KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Spanish football has continued to remain caught in the crossfire of fury over the Catalan independence referendum. More than 700 people were injured on Sunday when police attacked would-be voters while Barcelona were defeating Las Palmas 3-0 at a deserted Nou Camp.
Players of both Barcelona and local rivals Espanyol not absent on international duty did not train Tuesday in sympathy with the call for a regional strike after events at the weekend.
The response from the Spanish government to a referendum it had already declared illegal was so violently heavy-handed that, at one polling station, police used batons to attack firefighters who were trying to maintain a peaceful and orderly queue of voters.
Barcelona’s home game was drawn into the political dispute with Madrid. The Barcelona club had requested the game be postponed for fear of unrest as the region went to the polls.
But the Madrid-based Spanish league ruled that any postponement would have been at Barcelona’s request and the club could have been liable to forfeit the match points and suffer possible further penalties.
Barcelona thus announced a mere 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off that they would play but behind closed doors.
Struggling Las Palmas, with Pako Ayestaran in charge for the first time, initially responded well to the unusual situation and hit the post in the first half but league leaders Barca eventually took control.
Sergio Busquets broke the deadlock after the interval and Lionel Messi secured Barca’s seventh win from seven games with two typically well-taken finishes.
Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said: “We tried to suspend the game all day long but it wasn’t possible. We could lose points if we didn’t play so we decided to play behind closed doors as a way to show the entire world that we were not pleased with what happened.”
Las Palmas director general Patricio Viñayo said that Barcelona had not consulted his club about the match arrangements.
Tension around the referendum had boiled over into Spanish football even ahead of the weekend when Barcelona defender Gerard Pique spoke out in favour of the referendum. Spain team-mate Sergio Ramos had snapped back that the issue should not be raised in a football context.
After the match Pique said: “It was a really difficult game to play. It was my worst experience as a professional. We all gave our opinions [in the dressing room], there were pros and cons for playing, but in the end, we decided to play.
“I understand that there are supporters who do not understand that decision.”
Barcelona go to Madrid on Saturday week to play Atletico on the resumption of LaLiga action after the national team break. The season’s first Clasico against Real Madrid is not until December 23 in the Spanish capital.
In Barcelona itself police prevented some people from voting while seizing ballot papers and boxes at polling stations. Other police used batons and fired rubber bullets to quell protests.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote. while the interior ministry said 12 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested in shutting down 92 polling stations.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau condemned police actions against what she called the region’s “defenceless” population.