Homage to Catalonia – How Guardiola’s Yellow Ribbon Reveals FA’s Hypocrisy

Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon homage to Catalonia reveals worrying aspects of hypocrisy and ignorance of The FA. Football Paradise explores the complex politics of revolution.
Pep Guardiola wears a symbol of the right vote.

A sytem of beaureaucracy engenders the apathy needed for hypocrisy. Or is it the other way around?

– Anon

In the Catalan lexicon, there is an expression that goes like Fer-ne cinc cèntims, which when translated into English – literally – means “make it five cents”. However, it is the figurative rendition of the phrase that makes it interesting with its own local charm. When translated with this non-literal aspect in mind, the Catalan utterance implies the phrases “give me just the gist of it”, or “make it short”, or – in terms of redundant politeness – “cut the crap”.

Nevertheless, when the discourse itself is around Catalonia, the need for fer-ne-cinc-cèntims-ing things would simply mean doing injustice to the sentiments of the Catalans – or in a more general sense – to the very idea of freedom of expression and to democracy itself. For this happens to be one of those territories of dialogue where you cannot just “cut the crap” and simplify the subject with a singular, conclusive statement. To fully understand the nature of the conditions that have prevailed over Catalonia for ages, one is left with hardly any choice but to delve into the complexity of it all – a complexity that inevitably arises owing to the multifarious facades the socio-political scenario of the region has adopted over the years.

It meddles with one’s head, to say the least. More so with a foreigner’s, who remains content in the half-baked knowledge that the only issue that has ever eaten Catalonia has been that of independence from Spain. Well, it indeed is the central theme of Catalonia’s revolutionary front but in no way does it define the overall sentiment that remains suspended in the Catalan air.  

Fortunately for the likes of you and I, football makes it easier.  

You see, when it comes to football, one doesn’t have to look far into the yellowing pages of history books to understand the socio-political enigma that is Catalonia. And yet, history it is that shapes the entirety of how the general revolutionary mood of Catalonia found its way into what was destined to become the most popular sport in the world.

Nevertheless, one still does not need to look far back. In fact, it was just a wee while ago – towards the end of the last year, to be more precise – that the usual signs of Catalonia building inroads into the footballing world began to appear. Only this time, it happened, mysteriously enough, in England.

Josep “Pep” Guardiola  Sala is a proud Catalan who has always worn his heart on his sleeve. However, following the recent events, some would say he took it a bit far by wearing it upon his chest.

As of late, the FA – the governing body of English football – has struck up quite some fancy to a tiny yellow ribbon that has appeared on Guardiola’s chest upon multiple occasions. The seemingly innocent article has somehow managed to irk the Football Association by being interpreted as a political symbol and hence being regarded as a breach of the organisation’s laws that forbid any such exhibition of political sentiments during footballing events that fall under the jurisdiction of the FA.

As it turns out, the lawmaking folks at the FA have decided among themselves that the yellow ribbon must stand for the highly politicised issue of Catalan independence and hence must be sanctioned by law to protect English football from something as irrelevant to the sport as politics.

The FA may be considered righteous for their firmness in keeping politics out of football, unless, of course, the statement that his yellow ribbon seems to be making is not political at all.

How about we start calling it revolutionary? Not a political statement, as Guardiola insisted in his defence. Simply revolutionary.

This brings me to certain observations regarding the Spanish Civil War made by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia

The thing that had happened in Spain was, in fact, not merely a civil war, but the beginning of a revolution. It is this fact that the anti-Fascist press outside Spain has made it its special business to obscure. The issue has been narrowed down to ‘Fascism versus democracy’ and the revolutionary aspect concealed as much as possible.

The Civil War may now be a horrific farce long forgotten, but certain things about it still run a similar course as they did back then. The narrowing down of the revolution in Spain – or may I say, in Catalonia – to the political duology of national unity versus secession can be likened to the FA’s stance against the yellow ribbon. With the revolutionary aspect behind it ignored, the yellow ribbon is the FA’s version of the Spanish Civil War of old. This is where Catalonia is misunderstood. This is where Catalonia often falls even today, reduced to a state of separatists owing to the sheer reluctance of the watching populace to dig deeper beyond the parapets of personal prejudices and assumptions. Once those barricades are crossed, one is likely to see revolutionary Catalonia in all its vibrancy and grey areas.

Pep’s revolution has been one of solidarity towards his fellow Catalans unrighteously detained by the Spanish government. Their offence? Playing by the essential rule of democracy: voting. In narrowing it down to mere political advertising in the name of Spanish nationalism versus Catalan separatism, the FA has shown its ignorance towards the struggles of Catalonia that go beyond their own misinformed perceptions.

Catalan supporters demonstrate outside the offices of the Spanish National Police in Barcelona.

And yet, no matter how powerful a man’s belief towards a cause is, an underlying flaw in his stance is likely to make an admirer frown with puzzlement, propelling conundrums upon the man’s character, which until then had seemed to stand firm upon a righteous belief.

So it is with Pep.

Being the manager of Manchester City has put the proud Catalan on the payroll of Sheikh Mansour, owner of the Premier League club, deputy prime minister of the UAE and member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. An impressive resume to have until a human rights NGO holds you accountable for atrocities committed upon the people of your regime and for violating the principles of human rights by restricting freedom of expression and imprisoning government critics without trial.

Yet towards his bosses, Pep Guardiola exhibits anything but rebellion, choosing to stay mum when asked about his stand towards the political prisoners of the UAE.

But such is the nature of circumstantial political correctness, which each one of us wears upon one’s hearts each day. It is the kind of concept that makes men choose between fellow beings who deserve their solidarity and creatures for whom it is best to maintain stoic silence. Interestingly, there ain’t no FA that charges scores of thousands of money for wearing something so shamelessly.

Piyush Bisht

Penman. Journalist. Playmaker. Spends a pretty hobbit-like lifestyle speckled with either creative foolhardiness or slothish procrastination