FC Barcelona’s Martyr President 1935-36
Born on July 21st 1898 into a wealthy Barcelona family, Josep Sunyol i Garriga was club president from 1935 to 1936.
Sunyol was murdered by nationalist troops in the Sierra de Guadarrama at the start of the Spanish Civil War and is considered one of the first martyrs in the History of FC Barcelona.
He was also president of the Federació Catalana de Futbol and an important member of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, being elected to Congress in Madrid in 1931, 1933 and 1936 during the Second Spanish Republic.
Sunyol was also president of the Reial Automòbil Club de Catalunya from 1933 to 1934 and founder of the Catalanist newspaper La Rambla, which was located on Rambla de Canaletes.
In fact, the location of the newspaper offices on this section of The Ramblas is the reason why Canaletes is still so important to Barça fans to this day.
A Short Biography of Josep Sunyol
Josep Sunyol was born in Barcelona on July 21st 1898 into a middle-class republican family, who were associated with the very lucrative sugar trade.
He was nephew of the conservative Catalanist politician, Ildefons Sunyol, who was a member of the Lliga Regionalista in 1901 and one of the group of dissidents who formed the Centre Nacionalista Republicà in 1906.
Somewhat to the left of his uncle, the young Josep became active in Catalan politics from an early age and was in the habit of making donations to good causes, such as the freedom of prisoners.
Josep Sunyol first became actively involved with FC Barcelona came in 1925 when the authorities, during Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, closed the club’s Camp de les Corts stadium after supporters had booed the Spanish National Anthem at a match against CE Júpiter in honour of the Orfeó Català.
The club president Joan Gamper was forced to flee Catalonia and Sunyol was amongst a group of young Catalanist activists, who decided to become a members of the club.
On account of the Gamper’s support for Catalan autonomy, FC Barcelona had already become a symbol of Catalanism, having been described by the Veu de Catalunya newspaper as ‘the club of Catalonia’ as early as 1918.
By 1928, Josep Sunyol was a member of the Board of Directors under club president, Arcadi Balaguer, who was a convinced monarchist and consequently held very different political beliefs to the young Sunyol.
A little later in 1929, Sunyol was elected president of the Federació Catalana de Futbol, the Catalan Football Federation, and from this position actively promoted ideas associated with the social value of sport under the slogan “Esport i Ciutadania” – “Sport and Citizenship”, theories which he repeated as columnist for newspapers La Publicitat i La Nau.
With the same Esport i Ciutadania subtitle, Josep Sunyol founded the newspaper La Rambla on February 10th 1930 and opened offices at La Rambla de Canaletes, 133, now occupied by Restaurant Nuria.
In fact the reason why Canaletes has become the place where Barça fans celebrate victories and titles is completely down to Sunyol.
In the days before radio, La Rambla offices had a chalkboard outside and as football results were telegraphed in, a journalist wrote them up.
As a result Barça fans, who were already known as culers, began to congregate on this section of The Ramblas and while they were waiting for the scores to come in would generally have a drink of strong liquor at the bar opposite, which stood on the site of what is now a newspaper kiosk.
This led to drunken celebrations, whenever Barça won and the tradition of celebrating the club’s successes on Canaletes continues to this day.
On a political level, in 1930, Sunyol became a member of the radical Catalanist party Acció Catalana and, in the general elections to the Spanish Congress of June 28th 1931, was elected as a candidate for Barcelona Province for Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, who were already governing Catalonia under President Francesc Macià.
Sunyol was re-elected deputy for ERC in the elections of 1933, won by the right-wing coalition of CEDA and Lerroux’s Partido Radical Republicano, and 1936, which returned the left-wing Popular Front.
Given his influence in politics, sport and the media, Sunyol was invited to become FC Barcelona president in 1934 but with the excuse of a combination of political commitments and ill health, refused the offer and gave his support to Esteve Sala.
At the same meeting in 1934, he also proposed the acceptance of Anna Maria Martínez Sagi, who became the first female member of the FC Barcelona board.
When Esteve Sala stood down as president a year later, Josep Sunyol was once again put under pressure to replace him and this time accepted, becoming FC Barcelona president on July 27th 1935.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on July 18th 1936, many of Sunyol’s factories fell into the hands of the nationalists and furthermore, the premises of La Rambla were confiscated by the PSUC communists as part of the war effort.
As a member of both the Spanish Congress and the Parliament of Catalonia, at the beginning of August 1936, accompanied by journalist Ventura Virgili, a chauffer and a republican lieutenant, Josep Sunyol made a trip down to the main front in the republican defence of Madrid on the Sierra de Guadarrama as a show of support and encouragement to the republican militia.
At some point the party must have accidentally crossed over into enemy-occupied territory and were stopped at a checkpoint at kilometre 52 of the Madrid-Galicia road.
Thinking they were still in the republican zone, Sunyol apparently greeted the soldiers with ‘Viva la Republica!’.
The members of the group were forced to their knees at the roadside and shot in the head on August 6th 1936.
Given that the civil war was in progress, Sunyol’s absence was initially treated as a simple disappearance and it was some weeks before news came in that he had been murdered.
From August 15th 1936 until after the Civil War, when the victorious nationalists imposed Enrique Piñeyro Queralt as president of the club in March 1940, FC Barcelona was run by a Management Commission.
Not surprisingly the story of Josep Sunyol was hushed up throughout Franco’s dictatorship and the figure of the Martyr President was only recovered in 1996, when my friend Toni Strubell and Francesc Gordó founded the Amics de Josep Sunyol society to mark the 60th anniversary of his murder.
A book by Josep Maria Solé i Sabaté, Carles Llorens and Toni Strubell called Sunyol, l’altre president afusellat was published in 1996 comparing Sunyol’s murder with the execution by firing squad of Catalan president Lluís Companys by the regime in October 1940.
The same year, a memorial stone was laid at the site of Sunyol’s execution in a ceremony which was attended by the president of the Parliament of Catalonia, Joan Raventós, FC Barcelona vice-president and historian Jaume Sobrequés and Els Amics de Josep Sunyol.
However, FC Barcelona under president Josep-Lluís Nuñez remained unenthusiastic and at the Joan Gamper Trophy that year the commemorative flyers in honour of Sunyol were never distributed because “they were left in a cupboard” which “had been locked with a key”.
Since then Sunyol’s memory amongst Catalanist culers has been given its due merit, although his family, who incidentally changed the spelling of their name to the Spanish Suñol, have always distanced themselves from his memory.