Utter disgrace forcing Barcelona to play amid Catalan referendum chaos

The Blaugrana met Las Palmas behind closed doors at Camp Nou after the Spanish league refused to allow the game to be suspended
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It was a match that should never have been played. After brutal and heavy-handed tactics by the Spanish police left around 700 people injured amid chaotic scenes in the Catalan independence referendum on Sunday, Barcelona met Las Palmas behind closed doors at Camp Nou in the afternoon.

The Spanish government had sent in thousands of police officers from across the country in an attempt to halt a vote they had claimed was illegal. And when the Catalan people turned out in numbers to vote for their right to choose on the independence debate, the forces resorted to violence in scenes that have shocked the watching world.

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Barca did not want to play. "FC Barcelona condemns the events that have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression," a club statement read.

And it added: "Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League's refusal to postpone the game."

That last line was telling. Barcelona did not want to play the match, but their hand was forced. Refusal to do so would have meant giving up all three points and being docked three more, according to president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and come the end of the season, those could be vital in the fight for La Liga. It was, in many ways, a no-win situation.

Thousands of fans were kept outside amid safety concerns. With tensions running high, Barca decided that they would play, but they also wanted to make a statement, so it ended up taking place behind closed doors.

Las Palmas players took to the pitch at Camp Nou with a Spanish flag on their jerseys, while Barcelona's stars emerged in Senyera (Catalan national flag) shirts before changing into their usual blaugrana kit.

During the game, the Barca scoreboard showed a message. It said, simply, "democracy". Throughout the day, thousands of Catalans were denied their right to vote and ultimately, they were also deprived of the opportunity to watch their team at Camp Nou.

It should never have come to all that. Tensions were always going to be running high with Spanish police poised to stop the people from voting in any way they could and the most sensible thing would have been to schedule the match for another day.

But with the game set for Sunday, common sense should have prevailed. After the shocking scenes throughout Catalunya earlier in the day, the LFP should have respected Barcelona's wish to postpone the fixture. Instead, the Blaugrana were told they would lose all three points if they refused to play.

There were differences of opinion in a board meeting ahead of the match and Barca vice-president Carles Villarrubi handed in his resignation. This, perhaps, was an opportunity for the Catalan club to honour their Mes que un club status and stand up for their rights.

"Playing the game behind closed doors is inhibiting. It is a blank vote, it is to be an accomplice of those who practice indiscriminate violence," former president Joan Laporta wrote on Twitter. "Playing the game behind closed doors is to be an accomplice of those who impede the peaceful exercise of democratic rights and freedoms."

But given the fact they were set to lose six points, Barca were left with little choice, and the decision to go ahead with the fixture by the LFP was both disgraceful and disrespectful. Incidentally, the game itself finished in a 3-0 win to the league leaders, with goals from Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi (two).

Unfortunately, no fans were there to see them - and the image of a completely empty Camp Nou will go down as another depressing postcard from a terribly sad day for both Catalunya and Spain.