Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Barcelona triumph in empty stadium

PROTEST:Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said playing in an empty Camp Nou was a way to show the club’s discontent with the incidents in Catalonia

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

The empty Camp Nou is pictured during the Barcelona versus UD Las Palmas La Liga match in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Barcelona on Sunday joined the protests against the Spanish government’s attempt to halt Catalonia’s independence vote by preventing fans from entering the Camp Nou for their La Liga match against UD Las Palmas.

The club made the decision to play behind closed doors after a request to postpone the game was denied by the league. Barcelona said playing in an empty stadium was a way to show its discontent with the incidents in Catalonia.

Barcelona won the match 3-0 with two goals by Lionel Messi and one by Sergio Busquets.

“We tried to suspend the game all day long, but it wasn’t possible,” Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said. “We could lose points if we didn’t play, so we decided to play behind closed doors as a way to show the entire world that we were not pleased with what happened [in Catalonia].”

Barcelona had openly backed the referendum and criticized the Spanish government for trying to impede the vote.

“Today was my worst experience as a professional,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who could not hold back the tears as he talked about the incidents in Catalonia. “It was a tough day. I am and I feel Catalan, and I’ve never felt prouder of the people of Catalonia.”

Pique, one of the most outspoken players defending the referendum, had called Sunday’s incidents “shameful.”

“It was very strange,” Busquets said. “This game was marked by all that happened today.”

Las Palmas added a Spanish flag to the shirts the players wore against Barcelona to show their support for a unified Spain.

In Madrid, Real Madrid fans were handed cards with the colors of the Spanish flag and displayed them before their team’s match against RCD Espanyol, another Catalan club. There were very few Espanyol fans at the Santiago Bernabeu, but they displayed at least one flag with the red and yellow colors of Catalonia.

Barcelona made the closed-doors announcement with less than a half an hour to kickoff, with thousands of supporters already waiting outside the stadium.

“We were aware of what happened here today, we don’t live in an igloo,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “It was very difficult, a strange situation for everyone.”

The league said it was in contact with local authorities and there was no reason to postpone the game because of safety reasons.

The Camp Nou, Europe’s largest stadium with a capacity of nearly 100,000, is often used as a rallying point for Catalan nationalists.

Spanish media said that Barcelona vice president Carles Vilarrubi resigned after the club decided to play the game in an empty stadium.

Las Palmas said that the match had become more than a sporting event, especially because of the statements by Barcelona expressing support for the referendum.

The Canary Islands club said the club did not want to limit itself to being a “quiet witness at an historic crossroads.”

The club said that by wearing the national flag the players were showing their unequivocal support for a “united Spain.”

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