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Hans Gamper – He Was Swept Along

Emma Gamper, the grandchild of Hans Gamper, founder of FC Barcelona, is about to publish a book on her grandfather. Here she relates some facts about the Swiss man’s action-packed life.

FM magazine: What kind of person was Hans Gamper?
Emma Gamper: He was the kind of man who valued sport and friendship. Initially, he was interested in cycling and athletics, in other words, two individual sports. Then, when he took up football, friends started rolling in from everywhere, so to speak. Hans Gamper grew up as one of five children — alongside his football-mad brother, Fritz, and three sisters. His family moved about a lot when he was a child, probably because of the economic situation in Switzerland at that time and the fact that my great-grandfather worked for the stock exchange.

Was your grandfather a typical founder type, an innovator?
Gamper: He was a member of FC Excelsior and was involved in founding FC Basel in 1893. He also helped to set up FC Zurich with three friends on 1 August 1896. These teenagers slipped into every role at that time — president, groundsman, player — you name it, they did it.

You mean Hans Gamper also played football?
Gamper: Yes, he did. And at that time you could play for different clubs, so he was also a member of FC Basel. I have found out that he played as a forward and scored many goals. He was also a true captain.

How did he end up in Barcelona?
Gamper: He was a self-employed businessman who speculated on the stock exchange, which is why he often moved homes. In 1897, he was playing for Lyon and in 1898 he arrived in Barcelona.

And he immediately founded a football club?
Gamper: He joined forces with people who were on the same wavelength. After all, he was a foreigner and a protestant, in other words, he belonged to two minorities. When he set up Barcelona, he followed the procedure they had used for Basel, by putting an advertisement in a newspaper. He did this on his own account, that I know. Nobody knows for sure whether they chose red and blue colours because of their affinity for Basel. What was important to him was that the club should have the same name as the city; that was always a basic principle.

Did he ever think that Barcelona would one day become such a powerful club?
Gamper: They believed from the start that it would hit the heights. That’s why he also bought a stadium to house 20,000 fans. Everybody told him he was mad.

Who else was involved in founding the club?
Gamper: There were several foreigners, especially Englishmen. They were all pioneers, who didn’t play for money by the way. The club was hoping to create jobs for its members but if anyone wanted to make money through sport, they had to leave Barca.

How long was Hans Gamper president of the Catalan club?
Gamper: He had to be re-elected every time. All in all, he was re-elected nine times. When the dictator, Primo de Rivera, seized power in 1925, he had to leave the country because he supported Catalan separatism. He was banned from having anything to do with the club. Then, in 1930, he committed suicide – along with a friend. They both shot themselves with a gun at the same time.

Do Barcelona’s activities, such as commitment to UNICEF [the club advertises UNICEF on its shirts and donates millions of euros to the organisation every year -Ed.], reflect your grandfather’s philosophy?
Gamper: He was always an idealist, so I’m sure that he would be very proud of their links with UNICEE

Are you yourself a Barcelona fan?
Gamper: Not as much as I used to be.

Did you encounter any difficulty in researching your book on Hans Gamper?
Gamper: I wasn’t sure where to draw the line. For instance, what would the reader really be interested in and when was I taking things too far? The result is a story of an era. At that time, every¬thing was in a state of flux — trains and ships were being perfected, electricity was making sweeping changes and the word “impossible” did not exist in people’s vocabulary. Hans Gamper was born into this era and went to live in Barcelona, a city which never stood still, and he was swept along.