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News article

10 months ago - 2/8/2018

You can make history but you cannot buy tradition

I'm a home bird. Always have been. Ireland is the bones of me. There is a connection I feel with this land that goes beyond just being from somewhere.

The tradition and history of this island pulses through my blood, its language, with all its bizarre grammatical rules binds me to it and its culture flavours my every waking minute. When I visit Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne), the Grianan of Aileach (Grianán Ailigh) or the now world famous (due to Star Wars) Skellig Michael (Sceilig Mhichíl) I can hear the echoes of generations past.

I can sense the history. It ties me to the emerald sod like no other place on earth. The closest I have come to sensing that kind of cultural bond was when I visited the Highlands of Scotland, a place that shares a musical, cultural and linguistic heritage with us.

I have never wanted to live anywhere else in this world. The only time I felt drawn away from this Celtic link was when I visited a small coastal village in Catalonia. It was a place called Cadaqués. Here for the first time, I believed, was another place I could call home. It was twenty years ago and I still remember it vividly. I guess in some ways I liked the idea of a cultural identity and language that differed from the rest of Spain. I have never been back since.

I was dating a girl at the time from the north of Catalonia. When she moved back to Barcelona, we kept the relationship going for a few months and due to my work commitments I was able to fly regularly to the city.

Once there I was free during the day to wander. All I wanted to see was the Palau Blaugrana. Now you have to understand that we, in Ireland, hadn't much knowledge of the European scene in handball. But we all knew about FC Barcelona.

We knew there was a guy who played there with an Irish name. We knew that one of their players had married a princess. We knew they were the dominant force in European handball. But every time I went down to the stadium, I was told that it was shut and that I should come back another day. Needless to say at the time, I never got to see inside and never really expected to.

Now when I stand in that hallowed hall, I can hear the echoes of the past. I hear it in the floor and the seats and in the conversations with the people who work there. There is just this incredible sense of tradition when you go there.

This weekend a new power is coming to town. A club that beat Barca in last season's semi-final at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, HC Vardar are the power at the moment. They are not only defending champions, but they have shown that they are continuing that great play into this season. They sit unbeaten at the top of the group, six points ahead of the home team. They are pulsating to watch and have exceeded my expectations this season.

And yet, something inside me says:

You can make history, but you can't buy tradition.

Through all the long years of European handball, FCB have been there. They are like my favourite TV show of all time; Law and Order. You know the show. It's a formula. Just when you get to like one detective, he's gone, replaced by another one just as good. Remember when the lawyer was that guy, well he's been replaced by this woman and she's just as good. Barcelona are that formula.

While other clubs have risen and fallen by the wayside, Barcelona just keep going. Viran will leave to go the ultra-rich PSG at the end of the season, but guess what, Barcelona will keep on ticking away. It's not by chance that they are there or there abouts at the business end of every European season. It's not by sheer dumb luck that they are still around when so many of the new flashy, latest big things have fallen by the wayside.

They have a tradition, a foundation laid long ago that is linked with the very ground upon which they play. The club is the people and the people are the club. They are the very bones of each other.

Vardar are laying those very same foundations in Skopje and yet at the start of the season there were rumours that perhaps their president might leave the club. Thankfully he's staying because we have seen the effect that can have on other handball clubs in Europe. They are currently Europe's elite, but they have a long way to go before they can match Barcelona's tradition.

But maybe there's a shift coming. Maybe the traditional European heavyweights could be toppled by the financial muscle of the new breed.

Barcelona will, as they always have done, face the maelstrom, thus;

"Fate whispers to the warrior
You cannot withstand this storm.

And the warrior whispers back:
I am the storm"

Author: Tom O'Brannagain, ehftv commentator