At the beginning of the 2010 World Cup season, I began noticing World Cup items for sale in the stores. Espana-colored peanut M&Ms, t-shirts and uniforms for some of the more popular countries, coloring books, soccer balls, you get the picture. I got excited to see a lot of World Cup fever around Barcelona. In Catalunya, when Barça plays, crowds gather at local bars and cafes. When Barça plays, you can hear the neighborhood cheer in unison when a good play is made. When Barça plays, the roads and streets are empty - everyone is circled around a television to watch the match. At least once a week, there is a child at my son's nursery school wearing a Barça uniform. Kids sing Barça chants on the school patio at recess. Even my gringo kids know the Barça colors and songs. In every park and birthday party, kids are kicking a futbol. I expected this enthusiasm supporting the Spanish team, La Roja.
La Roja | Photo by: RFEF
As Spain progressed in the brackets, I kept waiting to witness the excitement I see when Barça plays. But no luck. One of my biggest surprises upon moving here was discovering that Catalunya is not Spain. This weekend, we ate dinner al fresco in a Costa Brava town. I only saw two lonely people wearing the Spanish flag tied around their shoulders as Spain played Paraguay. Socially, I don't hear as much chatter about the World Cup as I do when Barça plays. I have heard cheers from my neighbor's house during a La Roja match. And I do believe, if you walk the streets of Barcelona during game time tonight, you will find the bars packed with viewers. After all Catalans do enjoy futbol and do not forget the hordes of summer tourists in Barcelona who want to watch the game.
But these actions come no where near the Catalans' support of Barça. I don't believe Catalans are enthusiastic supporters of La Roja. Doing so can even be a political statement. There is even a report of a Catalan boy wearing a La Roja shirt was rebuked and insulted. Letters to the editor and articles in Barcelona newspapers discuss the lack of support for La Roja and its political impact.
In stores like H&M and Carrefour, you will find stacks of La Roja paraphenellia for sale, while the Brazil and Argentina shirts were sold quickly. During one game day, I saw so many people wearing Brazil shirts, you'd think we weren't in Barcelona.
Tonight, La Roja plays Germany in the semi-final. And Paul the octopus has officially chosen Spain. Feel like going against the grain and cheering for La Roja in Barcelona? Here is where to watch the game.