Barca: A people's passion
With a motto like "Mes que un club"("more than a club" in Catalan) it was always going to be a difficult task for Jimmy Burns when he undertook the project to charter the history of F.C Barcelona, one of, if not the biggest football club in the world. Burns previous work, the critically acclaimed Hand of God: The life of Diego Maradona, chartered the life of a great enigma and now, perhaps buoyed by this success, he has moved on to another great enigma, Barcelona.
The book is effectively sectioned into two parts; the main section where Burns takes the reader on a chronological journey from Barcelona's foundation in 1899 to the present day, and the short initial section where he recounts his travels with the "cules", the young, often fanatical element of the Barcelona fans to Madrid, Valencia and Manchester. As an opening to what is in essence a history book, this travelog gives the reader an opportunity to experience what being a Barcelona fan is all about.
Research-wise, Burns cannot be faulted, as the book features interviews with everybody from lowly bootboys and fans to the various presidents of the club, including current head José Luis Nuñez. He is thorough to the last even in his coverage of the civil war period when many club and official state records were lost; for example, who outside Spain would have known that Barcelona once had an Irish manager! (Patrick O'Connell 1935-6). F.C Barcelona is indeed "mes que un club", and if there is anything that this book does to perfection it is the emphasis of this fact. The inextricable links that the club has and had with Catalonian nationalism, the way in which the colours of Barcelona were used to express dissention at the Francoist regime, and the sheer fanaticism of the fans are all well documented here. However, where Barca lets itself down is in the feature that makes Burns's work so commendable in the first place. In his efforts to give the period of say, 1910 to 1920, equal importance and coverage as the period 1989 to 1999, Burns alienates the casual reader, for whom anything before the era of Venables, Cruyff and Robson is simply irrelevant.
Yet it is difficult to understand why Barca is not a more engaging book. It is full of little insights, small details that would normally set such a book apart from its counterparts. Maybe it is the overbearing positivity with which Burns treats all things Barcelona, and the anti-establishment, anti-Madrid sentiment which is seen on almost every page.
The blue and red melting pot of communism, fascism and socialism along with every other political leaning in the world mixed with a bit of football that is Barcelona seems unsure of what it is, and so does Burns's work. It is not a football book; it is more of a history journal interspersed with tales of great matches of the past. As such, it should be of great interest to Barcelona fans but it left me, a huge Spanish football fan, bizarrely cold, uninspired by a subject which I had thought would fascinate.
Buy this book if you question why, for Barcelona, winning everything is never enough. Buy it if you do not understand why even winning teams must contain Catalan nationals such as Pep Guardiola. However, it is heavy going, and if all you want to read about is Ronaldo and Rivaldo, books such as Bobby Robson's Year in Barcelona by Jeff King are a better bet.