At the Nou Camp

The new football season is approaching so it’s time for a short blog on the  Nou Camp. Even though I’ve lived here in Barcelona for over seven years, this was the first year that I actually got to see the mighty Barça in their home stadium.

The Nou Camp is huge, as everyone knows, but strangely enough it doesn’t dominate the city skyline like the San Siro does in Milan. That’s actually because the pitch is sunk below ground level. Like the Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. On my second visit, I actually had to ask someone for directions, and the stadium turned out to be in the very next street! The lady who told me the way wasn’t a football fan and so she didn’t take the opportunity to humiliate me for my stupidity.

I went to the Nou Camp twice last year. The first time was a Champions League match against Celtic. It was a quiet night, mainly because of the local fans. They were pretty silent throughout as they’re so used to their side thrashing the opposition from the off. Celtic came to spoil the party, scoring first through their giant Greek forward, Georgios Samaras.

Barça soon came back, and they eventually nipped it with an injury-time winner from Jordi Alba. That was the moment when the Nou Camp erupted, after ninety minutes of near silence. Near silence, because the small contingent of Celtic fans out-sang the home supporters throughout the match. Even though they were stuck up in the gods, the Celtic fans were a constant presence, harrying the home team at every kick. It was a heroic effort on their part, being stuck so far away from the pitch that it was like they were floating away in outer space, bobbing about in the night sky.

Even after the game ended in disaster for the Hoops, their fans still chatted good-naturedly, if incomprehensibly, to the locals, as they spilled out into an autumnal Barcelona evening.

The stadium itself was a dream, even if there wasn’t a lot of legroom. The facilities were also clean and modern so Barca’s wealth is not just going on paying Messi’s wages. They were a far cry from English stadiums of yore, where the gents was little better than a Bronze Age midden.

There was no inconvenient away support in the second game I saw, Barcelona against Vallodolid. That’s because there is no ticket allocation for visiting fans in La Liga: the stadium is stuffed full of the home team’s season-ticket holders. Personally, I thought that was sad. I missed the banter between the rival supporters of the “You’ve only come to see United” variety, which is doled out to away fans at Old Trafford.

Having already secured their place in the top division for the following season, Vallodolid were rather supine in that their sole objective was not to get humiliated. They barely touched the ball all night. I doubt that half the players even bothered to unpack their bags.

Luckily for Vallodolid, Barça were also in a laid-back mood, having already won La Liga. They were just politely playing out the ninety minutes before lifting their umpteenth trophy. They still managed to celebrate the on-pitch presentation of the cup as if it was their first title for fifty years. Leaving the stadium was like staggering out through a war zone. Vast fireworks exploded in the air right above our heads, and they deafened me as I stumbled home through the smoke and fumes. I hope Vallodolid got out OK too, because they had soon been forgotten in the midst of a wild and uncontrolled Iberian celebration.

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