It may have only been 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, but the chants were already ringing out on Colorado Blvd.
“Campeones, Campeones, Ole Ole Ole!”
A pack of 100+ Barcelona fans dekked out in Blaugrana gear was gathered at Lucky Baldwins Trappiste Pub in Pasadena, cheering on the soccer club that dominated Sevilla 5-0 to win the Spanish League tournament, or the Copa Del Rey. The group of fans meets inside the same bar every week to watch all of Barcelona’s soccer games together.
However, according to one of the Penya’s founders Robert Hutchman, the meeting was more than just a celebration.
“This gathering today and every match is more than what’s on the surface. It’s not just a bunch of people in the same jersey watching a soccer match. It’s an expression of the Catalan culture in the United States.”
A penya is an official supporters club recognized by the FC Barcelona board in Spain. The Los Angeles Penya meets for every match at Lucky Baldwin’s on Colorado, across from PCC. With food and drinks flowing, the Penya is a must-visit for true fans, as the 100+ spectator turnouts result in proper celebrations each time the ball ends in the back of the net. There are only 8 official Penyas in North America, and the Los Angeles chapter is in the process of becoming the 9th.
“It’s a very painstaking process that is a pleasure, but is very complicated,” said Hutchman. “It takes roughly a year, and we’re in the process of that now.”
The reason that members like Hutchman go through the tedious process is because of their immense love for the club. Fandom for FC Barcelona is deeply-rooted, and supporters share similar stories as to how they came to love the Catalan giants.
“When I started creating my own medical practice in 2003, I was too busy to keep up with European soccer. In 2006 I saw an article that said ‘Who is the best player in the world: Messi or Ronaldo?’…and I thought to myself ‘who is Messi?’ I started watching his highlights and was immediately amazed by the skill of this Argentine young man,” Hutchman reminisced.
Fellow member Walter Sariles recalls a similar story to Hutchman’s. “When I was playing soccer in high school, I was very impressionable. It was around the time that Messi came out, and I remember everyone was a fan of Messi. I liked the tiki-taka [style] where the small player could make an impact on the game. I gravitated towards that, and I was hooked to the club.”
However, FC Barcelona is an entity that transcends soccer. The team’s play intertwines with politics, and that’s why the culture of FC Barcelona is so special. Written on the stadium and on the back of every jersey is the Catalan phrase ‘Mes Que un Club,’ translating to ‘more than a club.’
In the era that the club was founded, the Catalan people were not allowed to speak their language in public and were suppressed by the Spanish government. Barcelona matches offered hope and identity to the Catalonians.
Hutchman explains that, “On the surface, you love football. That’s #1. But you also come to appreciate the culture of Catalunya, the culture of Barcelona, and the club. Because they in essence are all one. When [Catalans] visited the stadium…that was their oasis. That was where they could speak their own language. That was where they could embrace…and celebrate their own culture.”
Political tensions in Spain are still high in the present day, but the impact of FC Barcelona reaches to Los Angeles as much as it did in Catalonia. “I just think a lot of people gravitate to something they’re passionate about,” said Sariles. “[Barcelona] was more than a club for me. It was a way of life…it might sound cliche, but to me it shows you a way to overcome, that’s what it did for me. It’s a complete connection to the club.”
For all soccer fans in the U.S., the following that the Penya is amassing can hopefully impact the state of the game in this country. “[FC Barcelona’s success] makes the country more aware of what the quality of the sport should look like,” said Sariles. “[Barcelona] shows what [U.S. soccer] should be aiming for. We have all the resources for something of this caliber, and it’s important for a year like now, where there’s a World Cup and the U.S. is missing out. I think Barcelona is one of those clubs that shows how to do [soccer] properly and to work cohesively.”
That being said, the Los Angeles Penya welcomes soccer fans who are die-hards and casuals alike.
“[The Penya] is about growing a growing the number and quality of knowledgeable persons…and of course we’re happy to help anyone who doesn’t understand the game,” said Hutchman. “It’s about helping more people understand the beauty of football, helping understand the Catalan culture, but more important than anything else, it’s about fellowship.”
The celebrations will continue for the Los Angeles Penya, as Barcelona could clinch the 2018 La Liga title with a win or draw at Deportivo on Sunday at 11:45 a.m. However, May 6 is the big finale to the season, as Barcelona host Real Madrid for El Classico in what is biannually the biggest match in sports.