Anyone in the world who considers themselves a football fan should be more than familiar with the name FC Barcelona. They're one of the most successful, well-known clubs on the planet, with a rich history, values that run deep, and a period of dominance that has lasted for decades. This recognition only goes so far though, because to casual fans and even some diehard cules, there isn't much known about the club beyond their men's senior team. If someone was asked about the women's section- FC Barcelona Femení- there would likely be some hesitation.
Though still largely unknown in the greater context of football, FC Barcelona Femení has made a name for itself in the past few years by making renowned, world-class signings and reaching new milestones in both Spain and Europe. The club have set out ambitious plans with the women’s side to become a global brand in the same way the men have, following their feat in reaching the UEFA Women's Champions League Final in 2019. These efforts have lead to a massive increase of their fanbase and has piqued worldwide interest. Despite all of this, the history of the women's section remains limited to most apart from the past half-decade.
FC Barcelona is a club that holds it's history to a very high importance. After all, the club's values and philosophy were created as a result of it's past political and sporting obstacles. This is nothing foreign to FC Barcelona Femení, who haven't had their many achievements come easily. It was rather a hard-fought and painful battle throughout most of the last three decades. On the way to gaining recognition and respect, they've been the face of multiple legal battles, relegations and discrimination. In order to fully understand the team and it's story, it's important to know the events of the past that made the club what it is today.
Unofficial Beginnings and Recognition from RFEF (1970-1987):
Under Francisco Franco, women's sports in Spain were outlawed with the idea that women participating in "men's activities" were amoral. It wasn't until 1970 when a woman named Inmaculada Cabecerán Soler convinced FC Barcelona to create an (unaffiliated) women's team under the condition that they won all their games. Although she was laughed at by some club staff, Cabeceran assembled a team through a magazine advertisement in a way akin to club founder Joan Gamper, and their first game was at the Camp Nou on Christmas Day, 1970, where they played an exhibition match under the name of Selección Ciudad de Barcelona.
From there, the team played in local, non-competitive Catalan tournaments. Women's football in Spain achieved its first major victory in 1980 when the RFEF officially recognized women's football teams. This decision paved the way for the establishment of Spain's first women's league- the Liga Nacional.
Foundation as an Official Team (1988):
In 1988, eight years after RFEF officially recognized women's football, the Barcelona women's team was rebranded into Club Femení Barcelona as one of the founding members of Spain's first women's league. The women's section wore FC Barcelona branded clothing and used FC Barcelona facilities, but was still not considered an official section of the club.
Settling into the League and Winning their First Trophy (1990's):
FC Barcelona Femení was founded as Club Femení Barcelona in 1988 who had relatively good success in the early '90s winning the 1994 Queen's cup and were the runners-up in the Spanish Women's Championship in 1991/92 with 19 points from 14 games. They were subsequently declined to bottom table positions in the second half of the '90s.
Official Recognition from the Club and Fighting Relegation (2001-2010):
In 2002, Club Femení Barcelona was incorporated as an official section of FC Barcelona. The Spanish League was reformed into the Superliga Femenina, but Barca Femení were not allowed to play in the league due to their results in the previous season (54 points from 24 matches occupying 4th position behind Levante and Espanyol).
After two unsuccessful appearances in the promotion playoffs, the team was finally promoted to the First Division League in 2004. Barca Femení ended in mid-table positions for the next two seasons. The darkest times reappeared again in 2007 as they were relegated after ending in the bottom of the table. They won 4 matches from 26 matches played and finished at last with a measly 16 points.
Barcelona Femení returned to the Superliga the next year for 2008/09, and between 2009 and 2011, consolidated themselves in the top half of the table.
