Casuals: when nighttime in Barcelona was a battleground

Soccer fans ran a criminal enterprise through violence and extortion

Jesús García Bueno
An image from the court where members of "the casuals" went on trial in September.
An image from the court where members of "the casuals" went on trial in September.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

March 2006. The Pachá nightclub in Barcelona. A group of armed men burst into the club. They identify themselves as "casuals." In a matter of minutes, the dance floor is converted into a battlefield. The attackers, who are attired in the apparel of skinheads, indiscriminately beat up customers and employees with knuckle dusters and iron bars. Nobody reports them to the police. The attacks are repeated week after week until one of the casuals - the most violent element of FC Barcelona's notorious Boixos Nois group of fans - is hired as chief of security at Pachá.

Since those incidents, during a four-year period, the casuals turned Barcelona nightlife into a nightmare of violence and extortion. Ricardo Mateo, the group's charismatic leader, directed his charges with an iron fist. A faction that was born on the terraces of Camp Nou was transformed into a criminal enterprise. The public prosecutor is now seeking a jail term of 120 years for Mateo for a litany of crimes, including two counts of attempted murder. Mateo has a lengthy police record and is currently in prison on remand for the charges against him and, at the same time, is being tried for his first stint at the head of the casuals, during which the gang tortured and attacked drug dealers.

They beat customers and employees with knuckle dusters and iron bars

After the first police action against the group, the casuals concentrated on Barcelona's nocturnal world. Led by Mateo, his lieutenants and the "mini-casuals" - younger members, but equally as violent - the casuals wrought havoc upon some of the most popular clubs in the Catalan capital. For 10 months, every Sunday, they would head to Razzmatazz, armed and looking for a fight. In pure mafia style, they offered the club's owner "protection" in return for money, according to the prosecutor's report, which seeks long custodial sentences for most of the 30 people accused in the investigation.

The silence of their victims, through fear, was the casuals' greatest ally. Systematic violence was the gang's trademark. In December 2008, Mateo warned a man not to participate in an auction. When he ignored the message and turned up at the auction house with a bodyguard, the leader of the casuals and two of his henchmen pulled out knives and threatened to kill him. The businessman who specialized in auction activity received a blow to the head.

The prosecutor is seeking a jail term of 120 years for the ringleader Mateo

A year later, Mateo issued orders that the bodyguard, who worked as a caretaker at the Isla Fantasía aquatic park, was to be killed. "Come down, snitch, we're going to kill you," they told him. He was saved only by the help of his colleagues. The casuals did not want him to testify against them and according to prosecutors, the owners of the park withdrew the police complaint against the group.

Even after the arrest of the nucleus of the group in February 2010, the threats against the bodyguard continued. Mateo, who had previously issued his orders from the Virginia bar near Camp Nou, now directed the casuals from prison. The caretaker/bodyguard received a visit to remind him to keep quiet. "Your business with the casuals is for life. Any young kid who wants to make himself look good to Ricardo can come up to you at any moment, beat you up and kill you."

Your business with the casuals is for life. Any young kid can come and kill you"

More than one person bowed to the pressure. In September 2009, a group of casuals entered the Opium discotheque, provoking the customary chaos. "You don't know who I am. Let me in or you'll be killed," said David Rodríguez, a member of the group who ended up on remand for stabbing a doorman. But already the casuals were scheming with the aim of shortening his stay in Barcelona's Modelo prison. Employees at Opium agreed to retract their statements. In a taped telephone conversation Rodríguez speaks about making an agreement for their silence. "You were confused. You thought it was me, but it wasn't. It was a black man, ok? I've seen the witness statements."

The same day as the witnesses testified, Rodríguez was freed. Mateo was waiting for him in the street. The leader of the casuals fined Rodríguez - not all of the punishments meted out were physical - for putting the group at risk through the incident.

You were confused. You thought it was me, but it was a black man, ok?"

As well as beatings and extortion, the casuals earned money through selling drugs, which bought them their weapons and luxury vehicles. Mateo, 40, who is also known by the alias "Lucho," solved any problems personally when the need arose. "Don't touch the kids again or you'll have problems," he told a man who had got into an argument with the mini-casuals. So that he wouldn't forget, Mateo left a five-centimeter scar on his face.

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