With over 100,000 registered members and more than three million supporters, FC Barcelona is a phenomenon. On 29 November 1999 the club will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Good reason for having a closer look at "Barca", as

a symbol for all the clubs celebrating jubilees around this time.

By PACO AGUILAR journalist for El Mundo Deportivo in Spain

Cesar Luis Menotti always used to say that when you landed at Barcelona's El Prat airport you could tell by looking at people's faces whether Barca had won their last match or not. This was not far from the truth, since the whole of Catalonia eagerly follows the fortunes of the club. 'Barcelonismo" is a way of life that is not limited to supporting the team and wearing their colours. On 29 November 1999 FC Barcelona will celebrate its centenary and can look back on a hundred years packed full of history, wins and losses, joy and disappointment, and above all football. The high point of the celebration will be a match against the Brazilian national team which will include Ronaldo - an ex-Barca player himself.

Futbol Club Barcelona
Founded: 1899
Stadium: Camp Nou
Capacity: 112,000
Playing surface: 107 x 72 meters
Inaugurated: 1957
Club members: 102,000
Sports played: indoor football, basketball handball, field hockey, ice hockey, athletics, rugby, baseball, volleyball, figure skating
President: Josep Luis Nunez i Clemente
In office since 1978, the first to be elected democratically by the members.
Honours: 67 seasons in the Spanish Primera Division, 15 league titles, 24 times Spanish cup winners, 5 Spanish Supercopas and 2 league cups.
Europe: 1 Champions Cup (1992)
4 times Cup Winners Cup (1979, 82, 89, 97).
3 Fairs Cities Cups (now UEFA Cup) (1958, 60 and 66)
2 European Supercups (1993 and 1998)
Player with the most international appearances: Migueli (391)
Player with most goals in one season: Ronaldo, 1996-97, (34 goals)
Worst ever league performance: 12th place in the season 1941-42.

The story of the club's foundation dates back to the autumn of 1899, to 22 October that year to be precise, when a Swiss businessman resident in Barcelona, Hans Gamper, had an advert placed in less than perfect Spanish in the magazine Los Deportes. The text was: " Our friend and colleague Hans Gamper, member of the football section of Los Deportes and a former Swiss champion, would like to organise football matches in Barcelona. Interested players should get in contact with him." This announcement was the first step on the road to what Barca has now become: one of the world's leading clubs, and not just in sporting terms but also from the business, social and even political points of view. Gamper's message met with a wide response from young players living in Barcelona: English, Scottish, German and of course Spanish. Seven days later they founded the Football Club Barcelona, that in the course of the years became much more than just a football club for the Catalans. The officially recorded date of its foundation was 29 November 1898.

A lifetime of loyalty

Today Barca's budget runs into millions and it is one of the clubs that has so far managed to avoid being turned into a public company, in contrast to most Spanish clubs who, after opening their accounts to public scrutiny, were strongly advised by the government to convert themselves into public limited companies. What is Barca's secret? First and foremost, the 108,000 members who stand squarely behind the club, including famous figures such as Pope John Paul II, the opera singer Jose Carreras, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and FIFA Honorary President João Havelange. Then there are the fans, numbering over three million. Many are members from birth to death and some are even registered as members before they are born. There are also those who ask to be buried with a Barca club flag, in honour of a lifetime of being loyal to the team.

The man who founded Barca : the Swiss, Hans " Juan " Gamper.

So it is not without good reason that FC Barcelona is regarded as being more than a football club. Yet their progress to their present strong position has not been without its difficulties: away from the sporting scene there have been tragic events, such as the death of founding father Hans Gamper who took his own life in the aftermath of the economic crash in 1929, the closure of the stadium during the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, after an incident in which, during a memorial game for "Orfeo Catala" in 1925, the Spanish national anthem was met with jeers and whistles, or, never to be forgotten, the murder of club president Josep Sunyol, the parliamentary representative for "Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya", who was shot by Franco's troops in 1936. During the Spanish Civil War the Barcelona team had to take refuge in South America, where they went their separate ways: Ventolra and Iborra stayed in Mexico, Balmanya and Escola went to France. In 1943, in a match against Real Madrid, which Madrid won 11:1, the Barcelona players were threatened by the police in their changing room. Examples such as these show the important role that FC Barcelona has played in the lives of its supporters and the rivalry that has existed (still exists?) between Barca and other Spanish clubs, and not only in terms of sporting matters.

A new club structure ?

A scene from the Espanol - Barcelona cup match on 20 January 1929. The "Barca" player on the left is Samitier.

The 100th anniversary, falling on the threshold of the 21st century, poses a dilemma for the club under its current president, Josep Lluis Nunez. The loyal members of the club, who together with the "penyes" (groups of fans that number in the thousands world wide) are not happy with the idea that the club should be converted into a profit-oriented organisation. With a number of clubs in England and in Italy having already gone public and thus become dependent on the demands of multimedia concerns, FC Barcelona continues to exist on its income from TV rights, ticket sales and a few other sources. This has led Nunez to consider the idea of forming a "Fundacio del Barca", which would permit the club to go public but would also allow it to keep its present structure. But such manoeuvring has little interest for the club's members and fans.

