Yahoo! Sport – Barça, a catalyst for Catalonia’s independent streak

Lionel Messi had just scored a 79th minute winner – a rare header – when the loudest songs of the night started. Barcelona had come from 2-1 down at home to Spartak Moscow last week in the Champions League, a game which fans thought would be predictable but proved otherwise until the Argentine’s late brace.

That’s when most of the Camp Nou crowd started singing – for Catalan independence from Spain. I’ve watched over 200 Barca games at Camp Nou and have never witnessed anything like it. Fringe groups have sung songs or hung a 20-metre ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ flag from the second tier during Barca’s very biggest games, but they have long been the actions of minorities hoping for mainstream coverage.

Last Wednesday was different and in keeping with the current mood in Catalonia, where between 700,000 and 1.5 million people took part in a pro-independence rally on September 11 — depending on which estimates you believe. In 11 years spending more time in Barcelona than any other city, I’ve never seen so many people on the streets.

Josep Guardiola, the most famous living Catalan, wasn’t at the march as he’s living in New York for a year, but he appeared on a screen and was greeted with huge cheers when he said: “From New York, here you have another vote.” That was taken as his support for the cause. Guardiola’s former president Joan Laporta is now in politics with the single aim of leading Catalonia to independence, though he’s had less success at the ballot box than as club president and there are bigger fish in the independence movement.

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