Barcelona’s match played behind closed doors
Reports in Spain had earlier claimed match would be postponed due to unrest in Catalonia
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi prepares to take a freekick in the empty stadium as the game is played behind closed doors. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters
Barcelona’s LaLiga match against Las Palmas was played behind closed doors at the Nou Camp following local clashes on the day of the Catalan independence referendum.
Attempts to shut down the polls by Spain’s Guardia Civil led to violent scenes described by Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont as “unwarranted, irrational and irresponsible”.
Amid rising tensions in Barcelona, the two clubs looked like stoking the match into a political occasion, as Las Palmas had the Spanish flag embroidered prominently onto their match shirts to state their support for a united Spain.
Barcelona emerged to an empty stadium wearing yellow and red shirts, the colours of Catalonia, before changing to their standard blue and red home kit for kick-off.
Confirmation the match would go ahead came barely 20 minutes before the scheduled 3.15pm kick-off time and followed hours of uncertainty over whether it would be played or not.
According to multiple reports in Spain, LaLiga authorities and the Spanish football federation (RFEF) wanted the fixture to go ahead as planned, and resisted requests from Barcelona for a postponement.
Barcelona were also reported to have consulted local authorities who gave the match clearance to proceed.
A club 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 Liga de Futbol Profesional’s refusal to postpone the game.”
The Spanish sports daily Marca reported on its website that Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, who earlier was pictured casting his vote in the election, was among those who favoured not playing the match.
Around 90 minutes before kick-off, reports emerged that the match had been called off. It was reported to have been a decision taken unilaterally by Barcelona, and could have cost them a points deduction.
Catalan officials said 337 people had been injured in clashes linked to the referendum, according to newspaper El Pais.
The Spanish government has declared the referendum illegal. Voters were being asked whether they wish Catalonia to become an independent republic.
According to Spanish reports, the usual pre-match meal between directors of the home and away clubs was cancelled.
Las Palmas had made their position clear in an emotive statement released in the morning that referred back to a match between the teams on October 30, 1977. On that occasion, the previously exiled Catalan leader Josep Tarradellas appeared at the Nou Camp days after he was officially recognised by Spain’s government as the region’s president.
“History has once again placed Las Palmas in an exceptional situation at the Camp Nou,” Las Palmas said.
“Public pronouncements in recent days, especially those of our host FC Barcelona, have made this official Liga match more than a sporting event...” said the Las Palmas statement.
“Las Palmas could have been limited to being a silent witness of this historical crossroads or to take sides. We’ll take the second.”
The Canary Island club said they have “never felt the least temptation to be part of a country other than this”.