Catalans owner dreams of Barcelona match with 60,000 crowd

Catalans owner Bernard Guasch at Nou Camp
The ambitious French club followed up their historic Challenge Cup triumph at Wembley in 2018 by taking a fixture to the Nou Camp the following season, when a crowd of 31,555 saw them beat Wigan. That set a new Super League regular-season attendance record and Bernard Guasch is hoping a victory over defending champions St Helens can pave the way for an even bigger crowd at the 99,354-capacity home of football giants Barcelona.“My father and grandfather are from Spanish Catalonia and it was amazing to play there,” he said.

“I’m a close friend of Joan Laporta, the new Barca chairman, who should have come with us but he has a big meeting on Saturday so has sent a letter to apologise for not being there. His vice-president was at the semi-final.

“If we win on Saturday and have the opportunity to go back to Barcelona in the coming years it will not be in front of 30,000 fans but with 50,000 or 60,000.”

Bernard Guasch pulling out all the stops

With lingering Covid restrictions and limited air travel from Perpignan, the Catalans are expected to have a small fraction of the 12,000 who crammed into Stade Gilbert Brutus for their semi-final cheering them on at Old Trafford.

But Bernard Guasch is doing what he can to help coach Steve McNamara deliver the biggest prize in the club’s 16-year history.

They have laid on five charter flights, including the one that brought the players and officials into Manchester on Thursday, and expect around 1,500 of their fans will make it to the game.

They will also distribute 5,000 blood and gold flags on the day of the game in an effort to get the neutrals on their side. While back home the match will be shown on two big screens in Perpignan and others in the main square of four other towns in the region.

It is another example of the personal commitment made by Guasch, who has virtually single-handedly bank-rolled the club he helped form from the merger of two Perpignan teams, XIII Catalan and St Esteve, with the aim of one day conquering Super League.

The Perpignan meat manufacturer reckons charter flights to England this year have cost the club around £500,000. Although they set up an online fund-raiser to help, he admits he has had to bear the brunt of it.

“I can’t tell you how much because I don’t want my wife to be aware of it,” he laughed.

“What I am doing is paying back to rugby league for what it has given to me. I do it willingly.”

Creating a new era for French rugby league

Guasch, who moves in big circles in Catalonia and is a personal friend of the Prime Minister, also says the club has received support from the French Government in the form of a five-year loan.

With Toulouse playing for a place in Super League via the Million Pound Game on Sunday, French rugby league has arguably never had it so good and Guasch is hoping a double triumph this weekend can have a long-lasting effect.

“We can create a new era for rugby league in France,” he said. “I hope the French rugby league will be smart enough to work together, the French Federation, Toulouse Olympique and Catalans Dragons.”

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