March 2, 2013 at 9:51 pm
The middle-aged Catalan behind the wheel of the Barcelona taxi taking us from El Prat airport to our accommodation near the Arc d’Triomf shrugs his shoulders as I ask him whether he thinks his beloved Barca will defeat their most hated rivals in the match later that night, even this modest Barcelona fan would struggle to predict what was about to unfold at Camp Nou a few hours later…
Futbol Club Barcelona are everywhere in Spain’s second city, with official stores seemingly at every corner offering everything from replica shirts to cigarette lighters and toothbrushes emblazoned with the club crest, and every stall dotted down La Rambla selling fake Messi shirts and cheap scarves, it’s no wonder that plans to extend the giant Camp Nou to a mind-blowing capacity of 112,000 are talked about.
As the centre of Catalan identity and with ‘Senyeras’ and ‘Esteladas’ hanging limply from apartment balconies across the city, it’s no surprise that Real Madrid, home of the King of Spain, are not too popular, that sentiment was proved right when, two coaches carrying Madrid supporters with heavy police escorts, were pelted with bottles, cans and stones from the blue and scarlet-clad punters in a bar near to the ground. You could almost smell the excitement in the air when emerging from the metro at Maria Cristina, a never-ending wave of men, women and children steaming towards Camp Nou is a sight I’ll never forget. Another sight I’ll never forget is that of Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges, a bit worse for wear after a few cans of local tipple Estrella Damm, stumbling towards the arena in a Barca shirt.
Nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of Camp Nou from the ‘lateral’ (top tier) seating after making the tiring trek up the winding staircases, it is simply awesome and one that will stay with me forever.
As the gladiators enter the Colosseum, the sound of the catchy FCB anthem is belted out by nearly 100,000 people, sending shivers down your spine, the tannoy announcer reads out the last name of each Barcelona player that has made the starting 11, greeted by a ear-splitting roar of approval by the Blaugrana faithful.
Around 250 Real Madrid fans have made the six hour journey to support their team and from our seats in the top tier very near to them, we could clearly hear their monkey noises towards a Barca fan and Nazi salutes throughout the match, they also set about enraging 98% of Camp Nou by holding up Spain flags and singing ‘Que Viva España’ and ‘Marcha Real’, the Spanish national anthem. Barca fans unveil a huge banner reading: “Catalonia: The next European state” and hold up Esteladas.
Cristiano Ronaldo, already a hate figure for the Camp Nou masses and seen as an unworthy pretender to the throne of Lionel Messi, does a pretty good job of further enraging them by single-handedly putting Real into a 2-0 lead, the first a penalty after he was brought down by Gerard Pique, the second a cool finish after Pinto had palmed Angel Di Maria’s shot into his path after the Argentine had turned Carlos Puyol inside out. When 19-year-old centre-back Raphaël Varane rose to head home a corner to make it 3-0, a large amount of Cules headed for the exits. Jordi Alba grabbed a late consolation for the home side but it came far too late to stage a late comeback. Messi was stifled by the Madrid defenders who man-marked him all game, Xavi was anonymous and Fabregas was awful, the only Barca players to come out of the game with much credit were Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Following Real’s third goal, a Barcelona fan lit a flare and hurled it into the Madridistas, who immediately returned fire, resulting in bottles and cans being exchanged for the rest of the game, with no intervention or interest by the police and stewards. A supporter in a Barca scarf in front of us took a swig from a can of Estrella Damm and launched it into the away end, and walked out, all in full view of the stewards.
Every kick of the game was repeated, analysed, repeated again and then analysed a bit more on every sports TV channel and radio station in Spain, in the taxi back to our apartment, the driver was listening to a radio station heavily criticising Fabregas for his poor display and heated debate took place between presenters as to who at Barca was to blame for this shocking loss, no credit was given to Jose Mourinho, who’s tactics were spot-on, or any of the Real Madrid players. The day after, bars on La Rambla were advertising the screening of the next Clasico, which was to be played in the league a mere four days later in Madrid. Wherever you are in the world, no matter which team you follow, El Clasico simply cannot be ignored.