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Lapham's Quarterly

Lapham's Quarterly

Posted: June 18, 2010 10:10 AM

Before the Upset, It Was a Swiss Accountant Who Brought Soccer to Spain

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The result of Switzerland's 1-0 win over Spain on Wednesday -- the first major upset of this World Cup -- was a surprise, but the match's general course was not. The Spanish dominated throughout, pinging the ball about the field with the same precision and verve that had seen them suffer only two losses in fifty matches (the first being the infamous loss to the U.S. during last year's Confederations Cup). On the day, luck was Swiss: the alpine side defended bravely, and turned one or their very few attacks into a goal, leaving Spaniards from Galicia to Girona to curse a land heretofore less known for goals than cuckoo clocks. But in the grand scheme of the world game -- especially if their favored team goes on to lift this World Cup -- Spanish fans with a sense of history might in fact do well to thank the nation that bequeathed them Wednesday's pain.

Spain are favorites in this tournament for many reasons -- beginning with the exorbitant list of world class players filling its roster. More significant than the simple agglomeration of talent, though, is the degree to which the Spanish squad replicates the fluidity and cohesion of it stop professional club, FC Barcelona, widely regarded as the finest passing team on the planet -- and a club that was founded by a Swiss.

Joan Gamper was an accountant from Zurich who visited Barcelona in 1898 and decided to stay, taking a job keeping the books for the city's tram company. Having developed a taste for "association football" while attending one of the many English-style schools that sprung up in Switzerland during the latter 1800s, Gamper founded FC Barcelona in 1899 as an outlet to play his beloved game with fellow ex-pats, while at the same time proselytizing the game to locals.

Run by Gampers as a member-owned institution from the start, FC Barcelona -- whose famed blaugrana shirts were inspired by the colors of Gampers hometown team in Switzerland -- had 10,000 dues-paying members by 1922. Barca quickly became not merely one of Spain's leading teams, but also a key source of nationalist pride in Catalonia. With a cosmopolitan outlook befitting a free-thinking port always rich in artists and anarchists, the club has always had a reputation for enlisting the world's finest players, including Argentina's Lionel Messi, to their cause.

Were Gamper alive and watching yesterday, one imagines he would have cheered his motherland's victory as loudly as his countrymen -- but that he would have smiled with pride, as well, watching midfield masters Xavi, Iniesta, and Bousquets play the game as only players bred at the club he founded know how.

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a doctoral student in geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written for publications including The Believer, The Nation, and The New York Review of Books. Visit Lapham's Quarterly for more from our World Cup blog.


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