During FC Barcelona’s 2011 Turkish Airlines Tour, Club representatives paid a visit to the Penya. Plantenberg said that "the Club has been so supportive of us. President Rosell’s visit with the Champions League Cup was key" for the Penya. Eight months later, on March 31, 27 Washington, D.C. Penya members made the trip to Barcelona for the Penya’s shield inauguration at the Camp Nou. Penya secretary Daniel Magness described the visit as “amazing! The people in Barcelona were so welcoming. Everywhere we went we were welcomed with open arms."
WASHINGTON, D.C.- Just blocks away from the White House, the intersection of 19th and I Street was bustling in a flurry of red and blue. The relatively well-sized Elephant & Castle Pub was standing room only as hundreds of American, Catalan, Latin American, and European Azulgrana fans gathered at the meeting place of the Penya Barcelonista Washington D.C. for one of the biggest matches of the year: El Clásico at the Camp Nou.
The birth of a Penya (supporters club)
Raimon Puigjaner i López was part of the Penya FC Barcelona New York City. In 2009 he relocated to Washington, D.C., where large gatherings of Azulgrana aficionados was unheard of - this led him to start the Penya Barcelonista Washington, D.C. The Catalan native, and now president of the Penya, sat down with www.fcbarcelona.com to talk about the Club’s growing popularity in the United States, manifest through the unprecedented growth of the Penya he oversees.
Upon his arrival to the United States capital, he went about getting new Penya recruits by asking anyone he saw wearing a FCB kit to watch Barça games with him. In the early days there “were 5 or 6 people, later it was 10, maybe 13 regulars,” said Puigjaner. But with the help and guidance of Antoni Bassas, award-winning journalist and Catalonia Television’s Washington, D.C. correspondent, a hard-working board of directors (which is about 60% American and 40% Catalan) and effective communications plan, the Penya now boasts 270 official members, 1,000 subscribers to its weekly email newsletter and over 2,000 likes on its Facebook page.
The growing popularity of FC Barcelona in the United States
According to Puigjaner, this era in Barça football is a “unique opportunity to build something special.” The Penya president attributes the growth of Barça’s popularity not only to Barça’s players but also the Club’s values.
“Barça are exporting their values through football. It's more important how you play, with your style, than it is to win,” said Puigjaner. “Barça are the leaders in world football for a reason. Their style of play is distinguishable - people that like football want to be Barça fans because of that.”
Aaron Plantenberg, vice-president of the Penya, said that the Club really started to get noticed in the US when Ronaldinho was terrorizing defenses at the Camp Nou but “now it’s Messi, Iniesta and Xavi” that are pulling people in. Jorge Vásquez, penya member, added that “this is how people get hooked. People from all over the Americas... Colombia, Argentina, the U.S.... they see Barça and they understand - these players play the best football. Fans want to be part of that.”
As Barça, a team that’s becoming a household name in a country that’s eager to make an impact on the world of football, gears up the 2012/13 season, Puigjaner and his board will be eager to welcome larger crowds to the corner of 19th and I Street.