The origins of FC Barcelona’s colours

The origins of FC Barcelona’s colours

While there is no absolute certainty, the club supports the theory that indicates Barça's colours come from the rugby team of a school by the name of Merchant Taylors in Crosby (Liverpool) which the Witty brothers attended

For many years, there has been much speculation over the origin of FC Barcelona’s colours. It is known that at the foundational meeting that the name of the new club had been decided but not the colours of the jersey.

At the second meeting between members, on 13 December 1899, was where the blaugrana (blue and red) was chosen which, for around ten years, was accompanied by white shorts. 

There are many theories which try to explain why that decision was made. It was said that the colours were chosen by the mother of one of the players as they were available to her, but the claim was discarded as the player in question, Comamala, did not make his debut until 1903. It has also been said that the colours were chosen because the pens used by the accountants at the time had two points, one blue and one red. It went on to say that those were the colors of the Swiss canton where the club’s founder, Joan Gamper, was born but the assertion has been categorically denied. And in 2008, when Barça met Basel in the Champions League, it was said that the club’s colours came from the Swiss team. Emma Gamper, granddaughter of the club’s founder, documented in a book that Gamper’s team in Switzerland was Excelsior, followed by Zurich, which he founded and led, having a much closer relationship than with Basel where he played very briefly.

In fact, in the early history of the club, many tiptoed around the issue. Journalist Daniel Carbó, who in 1924 wrote ‘The History of FC Barcelona’, on the club’s 25th anniversary, said: “It was agreed that the club’s colours would be blue and red”. Nothing more. Albert Maluquer in 1949 attributed the colours to the Swiss team for which Gamper played, but did not clarify which team. Everything indicates that even when there were witnesses who had known the founders, there was not a verified answer to the origin of the colours, or nobody had given importance to the question we ask now.

An evening with the Witty brothers and Gamper

The name of Joan Gamper needs no introduction to FC Barcelona fans but there are several other key people in the club’s creation. Two of those were the Witty brothers, Frederick Arthur and Ernest, who were very active in the club’s early years. They participated in the second meeting on 13 December 1899, in precisely the meeting where the club’s blue and red colours were decided upon. Descendants of these key people were searching for answers as to why they had picked these colours.

Manel Gamper, grandson of the founder, always hurts not having asked more about his father Joan-Ricard Gamper who was the club’s director in the 1970s and had certainly spoke for many hours about his beloved Barça with the founder. On the other hand, Michael Witty, grandson of Frederick Arthur Witty, was lucky that his father lived until 89 years of age and was able to speak at length about Barça.

Michael was always told that the club’s colours came from the school at which his grandfather had studied, at Merchant Taylors in Crosby, Liverpool. This theory however, is not only sustained on record. Naturally, following the 75th anniversary of the Club, many stories were recollected about the history of the institution. It was then that Frederick Witty, son of Frederick Arthur and father of Michael, seeing that no one was talking about the origin of colours, decided to write to Liverpool to ask them if indeed blue and red were the colours of the school. The answer was quite clear: the blue and maroon was the strip of the school’s rugby team in the late nineteenth century, in which the two brothers had competed in while doing their studies. The response seemed significant, but it went unnoticed and no one spoke of it again.

Years passed, and the story of the origins of the club’s colours returned to the conversations between the Wittys and the Gampers, who were forging a possible hypothesis. And that was what was explained to the club a few weeks ago, first at the Centre of Documentation and then to president Bartomeu. With a photograph from the late nineteenth century of the Merchant Taylors rugby team, featuring red and blue stripes, and with the records from the two families, Manue and Xavier Gamper and Michael Witty wanted to clarify that a more feasible version is as follows: In the meeting in which the club’s colours were decided, the Witty brothers must have proposed the colours of their school team, and Gamper, who was the ‘alma mater’ of the club, must have been warm to the idea as he had already worn a similar strip with Basel in 1896, even though he played with them for a short time.

If Gamper would have proposed one of his old teams, he would have probably chosen Excelsior or Zurich, who he had founded and gave the club the name of the city (like with FC Barcelona), and was captain. The coincidence of the choice of colours precisely at the first meeting in which the Witty brothers joined the Club gives consistency to this possibility. In fact, it was Joan Gamper's own grandson, Manel Gamper, who was more categorical: "It is convenient that we make the authenticity of this fact official, because this will prevent anyone from promoting the most far-fetched theories. We should talk more about it, because this will be the official version of the Club."

On his part, Michael Witty recalled: “My father always told me what my grandfather told him. And I myself, as a young man, had come to speak with my grandfather Frederick Arthur of this subject and he confirmed to me the validity of this theory of the Merchant Taylors, but being a very modest man he did not give it too much attention.”

After all, with a lack of written documentation, oral testimony seems key. Thus, the version proposed by the families who were linked with the club’s foundation appears now to be the most likely theory on the origins of the club’s colours, and is supported by the club. Maybe someday, in the most unlikely of circumstances, a document will appear that will confirm this theory. Until that day, we will continue to state that this is the most feasible claim.
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