Ever since the days of Venables, Archibald, Schuster and then Lineker, the name of FC Barcelona has always represented something magical to me. The iconic strip, the cathedral-like ground, the history of the club which is so inextricably rooted in the Catalan culture, history and struggle, all contribute to a deep-held affinity I feel to a club and city to which I have no tangible connection. The first time I visited the city I vowed that I would come back to watch a match, the first time I did in 2012 I knew that I would be back whenever I could find an excuse.
So it was that my wife and I found ourselves forgetting all about Arsenal’s latest capitulation, and once again heading off to the Camp Nou last Sunday evening. There is a buzz in the air as soon as you exit the metro, the dark is punctuated by the lights from plentiful bars, cafés and souvenir stalls; the sheer capacity of the ground means that even over an hour and a half before kick-off there is a swarm of people in the neighbouring streets; you can actually feel the crackle of excitement in the air as regularly-attending ‘cules’, day-trippers and football tourists from foreign climes mingle freely, anticipating watching one of the greatest football teams ever assembled.
As self-acclaimed foreign football watching connoisseurs and having some experience of Spanish football attendance, we of course armed ourselves with a couple of Bocadillos (jamon and tomato bread baguettes) from a bar before heading into the ground; this is not just for the gastronomic experience but to enable the emission of a knowing smile when those who haven’t equipped themselves properly look on enviously at half-time.
As you head into the famous old stadium, it is impossible to appreciate the sheer scale of it until you take up your seats as it is built in a valley and you enter halfway up its structure. There are most certainly more state-of-the art and better equipped stadiums but it would be hard to argue that there are more than a few that seep history quite like this one.
As the teams emerge and the famous club hymn ‘El Cant del Barça’ strikes up you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and it is time to prepare to be dazzled.
It is fair to say that the team and playing style have gone through somewhat of a transition under Luis Enrique, while there is still a focus on dominating possession, the lightning raids of the world-renowned ‘tridente’ of Messi, Suarez and Neymar are thrilling and at the same time frightening; all orchestrated through the cerebral, uniquely talented skipper Andres Iniesta. It is quite simply a joy to watch them play football.
Barca swept aside their cross-city rivals Espanyol 4-1 with two goals from Suarez one from the exciting full-back Jordi Alba and of course one by a certain Leo Messi; each one a work of art in its own right. As we headed back to our hotel to watch the highlights and relish the goals again, I think we both knew that it won’t be too long until we are back again.