What would Spanish football look like if Catalonia were independent?
I write from central Barcelona, where the wide boulevards are packed with people and not cars: Catalans wearing red and yellow T-shirts. It's their day, the National Day of Catalonia; it's also the 300th anniversary of the 1714 fall of Barcelona to Spanish and French troops, which led to Catalonia's loss of independence.
FC Barcelona fans sing for independence after 17 minutes and 14 seconds of every half they play at Camp Nou. It's expected to be particularly lively on Saturday during the game against Athletic Bilbao, the Basque team perceived to be standard-bearers for a region that has independence aspirations of its own.
The huge "Catalonia is not Spain" (in English) banner is likely to get an airing, and manager Luis Enrique's side will wear a kit composed of the Catalan flag -- the red and yellow "senyera" -- after a unanimous vote by the club's directors. That will clash with Athletic's stripes, but the two combinations have been used in a game before in Bilbao.
The Basque country has only 2.5 million people, but there are 7.5 million Catalans, and more than a million are on the streets of Barcelona as I write this. They're forming a giant "V" along Gran Via and Diagonal, two of the city's main thoroughfares in 1714. The atmosphere is party-like, with people of all ages, but there's a clear political message. Momentum and numbers have been building in recent years as the demand for independence grows.
Not everyone is convinced. The car-parking attendant brushed the suggestion away angrily when I asked him earlier. "I'm Spanish," he said. "And Barcelona has been my home for 60 years. I can't understand where all this nonsense has come from."
The barber said much the same Wednesday as he stood smoking outside his shop. He, too, was an internal immigrant from southern Spain in the 1950s. He doesn't speak Catalan but his children and grandchildren do. "We want jobs, not independence," was his take.
The newsagent is Catalan but he doesn't entertain the idea, either. "We should be like the United States, not putting up new borders when all around they're falling," he said, as every front page on his stand was related to today's events.
Such views contrast sharply with the million on the street. Carina, a family friend, spoke of her pride at current events.
"I'm Catalan," she said. "I feel Catalan. I have no problem with Spain, but I don't feel Spanish. My parents were oppressed under [Francisco] Franco. They were not allowed to speak or write their language. They too are Catalan, not Spanish." She spoke in Catalan to my 3-year-old daughter, who is educated primarily in Catalan.
As an outsider, I don't feel like it's my battle -- not that there's any violence linked to the campaign. But what's it a campaign for?
The giant "V" of the protesters can stand for "victory" or "vote." Unlike in Scotland, where the population can legally vote for independence or not -- and will do so a week from today -- a planned November vote has not been ratified by the Spanish constitution, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to rule the vote illegal. British Prime Minister David Cameron is portrayed as a hero in Catalonia for allowing the vote in Scotland to occur.
Catalans want the right to vote on the question and are watching events in Scotland very, very closely. About half of Catalans back a break with Spain, up from 14 percent at the start of the economic crisis. More than 80 percent favour the right to a vote, to demand that their voice is heard -- even if they say no.
Barca are a political club and go with the flow of the people -- as do their players. Intelligent ones like Gerard Pique will speak out, others will say as they're told.
None will go quite as far as Oleguer Presas, who spoke out in favour of independence, campaigned and spent time in anarchist squats. He was as against consumerism as he was against Spain and refused to buy a car, even when in Barca's first team. The club, worried that he was a first-teamer catching the train to training, finally persuaded him to buy a private vehicle. He bought a van that looked like the one used by the A-Team so that he could transport fellow independentistas.
I spoke last week to one of Presas' former teammates, who described him as "a very principled man who made his views clear to the rest of the players".
And what did the rest of the players think?
"I don't think Ronaldinho cared too much!" came the reply.
Espanyol also have a strong Catalan identity. The second club of Barcelona -- not that they like being referred to as such -- have organised a brilliant marketing campaign by buying up all the most prominent advertising billboards around the city to promote their club. "Our marvelous minority," claims one such billboard. Espanyol's club constitution was rewritten in Catalan a decade ago.
If Catalonia became independent, there would be implications in all areas of life, including sport. If Catalonia were to join FIFA and UEFA independently of Spain, the assumption is they would have to form a separate football league too, as did the Balkan countries in the 1990s. That would mean no more Barcelona vs. Real Madrid clasicos. The 10 professional football teams in Catalonia at present are Barca, Barca B, Espanyol, Espanyol B, Girona, Llagostera, Nastic Tarragona, Reus, Lleida and Sabadell.
Few Barca fans would want to see that and will cite the examples of Monaco, which play in the French League, and Cardiff, Swansea and the other Welsh clubs down to semipro Colwyn Bay that play in England.
And what of Spain's national team without its Catalan players, who've been in the majority of the sides in their recent successes? Spain's victories were widely celebrated on the streets of Catalonia.
And further, what of a Catalan football team, who could already hold their own against some of the best countries in the world?
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.