Generally speaking, I don't like 'pop' music in its most sanitised, squeaky-clean manufactured form. From Bananarama and Rick Astley to Steps and S Club 7, the dance routines, the pretty faces, the simple beats and simpler lyrics have really got on my nerves. Cheesy songs by cheesy people, 'artists' who don't write and possibly can't sing their own material – diabolical stuff. However, throughout all this fully-justified and rational dislike, I've maintained a serious soft spot for Kylie Minogue. Despite her displaying several of the traits listed above, I genuinely like some of Kylie's music and even own a couple of her CDs. Kylie just bucks the trend through a combination of factors, partly personality, maybe being a little less sanitised than her contemporaries, the occasional good song helps and it has even been suggested that her butt is a factor!
In the same vein as my dislike of 'pop' is my dislike of football's 'big clubs'. The commercial might of Manchester United, the mercenaries that line up to play for Inter Milan, the losers who swapped their replica Beckham shirts from red to white as easily as changing their socks. The fact that the 'big clubs' attract and profit from the hordes that are content to confirm their allegiance through merchandise and TV viewing and whose commitment runs in direct proportion to recent trophies won. Again, there is an exception that proves my rule, and this time it's Barcelona. Again, there's no one factor but a number of good reasons. What it clearly meant to their fans when they finally won the European Cup in 1992. How impressive I found the Camp Nou when I visited the city a couple of years later. The refusal of the board to sully their shirt with a sponsor's logo and the fact that the club stood as a beacon against fascism during Franco’s dictatorship all combined to give a favourable view of the club. So despite being one of the biggest clubs in Europe and despite their continued attempts to buy rather than build a side, I can’t help but like Barca.
'Som mes que un club' translates as 'more than a club' and Burns' excellent history of Barca encapsulates this, as it is more than the simple history of a football club. It is the history of a sporting and cultural phenomenon that is also a powerful economic and political tool. The book, like the club itself, spills over into the history of Barcelona, Catalonia and even Spain during the last century. As in his previous book, about Diego Maradona, Jimmy Burns has succeeded in selecting a subject which is fascinating both on and off the pitch and again the author's painstaking and meticulous research has paid dividends. Whether recounting heroics on the Nou Camp playing surface or conspiracy theories in its corridors of power, Burns has done an admirable job of piecing together the labyrinthine politics and history of Barca.
Barca – A People's Passion traces the club from its foundation by the English brothers Arthur and Ernest Witty and patriarch, Swiss businessman Joan Gampart and early games on waste ground to its current position as one of the biggest football clubs in the world. Along the way we are entertained by myriad fascinating tales involving some of the biggest names in football - Samitier, Kubala, Cruyff, Maradona, Michels, Lineker, Venables, Van Gaal, Robson, Rivaldo, Figo, the list of alumni is impressive to say the least, and collectively they produce a plethora of tales from both on and off the pitch. Burns has compiled an impressive list of interviewees to give their own perspective of Barca, giving the book real insight into life at the Camp Nou.
Despite this, the most absorbing part of Barca's history comes from its prominent role in Catalonian life and the consequently chequered relationship it enjoys with both its own fan base and the rest of Spain. This is most evident during the Spanish Civil War and Franco years, when despite a pro-regime board, the Camp Nou became the focal point for resistance to Franco and a rallying point for Catalan identity and national pride. It was also the time that spawned paranoia and conspiracy theories from di Stefano's transfer saga to claims of official bias and outright match-fixing. It is also intriguing to see the dilemma of fans and board members, maintaining the identity of the club while competing on a European stage.
Barca – A People's Passion works from several perspectives, as a history of a football club and also of a wider social and political history. The book is also an intriguing glimpse into the running and machinations behind the transfers, the team and the finances of a 'big club'. More than that though, as the title of the book suggests it's a study of what drives fans to support their team despite the cost in time and money, in the face of mistreatment by their own club and outside forces. Also, what makes a football team uniquely owned and defined by its supporters - come what may. Anyone interested in any of these themes will definitely find Barca – A People’s Passion an engrossing read.