I’m in Barcelona.
I’m here for two reasons: the first is that my wife decided to visit some friends who were staying the night here. The fact that these friends live in Poland in the town next to my wife’s, and we have only visited them once in four years certainly justified the 2,400 kilometre round trip.
And the second reason is that my wife decided that she would like to go to the Camp Neu last night to watch Barcelona play soccer against Manchester United.
I hate soccer.
And after last night, I hate it even more.
My wife doesn’t particularly like soccer either, but she is fiercely patriotic and the fact that Robert Lewandowski plays for Barcelona was enough for me to put my hand in my pocket and pull out the 280 snots required for two seats. At that price, it’s little wonder that the air-brained prima donnas who play the game get paid so much.
If you’ve read any of my blogs, such as this one, you’ll be familiar with my views on soccer, so I’m not going to repeat myself, but rather add a few additional reasons as to why I hate the game so much.
The last time I went to a soccer match I vowed that I would not make this mistake again. On that occasion, back in 2016, I was dragged from Marbs to Paris by one of my closest friends to witness Wales play Northern Ireland in the European Cup, or whatever it’s called. The seats were irrelevant because no one used them, you had to queue in some sort of caged anti-chamber for an hour before being admitted and, once inside, the level of hostility towards the opposition was higher than in the trenches of the Somme.
But this was worse… much worse. So much worse, in fact that I’ve ranked it as my second worse sporting experience of all time. The worst was at Cardiff Arms Park back in the late ’90s. I was on the terraces with a friend to watch Wales play England (Rugby, naturally). I’d heard about this before, but I didn’t believe it. At half time, everyone behind us started urinating, and within five minutes we were up to our ankles in a river of urine. Our sandwiches were swept away in the flood along with our thermos flasks and programmes. Hardcore Welsh rugby fans – along with detesting the English – either didn’t know how to use toilets or couldn’t be bothered to find them, back “in the day.”
What could be worse than that, you may be wondering?
Well, let’s start at the very beginning. We decide to take the Metro to reach the ground. This is a huge mistake because the train driver refuses to leave a station until there is not enough room to breathe in any of the carriages, and to make matters even worse, he wicks up the heating to full volume.
It isn’t totally awful though, because the bards of the Manchester United “Red Army” manage to jolly things up a bit with tuneful ditties of great battles – on and off the pitch – and melodious odes about how Leeds United fans are scum, how Liverpool fans are scum… and how their fellow Mancunians who support the other club are even worse than the worst possible scum, and what they would like to do to them.
Now before you say it, I will admit that rugby songs can sometime stray slightly from the path of political correctness. But these are sung by drunken yobs within the confines of their own establishments, and not inflicted upon innocents whose only crime is to be using public transport.
Wedged beneath my right armpit is a young, petite bespectacled lady who is trying to get to her dental appointment.
‘Want to do a swap?’ I ask her. ‘You can have my ticket, and I’ll go to your dentist and have all my teeth pulled out.’
Finally, we arrive at the ground and have to show our passports to gain admission. Mistake number two: I should have left mine back in the hotel. Once inside and bag-checked for alcohol and weaponry (not very efficiently, but I’ll come to this in a moment), we go through another turnstile and begin the ascent to our seats. We bought the cheapest available seats, and naturally these are right at the top of the stadium. Well… not quite at the top for reasons I’ll come back to.
The stadium is a concrete work in progress – as are most buildings in Barcelona, notably the Sagrada Família – and falls something short of my expectations. But after fifteen minutes of slogging up steps, we arrive at our seats and the view – I have to admit – is nothing short of spectacular.
6.35. Ten minutes until kick off. This is when we become aware there is another tier above ours; one that’s fenced in by toughened plastic screens. This is where the travelling supporters are caged, and with very good reason, it transpires.
Most of those in our vicinity are Spanish; the Barcelona faithful. The website makes it quite clear that if you purchase tickets and rock up to the ground sporting anything in the colour red, entrance will be denied. Mistake number three.
6.45. It’s a full house, and the game kicks off after the almost obligatory minute’s silence which precedes any sporting event these days; the reason for this seems to range from natural disasters of horrific proportions to the death of the groundman’s cat.
The first half is pretty dull. Lewandowski has one chance to score, but appears to be lost in contemplation as to which mansion to buy in Sitges. Someone from Manchester (sorry, I don’t know the names of any of the players) has a half-hearted poke at goal, and that’s pretty much it after nearly 50 minutes. But one thing we have become aware of is the ratcheting up of volume from behind us, and I’m wondering how much banging those plastic fences will stand before they shatter and hordes of bare-chested, tattooed machete-wielding Mancunians invade our terrace. I’ve named this area The Zoo, which, I have to admit, is a bit harsh on, well… actual animals.
Half time arrives. Well, this isn’t so bad, I think as I head to the toilet… only another 45 or so minutes to go and then we’re out of here. I give up my quest for the toilet when I see the queue.
We’re not long into the second half when somebody scores a goal for the home side. This precipitates a barrage of items flung from The Zoo, one of which – a plastic bottle containing an indeterminate liquid – collides squarely with the back of my neck, soaking my back. It’s not a warm evening, and this event does little to enhance my Camp Neu experience. It could have been worse – several of those around us are struck by coins and other metal objects designed to inflict considerable injuries. The only good thing about this is that the occupants of The Zoo rather thoughtlessly use up most of their available ammunition, so that when Barcelona score their second goal, they have little left to throw.
‘Where are the stewards, and the security team?’ I ask the guy sitting next to me.
‘Are you crazy?’ He replies. ‘Who in their right mind is going to go in there to stop those animals?’
There are a couple of other details I should furnish you with. Firstly, sandwiched between the two Barcelona goals, are two goals scored by the visitors, which are also greeted by further hurling of weaponry by The Zoo. Secondly, the Barcelona faithful did not take this onslaught entirely lying down. But the best they could muster was to brandish double-handed middle finger salutes, which was inflammatory, but tame compared to the barrage from the visitors.
We leave the stadium around five minutes shy of the final whistle. Enough is more than enough, and our early departure means that we actually get to sit down on the subway ride back to the hotel.
And that, I can assure you, is that, as far as “The Beautiful Game” and I are concerned.
I’ve witnessed enough mindless aggression for one lifetime.
If this is how the word “respect” is interpreted, my soccer loving amigos, you’re welcome to it!