(By Jon Sindreu) LONDON—People from Catalonia have always seen themselves as cosmopolitan, as citizens of the world. We love feeling acknowledged by the global community, which may be why we derive so much pleasure from non-Catalans embracing our local—but most powerful and international—soccer club, F.C. Barcelona, or Barça for short.
Becoming a Barça fan is the fastest route to feeling welcomed in Catalonia; learning the language can take much more effort than liking, or pretending to like, 22 people determined to kick a ball around 50 by 100 yards of turf.
But just like Catalans themselves, Barça is, at heart, much more homespun than it claims to be. Indeed, outside of Catalonia, supporting Barça has become the best way for Catalan migrants to find each other and, over 90 minutes, escape the trials they may be facing in their lives abroad.
I, like many others before me, spent my first night in London at a pub, at the invitation of a fellow Catalan, enjoying a Champions League match with a pint in hand and the secret relief that I might not be so alone in the eight-million-strong British capital.
London is home to Barca’s oldest official fan club—or “penya”—outside of Spain. Penya Blaugrana London was founded in 1985 and regularly gathers at Bar&Co, a boat-turned-pub moored at Temple Pier on the Victoria Embankment on the River Thames.
Many of those who show up for the weekly soccer matches often admit indifference toward the soccer and choose to focus on conversations regarding Catalan politics, or the impossible price of rent in London, or common university friends. But this is in stark contrast to the image of a sports club we Catalans claim is a global multicultural phenomenon.
The club does draw a wide following from around the world—and is proud to remind everybody about it. One recent study by journal Digital Sports Media found F.C. Barcelona had 119 million online fans globally, making it the football club with the most social-network followers—placing it ahead of the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United MANU -0.13%. In a sign of the club’s broad appeal, it even counts among its supporters many non-Catalans in Spain. More than a quarter of Spaniards claim to be Barça fans, according to Spain’s Social Investigations Center, an independent public agency. That’s almost 12 million people, which is far higher than Catalonia’s 7.5 million population…