Barcelona prepare to meet their makers

October 21, 2008

BASEL, Switzerland, Oct 21 (Reuters) - After years of inspiring football fans around the world, FC Barcelona will on Wednesday face the lesser-known Swiss club which claims to have been the inspiration behind the creation of the Spanish giants.

Swiss champions FC Basel have organised an exhibition at their stadium museum ahead of the Champions League Group C encounter, showing how businessman and former Basel player Hans Gamper migrated to Spain before founding FC Barcelona in 1899.

According to legend, Gamper may even have based Barcelona's striking half red, half blue team strip on Basel's near identical colours which had been in use since the Swiss club's own founding six years earlier.

"Sadly there is no historical document proving that Barcelona's shirts were based on FC Basel's, but the circumstantial evidence is quite compelling," Swiss Sport Museum collection leader Hans-Dieter Gerber said.

"The fact that Gamper went to Spain and set up FC Barcelona who started playing with the same distinctive colours he had played in while captaining Basel suggests the story is at least credible."

Wednesday's match will take place 109 years to the day since Gamper started FC Barcelona by placing a newspaper advert asking players to come forward.

Known in Spain by the Catalan version of his name, Joan, Gamper himself went on to make nearly 50 appearances for the side, scoring more than 100 goals.

His importance to the club's early years has been recognised with a lifesize waxwork at Barcelona's own stadium museum and in the pre-season Joan Gamper friendly tournament held every year since 1966.

"Gamper is very well remembered in Barcelona as a Swiss man who came to our city and always helped out when there were historical or political difficulties," Barcelona fan clubs' coordinator Victor Beceiro i Friedmann said at the exhibition opening.

Among the items on display at the St Jakob Park museum is a receipt for 100 FC Basel poster prints bought by Gamper during a visit back to his homeland in 1908.

At that time, Barcelona were close to financial ruin, prompting speculation that Gamper, then serving his first term as the club's president, may have used the Basel posters to help drum up publicity for the struggling Spanish side.

Decades later Basel provided the setting for some of the Barcelona's earliest international triumphs.

First was an Inter-City Fairs Cup semi-final victory over Birmingham in 1958 with Barcelona going on to celebrate the first of a record three victories in the unofficial forerunner to today's UEFA Cup competition.

Barcelona's first official European trophy was also won in Basel with the old St Jakob Park hosting their 4-3 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf in the 1979 Cup Winners' Cup final.

But while Barcelona went on to overcome their early difficulties and achieve football greatness, there was no such happy ending for Gamper.

Banished from Spain after being accused of fostering Catalan nationalism, he returned to Switzerland and committed suicide in 1930 after losing his fortune as a result of the previous year's Wall Street crash.

"When I was researching for the exhibition, Gamper's granddaughter in Spain told me that his name had long been taboo within the family because of the suicide, which was very hard to accept in such a strongly Catholic country," said Gerber.

"With changing attitudes, and the distance of time, that seems to be changing and hopefully the exhibition and the meeting of his two former clubs on Wednesday can help remind people of Gamper's importance to the joint history of both teams."