Saturday, 13 March 2010

I Had This Perfect Dream - Barca: A People's Passion by Jimmy Burns

I've been a Liverpool fan all my life; my mum's fault entirely. My father's side of the family are Villa fans, by rights I should probably have been one. But no, she chose a team and indoctrinated me. And I've been with them through thick and thin ever since. It's mostly been thick, certainly by most club's standards, and rarely been dull (well, maybe on the pitch at times...). I can't ever see anything sporting surpassing the love of Liverpool, something the media storm that's seemingly erupted after every Liverpool game this season's only confirmed. Still, there are clubs that hold a small place in my heart, family connections to Villa and Ipswich, local non-league heroes Newport County and, like so many round the world, Barcelona.

It's strange - I don't have a concrete or unique story as to why. They're one of the world's hugest clubs after all, a magnificent symbol of a proud region that's always set itself apart from the rest of Spain, particularly under the Franco regime. And although they're a massively rich club, they're not truffle-huntingly disgusting in their pursuit of money - it's drawn mainly from their members and until last season never had a sponsor's name sullying their shirt. And even when they took a name on their shirts it was the charity UNICEF. And they paid to have that name on there. Money lets you afford such gestures, but that's still pure class. They do things their own way, generally more attractively than their traditional desperately big spending rivals in all white. I even made a pilgrimage to the Camp Nou when I was on holiday in Calella in 1997, a suitably awe-inspiring experience to sit in an empty stadium and contemplate it, then take a trip round the club museum. Unfortunately Barca weren't at home whilst I was there, so I couldn't take in a game.

A People's Passion delays before recounting the history of the club, for the important reason of placing it in the context of what it means to the fans, the city and the Catalan region as a whole. This gives the book a flavour that simple dry history couldn't, and draws you into understanding the club and what makes it and those who follow it tick. It's engaging and arresting, and a cut above your usual club biography. That's not to say that the history itself is dull - far from it, it's a history of politics and passion, civil wars and coups, vaulting ambition and above all, a tradition of expressive, flowing football. It's particularly strong on Barca's modern era, ushered in by Johann Cruyff's playing spell and the infamous presidency of Josep Luis Nunez. Burns isn't afraid to cast a critical eye over any of those involved in the club, letting their actions speak for themselves whilst contrasting said actions with words. And those actions and words are exhaustively contextualised, to let the reader make up their minds. A story which involves the assassination of club presidents, suppression of supporters, Di Stefano, Cruyff, Maradona, Helenio Herrera, Cesar Menotti, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Terry Venables would take some cocking up, but enhanced as it is by the telling,

The danger about analysing a passion is that by exploring it thoroughly and understanding it you might kill it. That's not the case here, if anything Burns made my admiration of the club grow even more. It's just a shame that in eleven years this hasn't been updated at all, in many ways those years have been some of the most fascinating in a wonderful history. But then, given that flamboyant history you'd almost be wanting to update it every year.

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