BARCELONA, Spain -- With less than half an hour to go until a 4.15 p.m. kickoff on Sunday, Barcelona confirmed they would play their La Liga game against Las Palmas behind closed doors.
They went on to win 3-0 (their ninth straight victory in all competitions) but it's not often that two Lionel Messi goals are met with silence. That was the case last weekend, though, as Catalonia held a referendum on its independence which took centre stage, with Gerard Pique later calling the match the "worst experience" of his professional career.
However, the main question was if the match should have been played at all.
Barca wanted it suspended after events in Catalonia on the morning of the game made news across the world. As the voting progressed, Spanish police used force in an attempt to shut down the polling stations for a referendum the central government had deemed illegal. By the end of the day, there were around 800 injured and close to 100 of the polling stations had been successfully closed.
In this context, Barca decided the game should not be played. They took that request to La Liga but were told if there were no security issues there was no need for the game to be cancelled.
Local police confirmed earlier in the week that policing was not an issue, so La Liga insisted the game went ahead. Las Palmas, who had flown in from Gran Canaria, were also keen for the game to be played.
To cancel it would have seen Barca struck with a points penalty. On top of forfeiting the game 3-0 and giving up the three points on offer, they would have been hit with an additional three-point deduction. So, in total, they were looking at a six-point penalty and three goal loss.
Talks took place among high-ranking club officials and opinion was split on whether to go ahead. Pique, who had voted earlier in the day and was teary-eyed when he spoke to the media after the game, confirmed the players were also involved in the discussions.
"It was my worst experience as a professional," he said about the match. "We all gave our opinions, there were pros and cons for playing, but in the end, we decided to play. I understand that there are supporters who do not understand that decision."
An emotional Pique brought to tears as he talks about the situation in Catalonia today. Fair play for coming out & talking (as always) pic.twitter.com/8ceLMjKhgv
- Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) October 1, 2017
The decision was not reached quickly. With around 90 minutes to go until kickoff, a number of reliably informed journalists reported on social media the game would be suspended. Despite that, everything was proceeding as normal. Fans were gathering, touts were still selling tickets, accredited media were still being let in and the Las Palmas players were out inspecting the pitch. And, perhaps most importantly, there was no official confirmation the game would be suspended.
Time dragged on. Las Palmas came out to warm up. Then they named their team for the game. The officials soon joined them on the pitch to stretch their muscles, with goalkeepers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen not far behind them. Soon, Lionel Messi & Co. trotted out to warm up, too. This did not look like a game that was set to be called off. The only anomaly was, with just 45 minutes to go until kickoff, the supporters were still locked out of Camp Nou.
With 25 minutes until the game was due to begin, the announcement finally arrived: the game would go ahead, but behind closed doors, with Barca condemning "The events which took part in many parts of Catalonia in order to prevent citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression."
However, another 10 minutes passed before you could hear the groans and whistles of the fans outside being informed they would not be allowed in.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu responded to the suggestion that supporters had not been allowed in due the fact the Grada d'animacio -- a large supporters' group -- had threatened to storm the pitch if the match went ahead (they had demanded it be suspended) by saying that playing the game behind closed doors was a way of protesting against events in Catalonia.
"It wasn't done for security, that was guaranteed," he told beIN Sports Spain. "We wanted to do it due to the exceptional circumstances. Instead of abandoning the game, which is what we wanted, we have decided to play it in an exceptional manner, behind closed doors so that everyone can see our opposition at what is happening [in Catalonia]."
Bartomeu's explanation may not wash with everyone. There were strong words from former president Joan Laporta and two-time presidential candidate Agusti Benedito about the decision to go ahead with the match but, perhaps more worryingly for the president, there was internal division.
Sources told ESPN FC that vice-president Carles Villarrubi had resigned from his position because of the decision to play the game, while Jordi Mones is one of two other directors reported to have tendered their resignation.
There's a feeling this all could have been avoided, too. It's been known for months that Catalonia planned to hold an independence referendum on Oct. 1; why schedule a Barca game for the same day? Why, when tensions were clearly rising between Catalonia and Spain last week, was this not foreseen?
It wouldn't have been impossible for La Liga to move the match to Saturday. And why, on the day of the game, was a decision not reached in a more effective manner? Why where fans left outside, unaware what was happening, until just 15 minutes before kickoff?
The bigger picture, though, lies elsewhere, even if this shows that sport and politics are intrinsically linked -- even more so at Barca, whose "Mes que un Club" motto was as visible as ever on Sunday. An empty stadium in this context was poignant, but Pique's mixed zone tears provided the most evocative image at Camp Nou.
"I am and I feel Catalan," he said, although he's never positioned himself on the independence debate.
"Today I am proud of the people of Catalonia, who have been more pacific than ever. We are not bad people, we just want to vote. When you can vote, you vote. Whether it's yes or no, you vote."