Over the years, Barca has always managed to have a "historical nucleus" in its team, consisting of players from within its own ranks, strengthened by outstanding talent from other parts of Spain and all over the world. A look at the list of famous foreign players tells its own story: Paulino Alcantara, Franz Platko, Hector Scarone, Eulogio Martinez, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Koscis, Ladislao Kubala, Evaristo de Macedo, Johan Cruyff, Hugo Sotil, Johan Neeskens, Hansi Krankl, Diego Armando Maradona, Bernd Schuster, Gary Lineker, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov, Romario da Souza, Michael Laudrup, Ronaldo and Figo, to mention just some. Not to be forgotten of course are the Spanish stars, such as Ricardo Zamora, Pepe Samitier, the Gonzalvo brothers, Sagi-Barba, Cesar Rodriguez, Joan Segarra, Luis Suarez, Justo Tejada, Fernando Olivella, Estanislao Basora, Antonio Ramallets, Gustavo Biosca, "Migueli", "Quini", Carles Rexach or Pep Guardiola. The list of players who have worn both Barcelona colours and those of the Spanish national team goes on for ever.

Unforgettable Helenio Herrera

Kubala, one of Barcelona's all-time greats, in action in a league match against Espanol during the 1958 - 59 season.

The list of trainers is impressive too, many of whom, like the players, have come up through the ranks of the club. There was for example, Fernando Daucik, and his "Five trophy' team, or the unforgettable Helenio Herrera whose phrase, "winning without having to get out of the bus," was almost turned into deed, and whose spell at Barca at the same time as Luisito Suarez at the end of the 50s was an era to be remembered. Then there was the "Dream team" under Johan Cruyff that won a European trophy at Wembley in 1992 after a long spell of trying but not succeeding. After this victory, over a million and a half fans took to the streets of Barcelona, to celebrate the end of a jinx that had hung over the club since they had lost against Benfica Lisbon in the "woodwork" final in Bern in 1961 when they hit post and bar four times during the match. The jinx held in 1986 too when Barca played against Steaua Bucharest in the final in Seville and came off second best. In addition to the coaches already mentioned, the list also includes many other famous names (some of them now deceased), such as Hennes Weisweiler, Vic Buckingham, Rinus Michels, Udo Lattek, César Luis Menotti, Terry Venables, Ladislao Kubala and Fernando Daucik, not to mention Forn, Balmanya, Seguer, Orizaola, Artigas...

Another of Barca's legends: Johan Cruyff, playing here against Athletic Bilbao during the 1973 - 74 season.

Identity crisis

Barca and Real Madrid have long vied for the top spot in Spain, and continue to do so intensely. The museum in the Nou Camp stadium (the second most visited museum in Spain after the Picasso Museum) has no longer enough space to house all the trophies that have been won: 15 league titles, 24 cup wins, three Copas de Ferias, three Cup Winners' cups, and one European Cup. The display is now in a building complex adjacent to the stadium which was built after the Golden age of Laszi Kubala in 1957 and extended after the successes of Johan Cruyff, without doubt the two players who have had the biggest impact on the club's fortunes, first as players and later as trainers.

Today the club is in the throes of an identity crisis, caused by the Bosman ruling and the subsequent flood of foreign players into Barcelona. Some see this as simply a logical consequence of the removal of barriers within Europe. But whatever the reason, there are now more Dutch players under contract to Barcelona than there are in all the clubs in Holland put together. Louis van Gaal manages a team in which Hesp, Reiziger, Bogarde, Zeden, Cocu and Kluivert are regular starters, and discussions are still in progress about the transfer of the De Boer brothers. In addition to the Dutch contingent, there are two Portuguese internationals (Figo and Baia), two Brazilians (Giovanni and Rivaldo), with a relatively small group of Spanish players such as Sergi, Luis Enrique, Abelardo, Guardiola, Celades and Nadal having to fight hard for a place in the line-up of what is an incredibly international side.

"Barça, Barça, Barça"

Barcelona's greatest international success: Ronald Koeman holding the European Champion Clubs' Cup, which they won in London in 1992 (1:0 a.e.t. against Sampdoria Genoa).
Pictures: El Mundo Deportivo

Some commentators refer to "Barcelonismo" as a religion, but that is going a bit too far. The fact is that Barca has always been a club that bridged all levels of society and political opinion and generated a high degree of national feeling. In addition it has always provided a means by which immigrants could integrate more rapidly into Spanish life. This is where the idea came from that Barca is more than just a normal football club. As the club song puts it: "We are fans of Barcelona, we come from everywhere, from south as well as north; but now we are united, a flag joins us together, blue and crimson, fluttering in the wind; together we chant the name that all the world knows: Barca, Barca, Barca."