It’s probably a safe bet to say that FC Barcelona needs no introduction and it seems pointless for me to add anything to the huge corpus of work which exists about the Blaugrana, their history, current dominance and regional significance. There’s a fair chance that even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve taken the stadium tour and visited their museum (it’s one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions).
So why am I bothering to write about it? Well, I did promise that this blog would cover the great and the good of Spanish football as well as the more obscure. It’s just over a year since I visited the city for my Easter break, although that wasn’t my first visit to the Camp Nou, having attended a game there all the way back in March 2011. So I thought it might be a nice idea to compare the two visits and remark on what’s changed in the intervening period. Then I started writing and realised that a post of this nature would be very, very long, so I’m going to focus on the 2011 visit and the match day experience this time. Some other day I shall tackle the museum and stadium tour and the differences between the two visits.
So, let’s jump back in time to 2011 where we find the Barcelona of Guardiola, boasting the core of Spain’s World Cup winning squad from the previous summer, as well as some lad from Argentina called Messi, who’d just won his second Balon d’Or, beating his club mates Xavi and Iniesta into second and third place.
It was only a couple of months since they had so thrillingly dismantled Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou, so my travelling companions and I were obviously hoping for something similarly enthralling as they took on Real Zaragoza.
What we got was a 1-0 win from a rotated side and a goal from a defensive-minded midfielder. Ah well.
The match day experience at the Camp Nou was a strange one. The first oddity was when we collected our tickets. We’d bought them the night before from the tourist office at Plaça Catalunya in the city centre, but had to collect them at the taquilas outside the ground. Having bought them at the same time, you’d imagine that they would make an effort to assign us seats as close together as possible. Well, two of the the tickets were in the same stand, albeit separated by three or four rows, but the other was in the far side of the ground.
The ground on match day itself is undoubtedly a spectacular sight and with it being a temperate March evening (being beside the Mediterranean has its advantages) we were able to walk from the nearest metro stop (a decent distance I should say, not the handiest ground to get to via metro) and wander around outside, taking in the atmosphere. The size of the ground from the outside is rather deceptive, because the pitch is lower than ground level, which creates the illusion of a smaller ground. The truth immediately becomes apparent when you go inside. Having taken my seat high up behind one of the goals, I watched the ground slowly fill up (although a number of seats around me remained vacant through the game, which made the ticket situation even more baffling). As the players prepared to enter the field, the Cant del Barça rang out around the ground, a near-capacity crowd singing every word, and the stage was set. Then it all went a bit flat…
It wasn’t a great game by any means, Barça left a number of key players on the bench with an important Champions League game against Arsenal on the horizon, and Zaragoza, well they just weren’t very good. Sedydou Keita scored the only goal of the game in the first half and it says a lot that the papers the following day almost unanimously judged Mascherano (in a rare midfield appearance before his conversion to centre back) to have been the Man of the Match.
And what of Messi? One of the main reasons we’d made the trip was to see him in action and although he didn’t do anything spectacular, it did give me a new appreciation of what makes him great. His passing is a part of his game that is often overlooked, but it’s not hard to see why some experts who watch Barcelona far for regularly than I do, have even suggested that he could move back into midfield as his career advances, taking over the metronome role so recently vacated by Xavi.
But the major disappointment was from the atmosphere inside the ground. While it may have been the case that the players were saving themselves for greater exertions to come, I didn’t expect the fans to do the same. The noise that greeted the players as they walked onto the pitch was outstanding, but after that the majority of people in the stadium just seemed to sit back and wait for the goals to start raining in. And when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a emphatic victory, some of them started to become agitated.
And considering Barça’s pride in producing their own players, it was quite surprising that on this occasion, it was a number of La Masia graduates who bore the brunt of the criticism. Poor Bojan, of course a player is going to be a disappointment if people keep going on about how many goals he scored in the youth teams and he doesn’t immediately replicate that form for the first team. Even Pique (or Waka Waka, as one supporter insisted on calling him) a Champions League and World Cup winner within the previous two years, wasn’t immune.
I suppose this has left me with a sense of dissatisfaction about my first game at the Camp Nou, something that can probably only truly be resolved by going back for a second time. When I did eventually return to Barcelona, unfortunately the calendar didn’t enable this, ironically enough, Barcelona were playing just down the road from me in Vigo meaning I had to settle for watching the game in a city centre bar.
So as of yet, another game here remains an unfulfilled ambition. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes when I do go back!