Unprecedented Success and Becoming Spanish Giants (2011-2015):
The first golden age for FC Barcelona Femení was between 2011 and 2015 when they won 4 Spanish league titles in a row- a feat that no other Spanish women's team have achieved. Increased investment in the women's section by the club following their 2007 relegation made it so Barcelona's women could finally find their winning ways. It started with the Copa de la Reina win against Espanyol in 2011, their first major trophy since the mid '90s. The following season, they won their first-ever league title in 2012 with a record-breaking 94 points, a record that still holds eight years later. The next three years came with three successful title defenses and qualification for their team's first UEFA Women's Champions League appearances. Players like Sonia Bermúdez, Melanie Serrano, Laura Ràfols, Marta Unzué, Vicky Losada, and Alexia Putellas formed the core group of the team during these years. Sonia Bermúdez in particular won the Pichichi Award as the top-scoring player of the league 4 times in a row.
Official Team Photo for the 2011-2012 League Winning Season
Adding to the Spanish League titles, FC Barcelona Femení won the Copa de la Reina in 2013 and 2014 along with the four successive Catalonia Cups. They won 11 titles during this period.
The Wait for Greatness and the Title Drought (2015-2019):
Developing a successful women’s side was part of the club's manifesto by mid-2010, so from the 2015-16 season, the women's team turned professional. The decision to treat women's footballers as full-time employees greatly allowed players more freedom in their everyday lives. Players from before this era often tell stories about how they were unable to pursue an academic career or that they had to hold second jobs because football didn't pay enough money to sustain a living. Professionalization allowed players to grow personally and to prioritize football in their lives as a career, a development that set the club in a direction towards success.
The FC Barcelona Femení Squad for the 2017-18 Season
After their first golden period, FCB Femení were deeply unlucky in their following four league campaigns, as their success became rivaled by Atletico Madrid who were making similar investments in their women's team. The title trophy eluded them as they fell to being second-best in Spain for the next four years in a row, but they had their sights set on something different this time- the UEFA Women's Champions League. Players like Lieke Martens, Toni Duggan, Élise Bussaglia, Nataša Andonova, and Mapi León arrived in the summer of 2017 as Barcelona furthered their efforts in becoming European superpowers. FC Barcelona won the Copa de la Reina trophies again in 2017 and 2018. However, their biggest accomplishments were qualifying for the latter stages of the UEFA Women's Champions League. FC Barcelona Femení became the first-ever Spanish team to qualify for the quarterfinals, semifinals, and Finals of the Women's Champions League in 2014, 2017, and 2019, respectively.
Barcelona Celebrating a Goal at the Sold-out Wanda
In 2019, FC Barcelona Femení achieved something that their male counterparts sometimes find difficult to overcome. The team played in front of 60,739 fans at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid for a Primera División match in February 2019, a world record attendance for a women’s match between two club sides. Barcelona recorded a 2-0 victory to cut the host’s lead at the top of the table to just three points with six matches remaining. Goals from Asisat Oshoala and England’s Toni Duggan (who signed for Atleti the following summer) in the second half silenced the rocking crowd at the Wanda, the host of last year’s men’s Champions League final. Barcelona eventually missed out on the league title to Atletico Madrid by six points as Barcelona put more of a priority on the Champion's League instead.
The Immeasurable Feat of Reaching A UWCL Final (2019):
Women's football isn't followed much in Spain like it is followed in other countries like Germany, England, and France, so becoming a European elite was never a priority for women's teams in Spain. Lack of financial support and marketing made it difficult for clubs to grow and make a name for themselves. Barcelona was the first of the teams in Spain to break these norms when their achievements culminated in what is most likely their biggest achievement to date- the 2019 UWCL final.
FCB Femení had made it to a UWCL semifinal before when they faced PSG in their 2016-17 campaign but were dismantled 1-5 by the French side over two legs. Since that competition, the squad had undergone a complete overhaul and were more than prepared to face the pressure a UWCL semifinal would bring. They responded to that pressure with narrow two home and away victories, beating German side Bayern Frauen with a penalty from Mariona Caldentey and a Kheira Hamraoui strike that sent them to the Women's Champions League Final for the first time in their history. This feat was never achieved by any other Spanish women's club and is seen as a landmark event in Spanish women's football.
