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This Tuesday, FC Barcelona are heading to the French capital to take on Paris Saint Germain in the round of 16 of the Champions League. It’s going to be a far cry from the team’s first ever foreign trip, also to France, to take on Toulouse in May 1904.
In 1904, the bare eleven who could get the required time off work (or parental permission) embarked on an arduous 15-hour overnight journey on three different trains. The story goes that the lucky ones had a wooden bench to sleep on, the remainder travelled on the floor, and the tortilla and chorizo sandwiches that they had packed were all they had to keep them going.
And that was just the journey there! The Catalans had come to an agreement with Stade Olympique Toulousain whereby they could use their share of the gate takings to pay for their trip home. Unfortunately, the attendance was so poor that the host club were unable to uphold their promise and the Barça players had to borrow the money from a friend based in France!
It would seem, however, that some romantic license has been employed over the years to spice up the story. It may not have been FC Barcelona's strongest XI, Joan Gamper himself among the ones unable to go, but in the days before substitutions, there was never any need to take more than eleven players anyway!.
The reports in the press at the time actually describe a very pleasant trip, the players stopping off in the bordertown of Cerbère for lunch and a game of football on the beach, the only setback coming when somebody left their only ball on the train!
In fact, far from badly attended, the game on May 1 was watched by 3,000 people, a huge number for the era, and paying what was described as an ‘extraordinary price’ of two francs for a seat and one to stand. No mention of any financial troubles. The Barcelona players of the time were all gentlemen from the more affluent sectors of society, and it is very hard to believe that any of them were unable to pay the cost of a train ticket!
Rather than football, it is for rugby union that Stade Toulousain are known today, winners of a record four European club titles. Indeed, the Barça players admired with keen interest the rugby game being played when they arrived at the ground, and were relieved to see that the H-shaped posts came down to be replaced by more familiar soccer goals before their own game got started!
German Udo Steinberg soon had the Catalans leading, but the hosts had pulled level by half-time, when they were "bombarded by a multitude of photographers and supporters."
Things were headed for disaster when the game restarted and Stade scored again, while Barça were down to ten men when Morris Junior took a nasty knock and was unable to continue. Remember, no substitutes in those days!
Barça threw everything they had into attack at were eventually rewarded when Bernat Lassaletta scored an equaliser, and there was still time for Romà Forns (the man who would later manage FCB in its first Liga season in 1929) to score a late winner.
Far from bitter, the home supporters carried Barça captain and president Arthur Witty off the field on their shoulders and the two clubs enjoyed a hearty meal in a local eatery before the visitors were escorted to the station to catch the night train back to Catalonia.113 years later, and a very different generation of Barça players are about to journey north of border. The circumstances may be very different, but a similar 3-2 win will be an ideal result to keep this latest European journey alive.
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