Colorful Claims on FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona is one of the best known football or soccer clubs in the world and probably the best to boot. One of the questions coming up every now and then is: How did it come by the colors blue and red on its dress? There are many claims to fame, and none of them gives a satisfactory answer. 

The discussion about these colors has been going on almost as long as the club existed. There are several hypotheses being put forth in books, in the net and by TV stations. They all have one thing in common: They can’t be proven one way or another. I will try to sort it out by pointing out what might be at least plausible as opposed to plain flights of fancy. Some very weird claimants to fame have met my eye while I searched the net. The one person who never commented on it was Joan (or Hans) Gamper, one of the founders of the club and five times its president.

Hans Gamper was born near Zurich in Switzerland. He moved to Barcelona in 1898 where he changed the use of his given name to Joan. In 1899, he co-founded the club together with local English and Spanish friends. The colors and the coat of arms were adopted at that time and there are no records on the issue of what criteria were applied in the choice. The club’s colors were and are blue and red.

Prior and up to his move from Switzerland to Spain, Hans Gamper lived in Basel and was a member of its local football (soccer) club FC Basel founded in 1893. As he was also its playing captain in the season leading up to his move to Barcelona, a connection between the two clubs is at least plausible. FC Basel has used the colors blue and red from its inception. Depending on the language you read it in, Wikipedia either agrees, tentatively agrees, or refutes this claim. It might be added in favor of FC Basel that the design of the leather ball and the use of yellow are identical with FC Barcelona; the fact that both clubs use the shortening of FCB might have swayed Hans Gamper in that direction, too, when discussing the use of colors for the new club.

The next puzzling question is: Where on earth did the FC Basel get its colors from? The color combination of red and blue is far from obvious. Some people claim that the colors are the national colors of the State and Republic of Ticino in Switzerland. They are partly correct, as the colors of FC Basel derive from that source. As an older club had already claimed the traditional colors black and white that stand for the Canton and Republic of Basel, the colors of Ticino were chosen instead. Despite the geographical distance, Basel and Ticino traditionally had very close ties as they had been tied up into one diocese by the Vatican and the Bishop of Basel therefore was also responsible for the southernmost tip of Switzerland. The color scheme of red and blue in Ticino’s coat of arms had been inverted by the founders of FC Basel to blue and red. This primary inversion by the club’s founders makes the claim of FC Basel as a model for FC Barcelona more acceptable to me than the Canton and Republic of Ticino’s direct claim. FC Barcelona’s colors are inverted, too, and there would have been no reason to do so in the case of the Catalan club. Any reasonable link between Ticino, Barcelona, or Hans Gamper is completely missing, which puts the claim by Ticino into the area of flights of fancy. Nice try, though.

Further claims I found were those made by FC Zurich in Switzerland, as Gamper was one of the co-founders of that club in 1896, too. The club’s colors are blue and white; the red seemingly just appeared out of thin air. There are many other curious claims and stories on the net with some of the legends dating back to the earliest years of the club. Most probably the colors were chosen on a whim by the founders without any thought to precedents, but in Catalonia at least the FC Basel is considered as precedent.

FC Barcelona owns and runs the largest stadium in Europe, with a capacity of up to 98,000 fans. The stadium is also held in the colors of blue and red. It is known by the name of Camp Nou, though it had been planned to call it Camp Joan Gamper in 1957 when it was first built at its present location. At the time, Dictator General Franco vetoed the name on grounds of his personal hatred against the founder of FC Barcelona.

FC Basel has the largest stadium in Switzerland with a capacity of up to 40,000 fans. It is also held in blue and red. It is officially named St Jacob’s Park, but nobody bothers with that. It is just called ‘Joggeli’ (pronounce it ‘yoggaylee’) in Alemannic (commonly referred to as 'Swiss German').

Whenever both clubs are playing in the European Champions League, the color question is being readdressed several times from all sides with journalists trying to squeeze out an extra article. FC Barcelona’s archives hold no answer to the question, wherefore we may look forward to many more discussions on this topic and probably many more spurious claims, too.

Related articles: