set about the further and most spectacular development of Les Corts. In
1944, the existing terracing was extended raising the capacity to 60,000, but
the most impressive work took place on the west side. Designed by Eduardo
Torroja, an incredibly advanced, deep cantilevered roof was erected behind the
existing cover. Gimnástic Tarragona purchased and dismantled the old stand and
on 2 June 1945, Barça played Nástic in a friendly to mark the opening of the
|Torroja's new roof takes shape over the old cover|
new roof was among the most advanced in Europe and used a mix of reinforced concrete and steel. The roof undulated and had a span from front to back of 27 metres.The curved underside of the cover was ribbed
with metal cladding, and hung low over the seating deck like the tail of a giant alligator. Les Corts was the largest and most spectacular stadium in Spain
throughout the forties, and it would witness the emergence of the next great
Barça team in the mid 1940's and the arrival of Hungarian great Ladislau Kubala
in 1950. League titles followed in 1952 & 1953, but by the time floodlights
were erected in 1954, the club had already decided that the stadium could not
cater for their ever expanding support. No doubt prompted by Real Madrid's
development of Chamartin, (soon to be called Santiago Bernabéu), the club
purchased a large expanse of public gardens and allotments in the west of the
city, and in March 1954, the first stone was laid at the Camp Nou.
|Les Corts in the 1950's - Advanced yet already out of date|
The move away from Les Corts was necessary if the club was going to compete with the great Real Madrid side of the 1950's, but it was dependent of selling Les Corts for housing. This proved to be a problem for several years as the municipality was keen to keep some green space within an ever expanding city. Eventually, the club turned to Franco's Council of Ministers who overturned the council's decision and sanctioned the sell of the land for housing. An example, and there are a few, where Barça benefited from Franco's regime.
All this time, whilst Barça were running up a crippling debt following the construction of the Camp Nou, things were not exactly great on the pitch and many questioned the decision to build such a large stadium. Finally, on 2 February 1966 demolition started on Les Corts and three months later, the site was sold for 226 million pesetas. The entire sum received from the sale was used to pay off the club's debts. Here is some great footage of the stadium over its forty-odd year history.
|The Times, They are a Changin' - Barcelona 1957|
|On borrowed time - Les Corts in the Early 1960's|
The first team played their last league match at Les Corts in 21 April 1957. Kubala scored the last goal in 1-1 draw with Sevilla that saw the Andalucians qualify for Europe at Barça's expense. CD Condal, who for part of its history was affiliated to FC Barcelona, carried on using the stadium until 1965 before moving to the Camp Nou. In 1970, SD Condal merged with with Atlético Cataluña CF to form Barcelona Atlético or Barcelona B as they are now known.
| Les Corts stripped-bare in October 1965|
Labels: Barca, Barcelona, Catalunya, Gone but not Forgotten