Premium: Barça Femení—Redefining the Sport, Redefining the Culture
Barcelona's European Champion Women's Team Has 39 Wins in 39 Games, a Goal Difference of 192-13 and Another 90,000+ Crowd Coming This Week. I Visited Catalonia to Learn More.
BARCELONA, Spain — They’re filling the giant old stadium again on Friday.
The women of FC Barcelona are making a habit of producing numbers that make you blink twice in wonder, but they’re real.
Barça, the reigning European champion and perhaps the greatest women’s club team of all time, really has won 39 times in 39 games this season. It really has outscored opponents by a total of 192-13. And it really has obliterated its competition not just in the Spanish league, where it clinched the title on the absurdly early date of March 13, but also in the UEFA Champions League, the global gold standard, where it slammed English heavyweight Arsenal by scores of 4-0 and 4-1 in this season’s group stage.
And yet the number that may resonate the most from Barcelona’s relentless pursuit of perfection is a different one: 91,553. That’s how many fans filled the Camp Nou, one of the sport’s greatest cathedrals, on March 30 when Barça beat archrival Real Madrid 5-2 to advance to the Champions League semifinals. The attendance broke the 23-year-old record for an official women’s soccer game (90,185) set at the 1999 women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and China in the Rose Bowl. (An estimated 110,000 people attended an unofficial women’s global final between Mexico and Denmark at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca in 1971.)
Now Barça is on the verge of breaking the record again. The club announced it had sold out the Camp Nou in just over 24 hours for Friday’s opening leg of the Champions League semis against Wolfsburg (free on DAZN’s YouTube, 12:45 pm ET). It remains to be seen if the final total will eclipse the March 30 number, but clearly change is afoot in the culture of Spanish fútbol, to say nothing of Spain itself.
Marta Torrejón knows. When the Spanish international right back joined Barcelona at age 23 in 2013, she and her teammates weren’t even professionals. They trained in the late afternoons, had other full-time callings (Torrejón was earning a university biology degree) and fended for themselves when it came to meals.
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Slowly, things changed. In 2015, the year Spain played in the women’s World Cup for the first time, Barcelona Femení professionalized. Torrejón and her teammates not only started earning a living wage, but also began practicing in the mornings at the same facility as Barça’s men’s team and had training-table breakfasts and lunches provided for them by the club every day.
Performances followed suit: Barça reached the Champions League semifinals in 2016-17 (when its Dutch winger Lieke Martens was named world player of the year) and the final in 2018-19 (a humbling 4-1 loss to Lyon) before eventually winning the trophy in 2020-21 (the run capped by a 4-0 blowout of Chelsea in the final). But drawing fans hasn’t been easy. Even this season, the team has averaged slightly more than 3,000 fans in the 6,000-capacity Estadi Johan Cruyff at Barça’s training facility on the outskirts of town.
Yet the club has been smart about creating the conditions for crowds to fill the Camp Nou on two occasions. For this week’s Wolfsburg game, the first 50,000 tickets were made available for free (with a €2.50-per-ticket processing fee) exclusively to dues-paying members of FC Barcelona during a short 24-hour period. After all those tickets were claimed, generating interest, the rest went on sale to the public for between €19 and €37 ($20.53 and $40) each.
Even after the game was announced as a sellout, the club has continued to promote the chance to be a part of history, employing the slogan #MoreThanEmpowerment, knowing that it’s one thing for free tickets to be claimed and another to have those fans actually come to the stadium. It worked for the game last month—there were literally 91,553 fans inside the Camp Nou—and expectations are at least as high for Friday.
During a recent interview at Barça’s training compound in suburban Sant Joan Despí, Torrejón—who’s 32 now and still starting at right back—shared her story with me and reflected on what playing in front of a full Camp Nou means to her.
“There are many emotions,” she told me in Spanish. “First, you feel very happy to see the response of your fans, who know that it’s an important game in an emblematic stadium such as the Camp Nou. And in the end, I’m also proud to be part of all this change. I can count the times that women’s games have been played at the Camp Nou on one hand. And to be able to enjoy a game like this with all your fans who have had this response to get the tickets and more, what we have left to do is play good football, to put on a good show, and for people who come to support us to have a great time.”
Yet Torrejón would be selling herself short, she said, if she thought the impact of a full stadium for women’s soccer was limited to being just a sports story. What’s happening right now transcends sports, and she would argue that Spanish society is ripe and ready for the change.
“Many years ago, there were many people against women playing football. Not just competing [professionally], but playing [recreationally],” she went on. “I think unfortunately women have always been a little behind because of this whole mentality, because of society. And I’m happy to have lived through this change to see how women not just in sports but in jobs—to say it badly, ‘normal’ jobs like medicine and science—are making room [for themselves] and managing to be in a world that I think has been very masculinized.”
Caroline Graham Hansen on Barça’s 4-0 blowout of Chelsea in last season’s UEFA Champions League final: “It was one of those moments where I was so sure that we were going to win—and win big. And I was not the only one. The whole group had this feeling. And that gave you this sense of confidence and feeling of being unbeatable that we also brought into the field.”