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El Barca Begins With Arthur Witty

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Barcelona's official founder is a Swiss man named Joan Gamper but before he came along there was Englishman Arthur Witty, who was the club's first captain and invented the famous maroon-and-blue kit. Ben Lyttleton looks at his influence. 
 
Think of Spanish giants Barcelona and foreign names come to mind: the Dutch coach Johan Cruyff was in charge when they won the 1992 European Cup, helped by the goals of Brazilian forward Romario. Currently the coach has been Dutchman Frank Rijkaard and the star performances have come from Ronaldinho, another Brazilian. But in the club's first ever game, on Christmas Eve 1899, it was an Englishman, Arthur Witty, who scored the winning goal against local side FC Catala. He was one of the club's co-founders, the team's first captain and inventor of the famous maroon-and-blue kit.
 
Football had come late to Catalonia, a full 21 years after English sailors set up Huelva Recreation Club at the opposite end of Spain in 1878. The Catalan middle-classes were selective in choosing pursuits with a 'foreign' influence, but Witty and his brother Ernest had no such misgivings and used the game as a welcome break from office life. Their family had emigrated to Barcelona in the 1850s and were running a shipping business that still survives.
 
Jimmy Burns records in his book Barcelona: A People's Passion (Bloomsbury, £7.99) that Witty helped organise matches between employees of companies that the English players owned, but that changed when the Swiss Joan Gamper joined the side. He encouraged Catalans to make up the opposition or try out for the side. As Witty said, "That was his idea and he inspired us with his enthusiasm. He was the best centre-forward we had and always scored more goals than anybody else." Witty's son Frederick added, "At first the English had their team and then Gamper formed his. It developed from there."
 
Though officials at Barcelona still recognise Gamper as the club founder, Witty's influence was crucial. He also came up with the club's famous kit, based on the sports kit he wore at the British public school Merchant Taylor's in the late 1880s. The Merchant Taylor's then-headmaster Reverend HM Luft wrote a letter to Witty's son Frederick in 1975, saying: "It is very likely that that the present colours of FC Barcelona are ultimately derived from our original colours here… Your father and uncle transferred the original colours of our club when they founded the football club there." That letter is also recorded in Burns's book.
 
Witty took his role as captain seriously. He scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win against FC Catala in February 1900, but the game ended in a brawl and Witty tendered his resignation. The Barcelona management rejected it. Four years later, he marked a move in the club's premises by organising their first international match, in which they beat French side Toulouse 4-0.
 
After he retired, Witty rejected all offers from Catalan business friends to join the club's board. He remained a club member but it was Gamper who was more closely involved in running the club, as he was president from 1910 to 1925. But Gamper would not have secured legend status at Barcelona were it not for Arthur Witty.

 

 

Ben Lyttleton, September 2004

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