The next time someone tells you soccer isn’t big in the U.S., there’s a photo you can show them: 4,000 FC Barcelona fans standing shoulder to shoulder in New York City’s Bryant Park to form the world’s largest-ever human soccer jersey.
Such was the scene Saturday morning, when the Blaugrana fans of New York braved the scorching summer heat to show their support for FC Barcelona and celebrate the start of the much anticipated U.S. Tour, which will see the team play games in neighboring New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Miami.
Shortly after midday on July 22, roughly 4,000 participants lifted colored cardboard tiles to create what looks set to become a new world record for the largest human mosaic soccer shirt. Included on the jersey were the logos of UNICEF and Rakuten, Barca’s new Main Global Sponsor and first ever Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner.
In attendance at the event was Rakuten’s founder and CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani and a host of high-profile Barca VIPs, including Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu, CEO Oscar Grau, Barca Legends player and Club ambassador, Juliano Belletti and beloved former Barca star Thierry Henry.
“It was incredible to be a part of making the biggest Barca shirt in history at Bryant Park,” said Mikitani after the event. “This is just the start of what I believe will be the greatest partnership in the history of professional sport.”
While all the special guests received a warm welcome from the enthusiastic crowd, there was a special excitement in the air when Henry strode into the park on his long legs. Fans jumped at the chance to get a signature or photo with the current coach of the Belgian national team both during and after the event.
Like New York itself, the crowd was vibrant and diverse, linked by a shared love of FC Barcelona and futbol. Jersey-clad families picnicked and enjoyed cold drinks in the shade before taking their place under the midday sun for the human jersey display. Music was played while hot dogs and pretzels were sold around the park, adding a carnival-like atmosphere to the event.
The open event took place on the morning of FC Barcelona’s contest against Juventus at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, a game Barca went on to win 2-1, thanks to a pair of brilliant goals from striker Neymar Jr.
All participants who registered prior to the event had the chance of winning the new Barca Rakuten shirt among other special surprises.
Soccer may not be the most famous form of football in the U.S., but if the record-breaking shirt is any indication, New Yorkers clearly have an outsized love of the beautiful game.