Més Que Un Club: The Nou Camp Experience

The most animation I witnessed during the two hour spectacle in Europe’s biggest football stadium was being told to shut the fuck up for cheering the other team’s goal. 

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Messi bends in another free-kick vs. Sevilla FC. (Image: Getty)

It is the end of February and I am being treated to a birthday weekend away in one of Europe’s premier destinations: Barcelona.

While famous for its cosmopolitan vibe, Gaudi architecture and having a fantastic beach but a stone’s throw from the city centre, the capital of Catalonia is unquestionably renowned for it’s rich footballing culture and, in particular, that of FC Barcelona.

Not many clubs in the world can boast a more impressive alumni than that of Johan Cryuff, Diego Maradona, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Xavi Hernandez, to name a few.

The current crop – the ‘MSN’ – is as good as they’ve ever had, with Luis Suarez, Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi spearheading La Blaugrana’s front-line to a second consecutive league and cup double this season – the trio involved in 215 goals over the nine months.

You can’t blame the locals for being proud of their club; I know that I would be.

Arriving early Friday morning to Barcelona’s El Prat airport, we are greeted with billboards and banners advertising Sunday’s match from the moment we stepped inside the terminal building.

The digital billboards – on every street corner, kiosk and underground station –  loop unbelievable goals by each of the MSN, telling you not to miss out on the Match Day Experience.

Having originally agreed not to go to the game due to the cost and time of the game, I’m worn down by the temptation of the excessive advertising enough to wear down Marta into coming with me for Sunday’s late kick off vs. Sevilla FC.

200EU for the luxury, mind you.

Buying tickets for the game is extremely easy. They are available almost everywhere you go. We opt for a tourist information desk in Plaza Catalonia – one of the city’s top tourist hubs.

It speaks for the size of the club that you can stroll up to most kiosks or tourist information centres and purchase tickets to a game against one of the league’s top teams. There’s no queuing outside the stadium box office or needing a season ticket holder to do you a solid.

Having spent the majority of the weekend in the piss about not being able to go to the game (well, not in the piss, but nagging Marta to come along), I’m buoyed with a genuine sense of childlike excitement to experience this footballing juggernaut on its hallowed turf.

A couple of tinnies in the hotel and we’re good to go.

Shout out to Estrella Damm, by the way. Living in Seville where Cruzcampo is treated like the Big Cheese himself, it was good to get a drink of something different/decent. 10/10 would recommend.

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Even the beer dons the city’s heroes. (Image: Johnnycross91)

We’re on the packed Metro in the direction of the Nou Camp, all of the people clad with red and blue scarves, flags and replica shirts.

There’s a buzz in the air.

The buzz isn’t like those that I’ve experienced before, however.

This feels more like a sense of expectation; less the feeling of excited, nervousness that I have experienced all too often with my club and, I imagine, many others around the world.

There’s no doubt that their team are going to win tonight. It hasn’t even crossed their minds.

To be fair, Barcelona are on a 33 game unbeaten run, so the sense of expectation is probably justifiable.

We’re out of the Metro and following the masses of people toward the imposing, concrete stadium, with its flags blowing high above the stadium in the late February wind.

It would be rude not to stop off for a beer on the street leading to the ground, so we sit down and have ourselves another Estrella, allowing us to absorb the building atmosphere with less than an hour before kick-off.

We see off the remainder of our beer, buy the obligatory knock-off scarf from outside the ground and it’s into the grounds of the stadium.

I’ve never seen anything like this before.

Having had our tickets checked, we’re free to wander and look for our gate, but not without having the opportunity for our faces to be painted, win a car and generally experience what can only be described as a funfair like environment.

I remember the uproar when there was a suggested super chute proposed to transport supporters from St James’s Park to the adjacent Metro Stadium. While no slide was on show on this particular night, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s one somewhere, propelling adults and children alike into an all-age soft play area, which takes your photo on the way down and sells you the key-ring at half-time of the game.

Having seen enough of the spectacle outside of the ground, we funnel into the inner workings of the stadium and to our seats.

Our seats are covered by the stand above, meaning that we can see the glorious green stretch in front of us from behind the goals, but it’s not until we walk down a few rows further, exposed to the Catalan night sky, that you truly appreciate the grandeur of the arena.

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The Nou Camp rises high into the Barcelona sky. (Image: El Periodico)

It’s like this huge colander stretching up into the night, all of the people inside red and blue peas, waiting to be entertained.

Unlike in Premier League grounds, you can’t drink alcohol inside the stadium. Fair enough. But popcorn as a replacement seems a bit vanilla to me. This is a match, not the new Jennifer Lawrence flick.

We’ve got popcorn, though.

And a coke.

Finally, the game is about to begin and  El Cant del Barça rings around the ground. One of the better football songs, I must say.

As the game gets going, I am alarmed by the lack of intensity coming from the home supporters. You get that initial roar after the anthem and then it’s time to cosy down into our chairs and be entertained.

That’s exactly the feeling that I’m experiencing here: the players are here to entertain us. We won’t voice our admiration until you do something that merits our applause.

It’s like we’re at the theatre our something.

We’re waiting silently for one of the protagonists to do something special to get us out of our seats, or at the very least clap our hands together.

Even the chosen one, Mr Messi, trudges around the field lethargically, only springing into life when the ball is within 10 yards of him. He’s earned this privilege, but it’s not doing much to get this tough crowd into raptures.

To my delight, however, it’s the visitors, Sevilla, who do the unthinkable and dare score against the darlings of the Nou Camp.

I can’t help but jump out of my seat and give it a “TOMAAA!” as Vitolo cushions a beautiful volley passed Claudio Bravo in the goal right in front of us.

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Vitolo silences the already quiet Nou Camp (Image: Getty)

It’s at this moment I can feel the stares of hundreds of eyes, asking the question “Who’s this joker and why is he laughing at our misfortune?”

If the atmosphere in this Colosseum isn’t going to organically come about, I might as well play the pantomime villain and create some myself, right?

The most animation I witnessed during the two hour spectacle in Europe’s biggest football stadium was being told to shut the fuck up for cheering the other team’s goal.

The game goes on and through two set-plays, Barca have enough about them to mount a comeback and win 2-1. Their 34th consecutive win. A wonderful free-kick from Messi before Gerard Pique bundles home from a few yards is enough to send the home supporters home content, chuffed that I am having to sit on my hands, tail between my legs.

Good has conquered evil and the status quo is resumed.

Don’t get me wrong, the whole experience was highly recommendable. The talent on show was frightening and the stadium itself a cathedral in world football.

You can’t blame FC Barcelona for cashing in on their popularity; it breeds more success.

Success brings expectancy. An expectancy that borders on arrogance which can only be normal when your team wins a couple of trophies every year and is still questioned.

I’m also positive that they’re not the only club in the world that has an atmosphere that suffers because of their popularity. For long enough it’s been widely accepted that Old Trafford feels rather soulless because of the huge number of tourists in comparison to ultras.

Football is a business, I get it.

This is sold as an experience rather than a game. A family environment, safe from footballs darker corners of match fixing and hooliganism.

Just give me a beer at half-time rather than a diet coke and salted popcorn, yeah?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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