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Gustavus Walter Wild (Hottingen, Zurich 1872 - Selborne, Hampshire 1953) and the first ever president of FC Barcelona

It was late 1898 when a group of mainly Swiss and German expatriates started gathering to play football on a plot of land in the San Gervasi district of Barcelona. They had nothing more than jackets for goalposts, but two of those players had plans for bigger things.

One of them was Hans Gamper and needs no introduction. Every Barça fan knows how the flashy 21 year-old striker, describing himself as the ‘champion footballer of Switzerland’, put together a team and called it FC Barcelona. He was its first ever captain, and scored 31 goals in its first six official matches. He’d later be president of the club on five separate occasions. Even today, the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and the preseason Gamper Trophy honour his memory.

Wild rover

But he was not alone in his endeavour. But his colleague and close friend, the founding president of FC Barcelona in November 1899, is barely remembered today. Until recently, it was even wrongly believed that Walter Wild was an Englishman, despite contemporary newspapers clearly stating that he, like Gamper, was Swiss.

Like all the original members of FC Barcelona, Wild was also a player – a more than competent defender. But it was Gamper who led matters on the pitch, while Wild took charge of administrative matters, chairing the first club meetings from his own home in C/Nou de Sant Francesc.

But while Gamper remained attached to the club for a quarter of a century, Wild found it hard to devote as much time to the football club as it needed. He was often abroad on business, and in April 1901, after 513 days as president, he left the city for good.

Next to nothing was known about his background, or what became of him after. But new research published in Mike RobertsFoot-ball in Barcelona: The first ten years 1892 to 1902 can shed new light on the mystery.

From Bolivia to Scotland

Gustavo Walter Wild was born in 1872 in the Hottingen district of Zurich, the same city where Gamper once lived. The son of silk merchant (whose body was found dead on the River Limmat in 1888), he arrived in Barcelona in 1898, where he was described as an engineer and a tradesman, as well as being a reputable gym instructor.

After leaving Barcelona, he’d spend the next six years in Bolivia before returning to Europe, following his older sister Catherine to DundeeScotland, where he worked in the jute industry.

Wild successfully applied for British citizenship in 1928 and in 1935, by which time he was 64, he finally married to a local lady called Ethel Muriel Barrow.

His love for sport never went away, but more on water than on land. His swimming feats often made the local papers, and even in his sixties he was amazing crowds with his spectacular diving skills as well as dedicating much of his time to volunteering at the YMCA teaching local children to swim.

 

Return to Barcelona

Legend has it that Walter Wild had no idea that FC Barcelona still existed, let alone was now playing in front of 60,000 fans at Les Corts stadium – and was therefore staggered when he and his wife were invited to the club’s golden anniversary in 1949.

That’s not quite true, for he clearly kept some kind of contact with the club. But this was the only time that the founding president ever came back to Catalonia. “I came to take the applause that Hans Gamper’s work deserves” he said, the co-founder of Barça having committed suicide 19 years earlier. “But the people who continued it deserve applause too. It is the greatest pleasure of my sporting life to come here and see how far what was just a hobby for me has grown.”

By this time, Wild had moved to Selborne, Hampshire in the south of England, and it was there that he died four years later, from a heart condition, on 16 December 1953.

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