The Team in a Huddle After the 2019 UWCL Final
Their opponent in the final, Olympique Lyonnais, was perhaps the most hard to beat team in the history of women's football. They have a record six UWCL titles and going into this final had won the tournament three times in a row. Unfortunately, the match went as expected, and an under-prepared, disorganized Barcelona fell victim to a 4-0 scoreline within the first half. They pulled one back in the final minutes' thanks to a moment of dribbling excellence from Lieke Martens and a clean strike from Nigerian up-and-comer Asisat Oshoala, but the match ended 4-1 and Barcelona were left to deal with the heartbreak of their first major loss. Despite all of this, this match is still looked at in a positive light to most fans and players. It gave them exposure to serious competition, mentally strengthened them, and helped them identify what was needed for Barcelona to become an elite, unbeatable team.
The Road Ahead for Barca Femení:
Despite the fact that FC Barcelona have not managed to lift any trophy in 2019, their season was in no way a negative. The Catalans once again had the best defensive team in the league, conceding just 15 goals, a trend similar to previous seasons. In addition, Barcelona didn't concede any goals in knockout stages of the UEFA Women's Champions League: Round of 16, quarterfinals, and the semifinals. Although in the end Lluís Cortés's failed to take the title back to Barcelona after falling in the final against Olympique de Lyon, they have made history, reaching a stage of the tournament that no other Spanish team has achieved.
FCB Femení's march towards European supremacy was already sown the moment they stepped on the pitch in Budapest. In the summer of 2019, it became clear that the club created a project, had a vision, and were ready to give the financial backing to lay hands on the trophy that eluded them last year. The execution of their plans started with the re-acquisition of elite youth La Masia player Andrea Falcon, the re-signing of three-time Pichichi winning, former Barcelona player Jennifer Hermoso, the signing of former Wolfsburg forward and Norwegian international Caroline Graham Hansen, and a permanent deal for young Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala. The latter three (Hermoso, Graham-Hansen, and Oshoala) combined with winger Lieke Martens created the most lethal group of forwards in Europe.
Within the past two years, the club has taken major steps in elevating FC Barcelona Femení into a global brand. Major team figures like Alexia Putellas and Lieke Martens are often seen in the club's marketing campaigns and kit drops. The women's team and the B team share a stadium at the Estadi Johan Cruyff, and both men and women's teams toured the United States together in the summer of 2018. Stanley Tools were also added as the team's first-ever shirt sponsor at the start of last season. These are all recent examples of how FC Barcelona has held faith that the women can become a sustainable commercial entity.
Stanley-sponsored FCB Femení Shirts in the Official Barcelona Store
This season so far, Barcelona have demonstrated that they have grown and learned from their mistakes of season's past and have come into this year with a completely different attitude. Their first trophy of this year's campaign came in February when they won the first edition of the Supercopa Femenina, beating rival Atletico Madrid in the semifinal and absolutely demolishing Real Sociedad in the final with a score of 1-10. Their second trophy of the season was awarded when the RFEF made the decision to cancel the league. Barcelona were given their first league title in five years after they went into the COVID-19 break with a 9 point lead over Atleti and an unbeaten season where they recorded only two draws. A far as other competitions go, they've reached the semifinals of the Copa de la Reina and the quarterfinals of the Champions League where they're expected to go far into both competitions.
FC Barcelona Femení's recent successes are a long-awaited reward after three decades of struggle on and off the pitch. Anyone who calls themselves a 'cule' should be able to identify with their story, which follows the classic Barcelona narrative of overcoming adversity and emerging as an underdog. Now, they emerge as a side with the potential to conquer the whole of Europe in ways akin to Lyon or, better yet, the Barcelona men's team. The women of the club yearn for more. If the trend continues as expected, FC Barcelona Femení will become an incomparable footballing entity and fully grow into the weight that the name "FC Barcelona" carries.
Visca El Barca y visca Catalunya!
Thanks to Kelsie Smith for helping with this article: https://twitter.com/putellasmessiah