There are situations, even in the world of football, that one could consider delirious, practically surreal. Like this one. Over four decades have gone by since Francisco Franco’s death and nobody has been capable of revoking the three medals he received during his dictatorship that were delivered, either by force or as a way to win over favors, by the heads of FC Barcelona’s board. More specifically, this despite it already being called the club of Catalonia since the 1920s and known as more than a club since 1968, when Narcis de Carreras coined the distinctive motto. A series of circumstances and little desire to correct past wrongs have made this issue lack closure, made even more evident in current times, with the country at a historic crossroads and the Spanish state’s threats due to the independence movement in Catalonia.

To bring this question in front of the ordinary assembly, an organ that could revoke these medals from Franco, all that is needed are 500 signatures from delegates willing to address this hot potato, an offense that has dragged on for so long without a solution. Those interested in the history of the club, to make it even more of a hot topic, only recognize two of the medals given to Franco in his last years of governance, even though it was a total of three medals granted. Let’s recall what happened.

The first medal awarded to Franco from what was then known as Club de Futbol Barcelona (even the name was changed by military decree) was made of gold. It was awarded by FC Barcelona president Agustí Montal i Galobert on May 17, 1951, at the Estadio Chamartín ahead of the Copa final, then in honor of the Generalissimo of course, between Barça and Real Sociedad. The story is curious enough, considering Montal was the first postwar president that forged a democratic crack in the system and revived the Catalanism within the club. His time in charge meant the revival of a depressed entity, which was then thoroughly persecuted by the victors of the Spanish Civil War. The club would win several league titles under Enrique Fernandez’s stewardship, with Josep Samitier as head of first team and responsible for the purchase of land that would, years later, allow for the move from the battered and patched-up Les Corts to the Camp Nou.

That day, during that final, Montal had an outburst. The first postwar president not appointed directly from Madrid and coming from a background in the Catalan textile industry, who would be in charge of Barça for so many years, improvised an act of tribute to the Galician General; there, in the middle of the stands, he took off his own gold medal from his jacket to give it to the dictator. And he was left, of course, without a medal until months later the President of the Board of Directors, Enric Martí Carretó, restored it. At the time, Barça was managed by a type of duopoly who shared the peak of power. Montal was in charge of the football while Martí Carretó, famous after the Di Stéfano case, was the one actually in charge of the club. Franco never forgot this spontaneous act, the desire shown by Montal to look good in front of the one who led all of Spain, which was said to be united by a universal destiny (according to the Spanish Falange).

The second medal was granted at the end of Francoism, on October 13, 1971, during a speech to an audience at El Pardo, the dictator’s place of residence. At that time, it was a case of the golden medal commemorating the inauguration of the Palau Blaugrana arena, built in part because of national subsidies. This was a way, then, to compensate for the money received. There also isn’t any evidence saying that this medal was granted through coercion or force, but rather that it was part of a personal initiative from the Barcelona board of directors, then led, curiously, by Agustí Montal i Costa, son of the previous president.

The third medal is a bit harder to understand. Plus, it was granted when Barcelona was boiling in opposition to the excesses of the Franco regime, since only three days later Salvador Puig Antich, a Catalan anarchist against the regime, was executed in the Model prison. It was February 27th, 1974 and the reasoning behind the latest medal defied belief. It was, in this case, the honorable medal of FC Barcelona’s official 75th anniversary. Six days earlier, on February 21, the Official Barcelona supporters club (Penya) from Manresa was awarded the first gold medal created by the club as a sign of appreciation and recognition for their magnificent job in organizing ​​the First Meeting of Barcelona Supporters Clubs in Montserrat in July 1972. In other words, it was awarded for an event that took place over two years earlier and for an event that was clearly identitary in nature, the identification of Barca with Catalonia and reaffirming their beliefs even under Francoism. Then, it seems that the Barcelona board didn’t realize that, in times of dictatorship, the norm was that the first award of a civil organization always had to be for the general. Given the Francoist authorities irritation, the medal from 1974 was awarded to Franco as an obligatory solution and as a compromise to avoid more serious problems.

