Barcelona, Spain (BBN) – Barcelona’s La Liga game against Las Palmas was played behind closed doors as a protest after their request for it to be postponed in light of Catalonia’s independence referendum was rejected.
The Spanish government pledged to stop a poll declared illegal on a day of violent protests and unrest, reports BBC.
Barca took the decision to play behind closed doors 25 minutes before kick-off, with thousands of fans outside.
The league leaders cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain, has its own language and culture and Barcelona is its capital.
It also has a high degree of autonomy, but is not recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution.
‘BARCA FELT IT INAPPROPRIATE TO PLAY MATCH’
Police used batons and fired rubber bullets during pro-referendum protests in Barcelona, and the Catalan government say more than 800 people have been injured.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said police had “acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way”.
A statement from La Liga said the match should take place as normal because the security and safety of fans had been “guaranteed” by the Catalan police.
Spanish football writer Andy West, who was at the Nou Camp, said Barcelona’s decision to play behind closed doors was a protest against it being given the go-ahead.
He said: “According to the club, they asked for a postponement because they did not feel it would be appropriate to play the game considering the abnormal scenes which are taking place around Catalonia.
“The league refused and threatened a heavy sanction – presumably the six-point penalty which has been reported.
“So Barca reluctantly agreed to play the game but, as a sign of protest, they insisted it could only take place behind closed doors.”
Barcelona easily won the game thanks to two goals from Lionel Messi and one from Sergio Busquets.
‘WE CONDEMN THE EVENTS THAT HAVE TAKEN PLACE’
In a strongly worded statement on their website before the 15:15 BST kick-off, Barcelona said they had wanted to postpone the match in light of the political situation.
The statement said: “FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression.
“Given the exceptional nature of events, the board of directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first-team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”
During the game, the scoreboard at the Nou Camp carried a picture of a ballot box and the word ‘democracy’ on it.
Barca’s opponents Las Palmas had the Spanish flag embroidered prominently onto their match shirts to state their support for a united Spain.
BARCELONA’S PLAYERS SHOW SUPPORT
Barcelona’s players emerged from the tunnel at the Nou Camp wearing a yellow-and-red-striped club training shirt – the colours of the Estelada flag associated with Catalan independence.
Earlier in the day, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique posted a picture on Twitter of him voting in the referendum.
Pique tweeted: “I have already voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy.”
After the match, an emotional Pique said he would retire from international football before the World Cup if his support for the independence referendum is deemed a problem.
Even though the game was played behind closed doors, one supporter still managed to gain entry and invaded the pitch waving a piece of paper.
‘THERE’S BOUND TO BE ANGER’
Sitting inside the stadium it was disconcerting to hear the whistles and jeers of fans who had been waiting patiently to be let inside.
Ten minutes before kick-off, those fans were finally told the game was being played behind closed doors. There is bound to be a lot of anger among people who paid good money for tickets.
The figure of Javier Tebas will loom large in the debate about how this game is being played. Tebas is La Liga’s president and a self-confessed Real Madrid fan, and a couple of days ago changed his Twitter profile picture to an image of the Catalan and Spanish flags blended together in a heart shape.
Tebas has a lot of critics – in fact, it seems you either hate him or you really hate him. And having someone with such publicly stated personal interest in the Catalan independence issue as the head of La Liga is obviously very contentious.