Mes Que Un ClubTwo local examples of what the famed motto of Barcelona really means
by Ken Sweda | Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“Mes que un club”.
It is the motto and the foundation of arguably the best football club in history, FC Barcelona.
Literally, the words mean “More than a club” in Catalan, and serves to point out that the institution of Barca goes beyond the players, the staff and even the sport itself. Philosophically, it suggests that Barca is a community, one that includes the fans and which is anchored in a specific geographical region with shared language and customs. It incorporates a common vision and passion that, while similar in concept to many football clubs around the world, comes across as even more vital and vibrant. Indeed, it is this richness that has allowed Barca to become the football powerhouse it is, by influencing the way they develop their young players.
Like its model club, Ajax of Holland, Barca players are educated on site in traditional school subjects, and are introduced as well to other sports (gymnastics, judo) as a way of supporting their soccer training while also producing a well-rounded athlete and person. At Barcelona, young players are taught both Spanish and regional Catalan language and history; even players who have come from other countries in the hopes of one day becoming a Barca first-teamer are required to go through this process so that they can properly represent the ideals of Barcelona.
Even young Ben Lederman, a U12 player and the first American ever to be accepted into Barca’s La Masia academy, is learning both languages and absorbing the cultural ways as do all the other future hopefuls. Ben came, appropriately, from the Barca Southern California outpost run by brothers Brian and Gary Kleiban, and made the jump to La Masia last year, where he has been awarded the historic #10 shirt. This may be a surprise to some, but not if you know what the Kleibans are doing. Indeed, Barca So Cal’s current crop of U11’s can be seen in the video below that is currently going viral in the world coaching community. The philosophy and club “feel” are major parts of the Barca So Cal way, as they are in the mother club, and the importance of this to the success of these young Americans cannot be overstated.
I stumbled on the Kleibans’ work while investigating the “Barca way” in the beginning of my forays into training and coaching. It was equally fortuitous, though, that I recently happened to meet Joe “Pep” Kalina, a local example of the club ethos I was starting to value. Joe is a fellow soccer dad on my daughter’s new U13 club team who had experienced these things in the United States, but with a much more old-school feel. What follows is his wonderfully personal, detailed and inspiring description of what it means to really be part of a football “club” in the truest sense of the word.
“I’m an old footballer from Chicago with deep European heritage. My family is from a small wine-making village near the Carpathian Mountains in Moravia (Czech Rep.) and I played football for a local Czech club from the late 70′s through the mid 80′s. When my family came here in the early 20th century, they planted their roots, and then created a social club for themselves and other Moravians in Chicago. It was two storefronts wide, had a bar and kitchen on one side and on the other, a long dance hall with a stage. Czech bands came to play and club members came to dance and celebrate every occasion, from weddings to hard fought football and hockey victories. There was a club membership dues, and at the beginning, everyone pitched in for barrels of beer, wine, and food. The bar and kitchen was open to the public during the week to generate a source of income for rent, utilities, etc… They had a board of officers and had member voting on any big changes. As a young child, I remember many weekends sliding around on a sawdust sprinkled dance floor with the other kids at night while our parents danced and drank after coming back from a match. I always looked forward to getting together and seeing my friends who were there every weekend too.
As we got older, being part of the club had many things to offer us kids. We learned how to Czech dance, learned gymnastics, and many of us boys made the clubs’ football and hockey youth team, which back then started at U14. At 10 years old, I remember training with the older players but never hit the pitch for longer than a few minutes until I was 12. There was NO extra fee to play/train if you were Czech and only minimal fees if you weren’t. Fees were covered by membership dues if your kids participated or not. It was all part of creating entertainment for the members. The dancing lessons, football and hockey teams, etc… We were all trained by former men’s team veterans and they taught us how to play the European way. We all EARNED our spots whether on the pitch or the ice and our way of learning was watching the men’s team on Sat/Sun, training or just messing around in open play at the picnic grove.
After games, team members and fans went back to the club, where on the walls were pictures of the successful players from the past, and a trophy case filled with tournament and league victories that was never far from sight. When we got back, the kitchen was open, everyone paid for their food and drink and then sat at one of the many long tables in the clubhouse’s hall. We got to hear stories from the guys on the men’s team, who loved to boast about how good they were. They all told us if we worked hard enough, we could be sitting at the best table in the club, their table. The old timers, they were the best, every weekend we heard exactly the same story, like they were telling us for the first time.
What I just described is the true meaning of a CLUB, not the shallow attempt to claim SC, FC, AC, RC, status. A true athletic club is not just having 2-3 training sessions a week, a match on the weekend, and then going home for the cost of $2000.00 per child. It’s about being a part of something special. It’s about having a meeting place for people who share the same passions, a place to go watch matches, a place to return to after a win or a loss, to have some good food, drink and dance. A place to hang your clubs’ heroes photos on the wall, and to display your medals and trophies. To hear stories from the old timers of things that happened on the pitch or life in general. It’s about having a board of officers voted in by all the club’s members every 2 years. All members would have a voice on all the club’s decisions. That’s a TRUE CLUB! A VFW, American Legion, type hall would be a perfect start and rent pitch time from your local city. Then as the club takes off and becomes larger, purchase land, have your true home location for training, matches and a clubhouse. (This is) another view into what a true club really is like…of what my experiences of “club” life was all about. Believe me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned the above and got the response, “That won’t work in modern America, especially in Suburbia, people are too busy to go to a clubhouse after a game.” I disagree. My daughter’s U10 team has been together for 2 years and after matches we go for lunch or dinner as a team. The girls have “team time”, where every family hosts the team each month and usually does some activities, soccer or non soccer, to increase team bonding. Parents go out as a team for parent bonding also. The kids are dropped off at one of the families homes and are watched by older siblings. The result is an obvious improvement in “team” play--it’s them against the world. It showed on the pitch. It makes all the difference; it’s the closest we can get to club right now…
Since there is nothing similar (to) the way I was raised in a club environment, the closest thing we’ve done is tried to keep the team, a TEAM. When this doesn’t happen, it’s easy for parents to pack up and move to another travel organization that just took STATE CUP, the local league title, etc… because there is no connection or relationship built with the others. I see this happen so much. Staying together and playing together, year after year creates the most beautiful football you can watch. IMO, our total goal is to create well rounded human beings that excel (in our case) in football, not just lifeless football robots.
As to comments suggesting that “getting together and partying won’t build strong enduring clubs that make a splash and pump out talented players.”, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is EXACTLY how “REAL” athletic clubs across the globe are, were, and always will be. The WHOLE reason for all of this is simply to be ENTERTAINED by the athletes our club creates. Whether our athletes never leave the States or go overseas to play at the highest level, they’re our athletes and we embrace their journey. I played for years at the highest level and did all through college and a number of our club members either went on to play for clubs overseas or played in the NASL in the late 70′s thru the mid 80′s. Getting together and partying was part of the overall experience. When you see that there is more to this sport than just kicking a football, a whole new culture of football will be waiting for you with arms wide open… I promise you!”
Joe has related these thoughts to me on several occasions, usually after a couple Maisel’s hefeweizen, but his enthusiasm never wanes, nor does mine, as this is the way it’s always been done. His club is no longer around, but the legacy of those who grew up there remains. There are a few clubs in the Chicago area and other bigger cities around the country that still operate this way, and while this type of setting might be hard to build from the ground up these days, my good friend makes a great case for adopting this mindset and ideals into your team or club.
Perhaps then you, too, will get to experience what it’s like to be Mes Que Un Club.