FC Barcelona bars public from match amid Catalan vote chaos

Barcelona’s revered football club played a potentially tense match behind closed doors on Sunday as Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum descended

TOPSHOT – Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (L) celebrates a goal with teammates Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (C) and Brazilian forward Neymar during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs RCD Espanyol at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 18, 2016. / AFP / JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

into violence.

After an emergency board meeting, the club said it had taken the decision to ban fans from the match against fellow Spanish La Liga club Las Palmas after the national league refused to postpone it.

Las Palmas indicated on Sunday that it opposed the breakup of Spain, saying that its players would appear with the Spanish flag sown onto its jerseys.

“FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression,” the club said in a statement.

“Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”

Before the fixture, it was clear that each club would be on opposing sides politically as well as on the field. FC Barcelona is knitted in to the fabric of the region: Its motto is “More than a club” and its players have been vocal in their support of the referendum.

Las Palmas, from the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, said it had sown a small Spanish flag into the jerseys of its players in a “moderate” gesture of support for the integrity of Spain. “Regardless of how far away the Gran Canaria Stadium is, we have never felt the least temptation to be part of a country other than this,” the team said in a statement.

Star Barcelona player Gerard Piqué tweeted a photo of himself voting, and said: “I have voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy.”

The club’s legendary former player, Xavi, who retired in 2014, condemned the Spanish crackdown on the vote. “What is happening in Barcelona is a disgrace,” he said.

“It’s inadmissible that in a democratic country the people are not allowed to vote. I give my full support to the people who are peacefully trying to exert their right to vote.”

Barcelona’s players took to the field wearing red and yellow shirts, the colors of Catalonia, before reverting to its normal strip for the match which ended in a 3-0 victory for Barca, with star player Lionel Messi scoring twice.