Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Catalan Dragons
Catalans Dragons beat Wigan Warriors 33-16 in an entertaining game of rugby league on Saturday afternoon.
But the setting for the game meant that this contest was no run of the mill Super League clash.
Of course, the record for the attendance at a Super League regular season game was broken, with 31,500 piling into the Camp Nou.
There were, as is to be expected these days, plenty of misanthropes and halfwits who took to social media to gleefully proclaim that meant there were over 60,000 empty seats.
Pointing out the obvious does not make one a genius, but to point out the obvious whilst also completely failing to understand the wider context of the event is something truly special.
The sense of occasion was palpable, even to those of watching on television, with the pitch looking superbly green.
The rendition of the Catalan anthem Els Segadors before the match raised the hairs on the back of the neck, with a choir helping out Albert Bueno.
Bueno is the man who sings the anthem before the Dragons’ home games.
‘Bon cop de falc!’ runs the anthem’s stirring refrain – ‘one stroke of the sickle’- and it refers to cutting down the oppressors and watering the fields of Catalonia with their blood.
A suitably martial anthem for a combat sport, then, and to hear it sung like that at Camp Nou was the perfect pre-match event.
The Barcelona FC motto is ‘Mes Que Un Club’ – more than a club. The Camp Nou is the cathedral of Catalan nationalism, and it was telling that there were banners on show bearing the slogans ‘Independencia!’ and ‘Self-determination is a right not a crime’, both of which referred to the ongoing struggle for the Catalan region to attain independence from Spain.
That passion was certainly on show in the crowd too, with a large contingent from the French part of Catalonia bringing their colour and noise to the stadium.
“Obviously the Catalan connection is huge for us, the opportunity to come and play this game here,” said Dragons coach Steve McNamara.
“I think it was a superb advert for the game. We all know how good the game is in our Super League circle, but to show the game to other people and to expose them to that, it was bigger than just Catalans and Wigan playing out there today.
“It was more for the whole of rugby league.
“We couldn’t get the players off the field at the end of the game, they just wanted to stay out there, and rightly so.
“When we got to Wembley last year we got criticised for only taking five or six thousand fans across to London in the middle of summer, which was extremely difficult.
“We only had two weeks to prepare for that. Wigan have returned the favour today, they’ve brought around four or five thousand fans.
“But it was our fans’ opportunity to come from Perpignan in their hordes.
“I don’t know if anyone drove that way today from Perpignan to Barcelona, but you saw what you would see on a Wembley trip – all of our fans coming across.
“This place (Camp Nou) is spiritual to the people of Catalonia. It’s hard to explain unless you live here.
“I’m not from Catalonia so I don’t fully understand it, but to Bernard Guasch and the players from Catalonia this is more than just a stadium.
“I’ve quickly learned that the Catalan people are hard-working people, they are fierce people, they are loyal people.
“Our team has to represent our region of Catalonia. When you go out and play like we did today with fight and passion and drive, and a desire to not give in and not to stop – that is what the people respond to in this area.
“We’re not the Perpignan Dragons, we’re the Catalans Dragons.”
McNamara is also open to the idea of taking games south of the Franco-Spanish border again.
He feels that with more time to promote the event it could be an even bigger success.
“Hopefully we can do it again, it was a big success,” McNamara added.
“I think, given more time to prepare, if we had another fixture here in 12 months time we could make it even bigger and stronger as we move forward.
“I know there’s a push from people to play the Magic Weekend here – I couldn’t disagree against [sic] that.”
This game felt like a return to the founding principles of Super League. It was a big event, held in an expansion area that attracted a record crowd.
It showcased all the best elements of rugby league, both on and off the field.
It should be celebrated and then, most importantly, evaluated and reflected on, so that we can use it success as a template for the future.