For better or worse, when one talks about international soccer, politics are usually lurking in the nearby background. Consider the two teams I saw last night. A.C. Milan is owned by Silvio Berlusconi — yup, the prime minister of Italy. Berlusconi is something of a Ross Perot figure, to over-simplify quite a bit. A hugely successful businessman, he got into electoral politics after virtually the entire political establishment of Italy was found to have engaged in corrupt activity. Instead of calling his party something mundane like the Reform Party, he called it “Forza Italia,” the cry heard at matches involving the Italian national team (the translation, apparently, is something like “go Italy”). The Washington Post’s fine soccer writer Steven Goff explains all of this in his piece about A.C. Milan.
Barcelona is an even more “political” soccer team, perhaps one of the most political in the free world. Although a “club” team (as opposed to a national team like the ones fielded for the World Cup), it is essentially the national team of Catalonia, a fiercely independent-minded region of Spain. As Sir Bobby Robson, an Englishman and the former Barcelona coach put it, “Catalonia is a country and FC Barcelona is their army.” In fact, during the Franco decades, when Catalan culture and language were repressed, Barcelona football matches are said to have been one of the few places where the Catalan language (a mixture of Spanish and French, as far as I can tell) could be spoken, and the Catalan flag displayed, without fear of repression. Here is Steven Goff’s report on FC Barcelona.
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