How Merchant Taylors influenced Barcelona

Iconic teams are just as well known for their football kits as they are for football. Take Brazil for example as their bright yellow shirts and blue shorts somehow capture their flamboyant spirit. Ajax with their red bib shirt, Real Madrid looking like Gods in their all white strip that somehow made them stand out even more when games were filmed in black and white. Liverpool too, the current European Champions stand like a colossus in their all red shirt, shorts, and socks.

Barcelona are no exception in the sense that their Blaugrana colours are as much a part of their identity as Cruyff and Lionel Messi are in their impressive history. True they have pissed about with it such as the hoops and the bizarre chequered style shirt for this season but the colours remain the same. Maroon and blue.

The history of how Barcelona got their colours is just as intriguing as there are many theories. Like the formation of modern football in England and indeed the world it spread due to the English workers, businessmen who travelled the globe, some of whom attended public schools.

Modern football owes its roots to the public school playing fields. Those children who became adults spread the game across the continent. Whether it was to keep a link back home, to influence the Victorian motto of ‘healthy mind and healthy body,’ or to the fact that the locals took to a sport that is relatively easy to play.

Hans Gamper (who later changed his name to Joan Gamper such was his love for Catalonia) was a Swiss national who had a love for all sports and in particular football. The story goes that Hans was on his way to Africa to help set up a sugar trading company but after staying with his Uncle Emili decided to stay longer in Barcelona. Due to his Uncle’s connections Gamper got a job as an accountant.

Initially Gamper had turned out for one of the teams in the local Protestant community in Sarria-Sant. However Hans Gamper wanted something regular and wanted to form another football team after being also credited with helping form FC Zurich back home in Switzerland.

After persuading the Sole gym owner Jaime Vila to allow him to recruit like minded football enthusiasts, Gamper asked round the other patrons. Although he had some success most notably other foreign exiles such as the Witt brothers, the well to do locals turned down Gamper’s offer, To the Catalan bourgeoisie the idea of playing football and in particular playing in short trousers was beneath them and ‘morally reprehensible.’ Real sport for them was riding horses, shooting, or playing tennis all of which was played wearing long trousers.

The idea of asking anyone who was working class to help form the team would have been met with loud laughs at the mere thought of having to rub shoulders with such sorts.

So on the 22nd October 1899 Hans Gamper put out a advert for like minded souls who would be interested in forming a football team. Due to a lot of foreign exiles who wanted to be involved in football, Gamper was not short of interest in forming a football club.

The Witty brothers Arthur and Ernest had met Hans Gamper through playing tennis after forming their own tennis Real Club de Tenis Barcelona. Both had looked to set up a rugby union club whilst in Barcelona but the pitches were unsuitable. So Arthur and Ernest had set up football games between company employees. Consequently it was quite easy for Gamper to persuade Arthur and Ernest Witty to join his venture.

On the 29th November 1899 following a meeting at the Gimnasio Sole FC Barcelona was born. Now the intriguing part was how the colours of Barcelona came into being.

There are many stories that have been circulated. One was that during the meeting whilst debating the teams colours, all noticed that the pens had two points one red and one blue. This was meant to have led to the decision to adopt these colours for their new team of FC Barcelona.

That theory was quickly dismissed with many citing Hans Gamper’s links to the Swiss side FC Basel who he turned out for. However Han’s Granddaughter Emma Gamper whilst being interviewed for a book threw cold water on this theory as she replied that her Grandfather’s team was the team that he helped form, Zurich. Although Han’s Gamper had briefly turned out for Basel there was no real affinity that he had with his previous club. If he was to have chosen a former team then it would have been the colours of blue and white rather than maroon and blue.

Another explanation was that one of the players Comamala’s Mother was responsible for the colours as she had access to a football strip. This though was discounted when it was found that Comamala did not play for Barcelona until 1903.

For the more adventurous types and those wanting to associate Barcelona with liberty and fighting against the establishment, some such as the Catalan author Toni Strubell believe Barca’s colours of red and blue were chosen from Robespierre’s first Republic. Considering the background of Gamper, the Witty brother’s and their other associates that theory is very much wishful thinking.

The more plausible link which is confirmed on the official Barcelona website is that Barcelona’s colours were adopted from Merchant Taylor’s school of Crosby. Both the Witty brother’s had attended the school and it was were they had got their love of sport from.

As the team needed a football strip to play it became quite obvious to Arthur Witty to look back home and to the playing fields of Merchant Taylors. As he still had contacts with his old alumni, Arthur Witty was able to persuade his old school to donate some old rugby kits, plus goals, and balls to help set up the fledging club.

The colours of Merchant Taylor’s shirts were blue and maroon half’s later to become stripes for Barcelona. It was these distinct colours that made Barcelona famous and links the Catalan giants to a public school in Crosby.

It is something that has been accepted by the historians of FC Barcelona. For the Witty brothers and Hans Gamper, the colours of their new fledgling team would have been inconsequently. The main issue was to get enough shirts for the team and if a job lot from Witty’s former school Merchant Taylor’s was available then it would do splendidly.

As the years go by and history is made it is not unreasonable to assume that the colours of your club become part of your identity. Hence the reason for finding the link as to why Barcelona play in the Blaugrana. It also shows the influence that British public schools had in introducing the game as we know to the world.

Of course due to the cheapness and availability it quickly became adopted by the working classes and no doubt the Joan Gamper and the Witty brother’s would no doubt frown at the rampant commercialisation.

Both Joan Gamper and Arthur Witty would play a major part in the early years of Barcelona. The pair would be President of the club and steer it through early successes as well as the rocks that would have seen the club crash onto them, without their guiding light.

History would see Barcelona being seen as a representative of Catalonia. Again not something that Gamper or the Witty’s ever envisaged. For them it was about like minded individuals playing football to improve their mind, body, and soul. Events and the fans would see steer the club to a different route and being seen as ‘more than a club.’

Until recently the colours of Barcelona have always been sacrosanct. No sponsorship was ever meant to adorn the shirt but that all changed after Barcelona allowed UNICEF on their shirts. Nobody of course would object to something as worthy as UNICEF but the cynics wondered if this would allow the board to pave the way without a fight with supporters for a more lucrative sponsorship. Sure enough Qatar airways and now Rakuten have adorned the shirt.

The Blaugrana shirt has evolved over the years from the Merchant Taylor half and half to the Blaugrana stripes, hoops, and for some reason a chequered shirt. No matter, as those colours and Barcelona will always have a link to a school based on Crosby called Merchant Taylor.

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Author: Brian Benjamin

I love football and will watch any game. Writing is also a passion of mine and apart from writing about football I have also tried my hand at short stories in my spare time.

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