Sunday 13th January 2019 ko 18.30
FC BARCELONA 3 (L Suarez 19 59 Messi 52)
SD EIBAR 0
Robyn and I alighted the metro at Les Corts, and immediately wondered which way to walk to get to the Nou Camp, unlike say Bayern Munich and Fröttmanning station it isn’t immediately obvious where to go. Online maps and free mobile roaming helped and 10 minutes later we were contemplating something of a dilemma.
On one hand, I knew why we were there. Visiting the Great Strahov in Prague back in November had started the conversation about the world’s biggest football stadiums. I’d visited Budapest’s Népstadion albeit well after its time as a 100,000 capacity ground, and let’s face it, the Mayday Stadium in Pyongyang may hold 114,000 but North Korea isn’t the kind of place you book an Easyjet flight to!
But the Nou Camp does hold 99,354 and unless the game is against Atletico or Real Madrid, or city rivals Espanyol tickets are easy to obtain to the extent that the club will email you when the date and time of kick-off are fixed, and there’s even a “Print at Home” option for online bookings. On the face of it, it is all so easy.
Another reason to go is the imminent redevelopment of the Nou Camp. As large as the ground is, the fact is that a lot of those seats are uncovered and the facilities are nowhere as good as more modern stadia such as Arsenal or the Friends Arena in Stockholm. The “New” Camp Nou will seat 114,000 all undercover, but the modernisation will come at a cost- the Mini Estadi -home to Barcelona B next door to the main stadium has been sold and will be demolished at the end of the season.
Now I did fancy seeing the Nou Camp before the redevelopment, and rather hoped we could do the Mini Estadi too. Oddly the Barcelona B game’s kick-off was set before the first XI’s – 4.30 on the Sunday. So when the main event was set for 2 hours later it left Robyn and I with a dilemma. If we went to the Mini Estadi we’d have roughly 15 minutes to dash across to the main Camp Nou, and with entry to high-profile games always coming with additional security- such as the camera policy at Lillestrøm the rather curious bag size policy at Bayern it pays to have a little time to deal with gremlins. Other hoppers managed to see both games, we opted for just Barcelona vs Eibar.
And there could have been gremlins too. We reached Gate 4 with me thinking I’d done my research as to want you can and can’t do here. No DSLR for this game, but the compact camera was bought for this kind of assignment. So you can imagine my horror when the notice above the turnstile said in Catalan, Spanish and English, “No Backpacks!” I glanced round and saw no end of them in the queue. Fortunately the security detail were content with just a cursory look inside.
There was time for me to make something of an idiot of myself though! My regular two readers will know that for some groundhoppers a matchday programme is an obsession. That isn’t for me, but I did wonder whether a magazine was being produced? I asked at a souvenir stall and using easy English asked ” Excuse me is there a magazine?” and signalled as such with my palms. The young lad responded,
“Nah mate, Barcelona don’t do a programme, just the monthly magazine for the supporters’ club”
It transpired that the young man’s father is English; I laughed, and Robyn and I climbed a surprising one flight of stairs to reach the third tier of the ground- I’d forgotten the bottom tier is beneath ground level.
We stopped and took in the huge seating bowl, it may be aging but it is a mighty impressive sight. I even smiled at the smallest away section I’ve ever seen, a tiny fenced off area at the top of the top tier to the left of the scoreboard.
I found myself understanding better the roots of the club. This is a Catalan club, the club motto translates to “More than a club,” and when you look at Barca’s two biggest rivals, Espanyol (formed exclusively by Spanish, not Catalan fans of the game) and Real Madrid with the Castilian rivalry, you can see both the Derbi Barceloní and El Clasico have such hostility. Who could forget the pig’s head being thrown at Luis Figo on his return to Barcelona with Real Madrid?
I was rudely awakened from my thoughts by a young man with a selfie stick. He was sizing up a photo of himself with the main stand in the background, then the other side, then the far end, and then the area in which we were stood.
Perhaps I should have expected the tourists, when tickets are this easy to come by people will come just for the experience. It does seem that some will take it to extremes, we watched a couple where one was dressed in a full Barcelona kit, even down to Barca trainers, but the other was also in full kit – Arsenal’s!! We also saw someone wearing a Bayern shirt too. Is there such a thing as the European tour of football grounds?
I kept half an eye on the young man with his selfie stick. During the game he took the equivalent of the old fashioned roll of 36 shots, each with himself in shot. Behind me a young man ruminated on his box of popcorn. It was a world I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand. I used to think that’s a factor of my age, but Robyn shook her head in disbelief too!
I got the impression that the tourists saw this game as a kind of footballing Harlem Globetrotters with Eibar cast as the Washington Generals. It mattered not that Eibar are a tiny club, punching way above their weight just being at this level, did they realise that Eibar recently managed to beat Real Madrid?
I had to stop myself, after all there I was with a camera round my neck looking forward as much as they were to watching Lionel Messi, in my opinion the world’s best footballer. Was I as much as a tourist as them? Does the 2,000 extra grounds I’ve visited count for something? Does watching David Murphy notch a hat trick for Berinsfield in a North Berkshire League Cup Final somehow give me extra credibility. I’m certainly not a footballing snob, inverted or otherwise.
Robyn got it right as usual, we were there to watch a football match, while many of these others were there just to be seen somewhere famous. I’m not sure whether anyone has taken a selfie of themselves at Lay Avenue, perhaps they should!
Oddly despite becoming the first player in history to score 400 La Liga goals the star of the show wasn’t Messi. His movement is a joy to behold, and is as unorthodox as another genius that played here- Thierry Henry, but Luis Suarez was utterly unplayable here. It was wonderful so see some of the best footballers in the world at work, but truthfully the best game was saw all weekend was as at La Satalia.
At the end of it all we lingered awhile, as did the tourists. My reason was to wait while Robyn queued for the loo, there’s not as many ladies’ as yet, as in the most modern of stadia. The tourists took more selfies, as I took a final look at the largest football ground I’ve even been in. As even I allowed myself a final smile as I managed to inwardly find the words I’d been searching for all night.
What all these grounds visited does is give you context. Amongst all the hype its so easy to forget this is still about a game consisting of 22 people kicking a bag of wind around, the laws of the game are the same whether you’re watching Barcelona or Berinsfield. That said, it was a hell of a ground wasn’t it?