“To be the Avi of Barça is an extraordinary adventure”

INTERVIEWS 13 Feb 2019 - CMP

Since 1984 Joan Casals has been known throughout the world as “l’Avi del Barça” - the Grandfather of Barça. Thirty-five years on, he shares some memories of the funniest anecdotes that have made him the most global and photographed grandfather in the world.

It all started on the Joan Gamper Trophy of 1984. Joan Casals was at Camp Nou with his wife and three children to enjoy the friendly game. He was just over 50 years old, and bore a certain physical resemblance to the Avi del Barça created by Valentí Castanys -a fictional cartoon character until then. He was bald, with a full white beard and prominent belly. Moreover, that day he’d also decided to wear the Barça shirt and a barretina -the traditional Catalan hat- the distinguishing features that would make him the authentic Avi del Barça from that day onwards. The resemblance was soon noticed by fans, and on the same day many asked him for a photo. From that moment on, Joan Casals’s life would no longer be the same.


The happiest and most photographed grandfather in the world

Thirty-five years later, Joan Casals emotionally recalls his experiences, which he considers to have been “an extraordinary adventure and unimaginable opportunity” he’s always tried to “live to the fullest”. His passion for football, and most of all for his beloved Club, impel him to visit Camp Nou for each Barça home match. And although now hindered to a certain degree by his age (85), his determination to be there still hasn’t changed: “Barça makes me feel alive and going to games and visiting the supporters’ clubs is a kind of therapy”. Joan explains he’s always suffered with osteoarthritis, but he’s managed to overcome a lot of the pain thanks to his lifestyle. “Being the Avi del Barça has soothed my aches drastically. I feel so good that I no longer remember what hurts and what doesn’t”.

In fact, this has changed his life to such an extent that even the footballers want to take photographs with him. Travelling back from visiting supporters’ clubs outside of Catalonia, he has coincided with various players on the plane who have approached him to ask for a photo. Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves are the first names that come to his mind, but the list also includes other players such as Marc Bartra, who asked for his picture at a party for the supporters’ club of Bartra’s home-town Sant Jaume dels Domenys, in Tarragona.

And it’s not only sports personalities that have asked for his photograph. Five years ago, at another Joan Gamper Trophy, he was stopped by a couple of mossos d’esquadra -Catalan police officers. Although for the majority of mere-mortals this situation may have proven uncomfortable, not for the Avi del Barça: the mossos just wanted a picture with him. Mayors from all over Spain also ask for his photograph when he visits supporters’ clubs across the country.

“I’m the most photographed grandfather in the world”, he confirms. And this is not an exaggeration. Journalists from all over the world have travelled to his home in Guardiola de Berguedà for an interview or a photographic report. “I appear in magazines on the other side of the world, but I don’t even have to move any more”, he laughs. “They all come here, to my house”.


A global figure

In 1974, Joan and his wife founded El Recó, a restaurant in Guardiola de Berguedà which would later become El Recó de l’Avi (The Grandfather corner). Although Joan retired many years ago and left the business in the hands of his children, he is still a regular face there. “I often sit outside to read the newspaper and speak to people who come to see me or are passing by. A lot of them are surprised when they see me, because they come for lunch unaware it’s my restaurant.”

Although it’s difficult to imagine how he finds the time, the Avi del Barça has always been very grateful to the groups that appreciate him. He’s the president of the Penya Blaugrana de Guardiola and member of the Barça Veterans Foundation and the Casal de l’Avi Barça, where he tries to pay a visit from time to time. “I really enjoy spending time with these clubs”, he admits. “They appreciate me a lot and always make me feel loved. It’s a shame I live so far away and can’t visit them as often as I’d like to.”

Anyone who knows Joan can tell he’ll never turn no one away. He is a grateful and committed man, who for 23 years voluntarily accompanied the delegations to different blaugrana events taking place across the country. In 2007, he was finally recognised as an official representative of the Club.


A shared success

Due to poor health and mobility, he would have stopped visiting many supporters’ clubs and attending a lot of events a long time ago, if it hadn’t been for Ramon Burniol, president of the Supporters’ Club Federation for Bages, el Berguedà i la Cerdanya, who signed an agreement with the Club to be able to accompany him on his trips. “Ramon is like a son to me. I’ve known him for years and he looks after me as if I were his own father. I’ll be eternally grateful to him.” And we should also be grateful for this effort to take care of the most valued, charismatic and beloved character in the blaugrana world.