Having explained the historical moment in which each medal was awarded, now it’s time to jump to the future. Even though it may sound surprising, it wasn’t until 2003 -almost three decades since Franco’s death!- until the club made its first frustrated attempts to reclaim these medals. Nobody moved an inch during the years of Spain’s transition to democracy, nor did President Núñez- known for his particularly defined ideology- do anything in his 22 year reign. Neither did Gaspart, as if this controversial situation were what he needed…

At the end of 2003, about 300 Barcelona socis [members/owners] whose signatures were collected as a petition, demanded that the 1974 medal be returned. Only this one, just one of the three, because they ignored the existence of the previous two. The initiative was brought about by the weekly El triangle (the triangle) and the entity Friends of Josep Sunyol. They were answered on October 20th, 2003, when a member of the advisory board, appointed specifically to analyze that situation, ruled “The advisory board doesn’t officially state anywhere that the golden medal supposedly given to Franco had ever been awarded. In 1974, the board led by Agustí Montal saw itself forced to award a medal to Franco. The medal that was awarded was the 75th anniversary one. The advisor to the board was also informed that in the books where the minutes of each meeting were held, there is no written evidence of a medal being awarded to General Franco. The advisor to the board considers that FC Barcelona is not responsible for actions that were imposed on them by an undemocratic situation.” Even worse: in a cruel bit of fate, the president of this advisory board was the ex Barcelona president Raimon Carrasco, son of the parliamentary politician of the party Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, Manuel Carrasco i Formiguera, who was executed during the Franco regime in the middle of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

With such a reasonable and hardly compromised verdict, the advisor left the final decision in the board of director’s hands. The very next day, Xavier Cambra, the secretary and spokesperson of the board, stated: “The opinion of this board of directors coincides with that of the advisor, in the sense that because the medal wasn’t awarded voluntarily it doesn’t make any sense to withdraw it.” To hammer home this point further, Cambra indicated: “The medal wasn’t awarded, it was imposed, and therefore it didn’t exist (in our official records). It is true that there is no impediment preventing us from reclaiming it, but since it wasn’t a voluntary action in awarding it, it is as if it doesn’t exist.”

Altogether, it makes no sense from top to bottom, starting with the criteria that the medal doesn’t exist because of the fact that it was imposed. Or that you can’t reclaim the medal simply because it wasn’t granted willingly. Then, following this line of reasoning, the hypothetical and absurd case could arise in which FC Barcelona decides to withdraw the 1951 and 1971 medals since they were granted without any kind of direct imposition from the regime and could maintain the 1974 medal since it was, according to them, a gift that was “imposed and non-existent.” It’s surprising that a board as belligerent and uncompromising on issues of Catalan identity under the leadership of Joan Laporta didn’t attempt to pursue this right in his seven years in charge. In fact, this peculiar issue didn’t come up to the surface during his reign at all. Unfortunately, Laporta accepted the advisor’s verdict and the issue was sidelined. In those days, the rumor making the rounds was that a verdict against the withdrawal of the medals was a concession to Alejandro Echevarria, then Laporta’s brother in law, director and member of the Francisco Franco foundation. But when Echevarria resigned, precisely because of the scandal surrounding his political affiliations, nothing changed.

Years later, on March 26, 2012, the newspaper Gol started a campaign to collect signatures for Barcelona to withdraw the medals it awarded to Franco. But only half a year later, the shareholders of Gol changed and the campaign to collect the signatures was canceled. The initiative wasn’t restarted even when over 7000 signatures of the required 8,862 necessary at the moment that meant a 5% of total socis, the minimum number required to bring up a debate in the club’s general assembly. Now, the club’s new statutes, which were written during the presidency of Sandro Rosell, allow for an easier path: another option to achieve the withdrawal of the three medals consists of proposing the withdrawal to the assembly of delegates with the petition requiring 500 signatures of theirs. In other words, 10% of the approximately 5,068 delegates elected to represent the group of socis. Today, however, it is evident that no delegate has ever taken such a big step.

And so we continue, dragging along this unrighteousness, this bloody wound in our memories at the time the country is at such a historic crossroads. Better, incidentally, to not even speculate on the idea of reigniting the debate: how many medals of Catalan sport as a whole (not just Barça) have been awarded to Francisco Franco Bahamonde and have never been returned as would be expected in a lawful state?

Anything wrong? Send your correction.

Article originally published in Catalan at L'Esportiu by Frederic Porta.