Joan Gamper

FC Barcelona Founder, Player and President

Joan Gamper, the founder of Football Club Barcelona, was born Hans Gamper on November 22nd 1877 in Winterthur, Switzerland and was the third of five children born to August Gottlieb Gamper and Rosina Emma Hässig.

His mother died of tuberculosis when the young Hans was just 8 years old and the family moved to Basel.

From there Gamper went to study in Zurich, where by the age of 12 he was an outstanding cyclist, but when he began to work at the age of 16, he took up the new sport of football and in 1893 began playing for FC Excelsior in 1893.

By 1895 he was club captain and a highly considered player but in 1896, he left FC Excelsior and decided to set up FC Zurich whilst also playing occasional games for FC Basel and FC Winterthur.

In the autumn of 1897, Gamper moved to Lyon to finish his business studies and it was here that he mainly played rugby.

Aged just 21, the young Gamper arrived in Barcelona in 1898 to visit his uncle Emili Gaissert, who was living in the well to do suburb of Sant Gervasi de Cassoles, and also to learn some Castilian.

He had been on his way to Africa to set up some sugar trading companies but Gamper soon made friends with members of the expat community who were living in the city and decided to stay.

He found work first with Credit Lyonnais and then with the Sarrià Railway Company as an accountant and also wrote sports columns for two Swiss newspapers, whilst also playing football with the local protestant community in the District of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi.


The Founding of FC Barcelona

As he became more integrated in Barcelona life,Gamper also attended the Gimnasio Solé and helped publish a sports magazine in Spanish called Los Deportes, and after apparently having been refused a game by some local who would on to found FC Català, he decided to publish a small ad in Los Deportes on October 22nd 1899.

The English translation of the text reads as follows: "SPORT NOTE. Our friend and partner, Mr. Kans Kamper, from the Foot-Vall Section of the 'Sociedad Los Deportes' and former Swiss champion, wishing to organize some matches in Barcelona, requests that everyone who likes this sport contact him, by coming to this office on Tuesday and Friday nights from 9 to 11."

A little over a month later on November 29th 1899, a small group of foreign and local football enthusiasts met at Gimnasio Solé at number 5 Carrer Montjuïc del Carme just off La Rambla in El Raval and Football Club Barcelona was founded. 

Walter Wild was elected as the first president of the club as, with his name now catalanised to Joan Gamper, the 22-year-old Hans wanted to concentrate on playing and captaining the team.

Although possibly the reason why Gamper didn't become club president was that, at 22, he hadn't yet reached the age of majority, which was 23 at the time, whereas at 27 Wild was old enough to take on the role.

It is not known, if Gamper chose the legendary blaugrana club colours, in honour of FC Basel.

However, the other Swiss teams Gamper played for, and Merchant Taylors' School in Crosby, Merseyside have all been credited and/or claimed to be the inspiration.

Gamper played for the FC Barcelona first team from 1899 to 1903 scoring over 100 goals for the side in 48 games.

In 1901 he was a member of the FC Barcelona team that won the first Copa Macaya, the forerunner to the Catalan championship, and in 1902 played in the first Copa del Rey final, which FC Barcelona lost 2-1 to Club Vizcaya after having beaten Madrid FC in the semis in the very first Clásico.

FC Barcelona President

In 1908, Joan Gamper took over the presidency of FC Barcelona for the first time as the club was in danger of folding.

Several of the better players had left the club and not been replaced and as a result of poor performances FC Barcelona had not won anything since the Campeonat de Catalunya in 1905, which in turn had affected the club's finances.

Gamper subsequently became president of FC Barcelona on five occasions (1908-09, 1910-13, 1917-19, 1921-23 and 1924-25) and one of his early achievements was to help the club acquire its own stadium.

Until 1909, the side had played at various grounds but, after raising funds from local businesses, on March 14th 1909, they opened a new ground on Carrer de la Indústria, which became known as the Camp del Carrer Indústria and had a capacity of 6,000 spectators.

Gamper also launched a campaign to recruit more club members and by 1922, FC Barcelona had more than 10,000, which led to the club moving to the Camp de Les Corts, which initially had a capacity of 20,000 which was later increased to 60,000.

In order to make the move possible, apart from raising money from local businesses, Gamper made a donation of one million pesetas, a fortune at the time.

In 1912, Gamper signed Paulinho Alcántara, one of the clubs top goalscorers with 357 goals and in 1917 appointed Jack Greenwell as manager.

During the Gamper period, FC Barcelona won 11 Campionats de Catalunya, 6 Copas del Rey and 4 Copas de los Pirineos.

During this period, FC Barcelona began to be considered a symbol of Catalanism, in part because of Gamper, who not only catalanised his name but also wrote and gave all his speeches in Catalan.

As a result of this, Gamper's final presidency ended in controversy, when at a game against CE Júpiter in aid of the Orfeo Català, a British Royal Marine band was invited to play at Les Corts.

The band struck up the Spanish national anthem, which provoked jeers and boos from the crowd, and when the confused band leader changed to the British national anthem, the crowd broke out into enthusiastic applause.

The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera accused Gamper of promoting Catalan nationalism and the Camp de Les Corts was closed for six months

Gamper fled the country and the authorities allowed him to return to Barcelona under certain conditions.

According to to Manuel Tomàs, head of documentation at FC Barcelona, "As a condition for his return, they forbade any connection with the club. It was very difficult for him to overcome this reality and he fell into depression. They were five terrible years that took him to death in 1930, the year that he killed himself. The final straw was the Great Depression of 1929, which ruined him completely."

Joan Gamper committed suicide by shooting himself on July 30th 1930 and, as the cutting from La Vanguardia testified, after his funeral the following day, a massive crowd gathered close to his home to mourn his passing.

The Joan Gamper Legacy

The club permantly retired Gamper's membership number and he was the first sportsman to have a Barcelona street named after him.

On June 24th 1934, the President of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys, renamed a street, previously known as Calle de los Crisantemos in the Les Corts District, Calle de Juan Gamper and on the same day FC Barcelona organised a sports festival in his honour and played a testimonial match against Athletic Club.

After the Civil War in 1939, the Francoist authorities withdrew the name and renamed it Crisantemos but since then the street has once again been rechristianed with the name Carrer de Joan Gamper.

In 1955, the club wanted to call the new Camp Nou stadium after Joan Gamper but the decision was blocked by the Francoist authorities.

According to Manuel Tomàs, "Franco's dictatorship was strongly opposed to this decision because he was a foreign citizen, he had committed suicide, he was a protestant, had a liberal ideology and was in favour of catalanism. So much so that the fact that he spoke Catalan and changed his name from Hans to the Catalan Joan Gamper were taboo subjects."

In 1966, the FC Barcelona board under Enric Laudet launched the Trofeu Joan Gamper, in which the club start the season with a series of friendly games against top foreign sides and traditionally, one of Gamper's descendants presents the trophy to the winners.

In 2004 the Winterthur Group, a Swiss insurance company with offices in Barcelona since 1910, became sponsors of the FC Barcelona basketball team, which led to the team featuring the birthplace of Gamper on their shirts and in their name Winterthur FCB until 2007, after Winterthur Group was purchased by AXA.

In 2006,the board under Joan Laporta opened the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and in 2009, the same board symbolically conceded membership number 1 to the club's founder.

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