Fans of Barça Are Growing in Havana / Iván García

With top tier baseball laughable, when at times the teams seem to be playing waterpolo or handball, fans are abandoning it to watch a more attractive spectacle.

And of the available spectacles, the best is the games of the Football Club from Barcelona aired on national television. Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, the eleven Catalans have captured the attention of football lovers in Cuba and around the world.

At the bar of the El Conejito restaurant, at the corner of 17 and M in Vedado, not 200 meters from the quiet blue waters off the Malecon, the fans of the Catalans are out in force. With an atmosphere more like a 19th century English pub, small and warm, it’s a fixed point for Barça’s fans in Havana.

Before a match of the Spanish or European Champions league, dozens of people fill the place and pop the tops on a Bucanero beer at 1.30 convertible pesos a can. They are gearing up for the after-game celebration of the almost sure-win of the star Catalonian team.

The Havana fans have displaced from El Conejito the foreign travelers who swarm the area during this high season for tourism. For the Spanish followers of Barcelona passing through the capital, the occasion is stupendous. They mix in with the fun and noise, vuvuzelas included, and in fits of generosity pay for rounds of beer for their friends.

That fateful Monday in November, when the Guardiola machinery pulled ahead by a “hand” (5-0) against the Real Madrid of Cristiano Ronaldo, a Catalan exalted with a fat Mexican beer treated almost fifty people watching the match to a round of beer. From a sense of dignity, the Madrid followers didn’t accept the invitation.

At a later game, after the crushing of Deportivo de La Coruña, another club with thousands of supporters in Cuba (it’s said that nearly all Cubans are part Galician), a group of ecstatic Spanish Barça fans uncorked a couple of bottles of champagne.

Many Habaneros have become bigger fans than ever. It’s a fad. The bathroom of good football and the touch of luxury of the eleven Catalans, have caused a number of defections. Followers of the English, Italian or German leagues have been seen hopping on one foot with incredible work on the field of the army led by Lionel Messi, who won the Ballon d’Or for a second consecutive year, as the best player in the world.

But also on the Island are those who won’t switch allegiances. A real stiff upper lip. Real Madrid has a history already written. It is the team that has won the most European Cups. And the most titles in the Spanish League.

When Barça matches this record, then you might start to argue with those passionate followers, who have an exaggerated way of claiming that the current Barcelona F.C. is the best team in the history of football.

To watch Barça play is an indescribable feast. May the local Catalans continue to enjoy it. But it’s still February. Perhaps by spring the fanatics will be brought down a peg. There is a lot of fabric still to be cut.

Reporting in real time: Habanero followers of Real Madrid don’t accept defectors.

Translated by Ariana

January 31 2011