Ten thousand Blues in Barcelona they said; at least one ticketless for every one sorted before coming over. We were of course far too sophisticated just to have it down the Placa Reial for two days, pig vans on guard, but we still had a great time of it in bars and restos off the Ramblas. I had been to Barcelona only once before – the infamous Train Ride from Prague (scroll down, only found a Wayback link)
, but most of my discovering of the city was done in enforced post-stag solitude after a morning flight back got cancelled and I had the whole day to kill. This time I had Marc with me, fluent in Spanish, decent in Catalan and ready and willing to aid the interaction.
A fatal dose of dozyness in Southend departures meant we missed the flight and had to transfer to Gatwick to get a later one – an incident on which we won’t dwell. So after the later arrival into town, late tapas outside our hotel and even later drinks at the Bahia bar which loved the US-UK rock music, here’s where I woke up to after a late arrival into town – the square off the front of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi; none too shabby. From there Marc, his dad Ian and mate Mike and I had a lovely wander down the side streets east of the Ramblas, checking out a hat shop (sombrereria) for the more stylish members of our party, up past the Carrer de Ferran and the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and the beautiful patterned facades of the building opposite, pause at the memorial in the Fossar de les Moreres to those who died defending the city in the 1714 siege (a formative moment in Catalan history) and more sub-Habsburg history above the excavations of the Mercat del Born.
Beyond that we headed down to the Barceloneta area and after a bit of advice from a passer-by, had a ‘real’ lunch with ‘real’ people at a ‘real’ restaurant off the main drag (pennants proudly on the wall of Barca's four European Cup wins). Good food at good prices. Back up town to chill for less time than we thought as we met Blues from the row below us at the Emptihad.
Ticket-wise, we were sorted for one but were reliant on another coming from those virtual touts Viagogo, an outlet I would never advocate using for domestic games but in an elite European situation it was needsmust. It got delivered to the hotel (in itself annoying as booked weeks ago so why not deliver it then?) but the fear was it might be a fake. Marc wanted to get it checked out with their local agent but as the day developed it became clear that we should take the risk rather than running round town on logistical missions. By six-ish if you wanted to pay a local to help you the only ones left in the official outlets were €175 and €250 – the price of the champions league spectacle – and there's no fixture going I'd pay that for. Besides by then I had vertigo issues weighing on my mind.
After beers near the ground in a bar we learned was stormed just after we left by their Boixos Nois, it was time to head up to level 5, very gingerly up the concrete stairways. But I got up there and it was actually fine, both in the concourses where it was easy to find a spot not to look down and in the seats, no steep sightlines and benefiting from the pitch being sunk down from ground level. What was a source of derision for some – that Barca plays in a functional yet fading concrete arena - turned out to be a source of comfort for me. Only irritant then would be tourist Barca fans filming the experience, and in some cases filming their partner’s filming of the experience.
It’s then that you kind of get the point of all the Mes Que Un Club ultramarketing – to keep a buzz going around 'Barca'. At this point, is there much genuine excitement for the average fan who expects at the minimum to be top two or three in La Liga and a proper go at the Champs League year after year? At Barcelona, that intersects with carrying the hopes of a whole region and the odd ‘independencia’ chant roused a few in the home ends near me; howling at the ref to get an ex-Espanyol player sent off is only loosely connected, I’m sure! In defeat, chanting that the whole CL set-up was 'fucking bent' was cold comfort as we knew they got bad decisions too, and tikitakists buying fouls is something we must learn to cope with.
Back into town and the discovery of another good crowd of Blues in the Basque pintxo bar near our hotel, leading to another few late beers in that Bahia and out on the Ramblas fending off pimped black girls’ offers for sexmassages. Most Blues were happy enough to take away the experience of it all and a sense that next time we’d be better. But going down too far that route lies in being grateful for just being there when this City wants a permanent seat at the top table (perhaps ushering in that institutionalised complacency), and we should have made much more of a good setup, bouts of good possession and good chances to make it a tighter contest. As we pass Fernando Botero's comedy trojan horse sculpture on our way into departures, we think 'Next time'.
Oh and here's my Dad there 45 years ago. None of that fancy tapas, late-night boozing and extortionate tickets for him, you fancy.