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A Night at El Clasico in Barcelona

October 7th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Barcelona, Football, soccer


It just worked out this way.

In Barcelona around the weekend of October 7, when FC Barcelona and Real Madrid were scheduled to play. A colleague writing about the match. Me mentioning I was going to be in Barcelona. His note that he knew someone who might have tickets. My inquiry …

And there we were, my father-in-law and me, high above the south goal at Camp Nou, among a crowd of 95,000, watching el clasico (as it is known in much of the soccer world).

Probably the world’s two greatest teams. The world’s two greatest players. Arguably the greatest rivalry in sports at the moment, one with great history, enormous stakes and political undertones.

And how did it turn out?

The match itself was quite interesting. Two goals by Lionel Messi. Two by Cristiano Ronaldo. A see-saw game. Ronaldo first, Messi in response, Messi’s free kick to give Barcelona the lead, Ronaldo’s response. A draw that probably fairly reflected how even the match was.

What I focused on was everything around it. It was my first visit to Camp Nou — well, my first Primera Liga match, actually — and the business of comparing and contrasting is always useful.

Getting there? Not a problem. Camp Nou is about five kilometers from where I am staying, and we could have walked, but the nearby subway line would take us directly to the station closest to our seats. We decided to chance it, and it was a crush in there for only about three stops. Elapsed time, 10 minutes. Then a 10-minute walk to the stadium, just following the people wearing the Barca gear. No problems getting in; minimal invasive security precautions.

The stadium? Enormous. Old. More than a little decrepit. Camp Nou was opened in 1957, and has been tinkered with since, but it looks its age. Rust, peeling paint, broken pavement. No escalators, not even any wide ramps to the upper levels. Just stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. A grind, going up … dangerous coming down when surrounded by hundreds of fans all trying to rush out of the stadium after the match. (One person falls, and a disaster could quickly develop.)

Amenities? None to speak of. Simply being there apparently is supposed to be enough.

I continue to be impressed (and not in a good way) by how little European soccer clubs do for the fan — which is almost nothing. (I also saw Old Trafford this year, also both old and primitive, and ultra famous.)

The fans turn over a lot of of money (in this case, more than $130 per seat), and get a narrow, armless plastic chair. And nearly nothing else.

One aging scoreboard at the north end of the stadium. It showed the score, who scored the goals (for those sitting close enough to read the smaller type) … and it ran advertisements at halftime. No replays. Minimal information. No pre-game show, no halftime show, no postgame show, no scores from other matches, not time of day nor temperature inside the stadium. The fan is starved of information. Yellow cards were shown by the referee but not announced, leaving us in the more distant seats to guess at who had been cautioned.

Fans have minimal chances to buy food and drink. A ultra-basic station on our level offered beer, soft drinks, water, hamburgers and hotdogs. But not quickly.

Lineups were announced once, and names were never again mentioned except for substitutions.

The lack of replays kills me. Let’s guess that the average ticket cost $150 (and I’m sure that is low), and 95,000 people (biggest crowd to see a match in Europe for the 2012/13 season, so far) were in the house … that’s about $14 million in gate receipts.  For one night.

Buy a scoreboard, compadres! One which shows replays of goals, at the least. (But feel free to mix in near-goals, too.) One which displays more information, including the names and numbers of everyone in the game.

The fans were fans, and that generally is not flattering. I heard the words puta (whore) and cabron (asshole/bastard) uttered/shouted hundreds of times in my vicinity, despite small children being in the crowd. One of those with a foul mouth was a woman, about 30, sitting next to me. She asked me in English what I thought of the crowd. I was thinking, “rude and vulgar” but my sense of self-preservation/politeness (even as a proto-Madrid fan) was enough to come up with “very intense.” She clearly was expecting something flattering. (That’s me, below, pre-kickoff.)

The crowd was really into the subject of Catalan independence from Spain, a hot topic here now. Before the match, a big parade of separatists matched around the stadium, occasionally setting off a firecracker (which made the cops twitchy), and early in the match everyone was encouraged to stand and hold up the plastic sheet placed at every seat — red on some levels, yellow on others — which made for a sort of gigantic Catalan flag (see photo above) — broad strips of red and yellow. So, yes, bystanders were all but forced to make a political statement as part of their viewing experience. (I pretended to be busy taking pictures.)

Anyway, everything aside from the players and the game was subpar. Seats too small, no message board worthy of the name, a sense that a serious accident (or even disaster) could break out an any moment in the narrow passageways and steep steps of the stadium. U.S. personal-injury lawyers would be all over that place.

Many European clubs can get away with bad facilities because their fans don’t seem to know better. And to many fans, the match is enough. And good for them.

But a day is coming (and in most of the world is already here), when the expense and lack of creature comforts involved in going to the stadium will be overpowered by the ease of watching the match on TV. With replays of every important play and decision.

If/when Barcelona ceases to have one of the world’s top teams, it is hard to imagine 95,000 people volunteering to go through that sort of game experience — when they have to go home to find someone who saw TV replays to learn how, exactly, Messi scored that first goal.



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David // Oct 8, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    In terms of the lack of amenities, not unlike my experience going to a Roma game a few years ago. And that stadium was filthy.

  • 2 Paul // Oct 8, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Considering that Barcelona is reportedly about $400 million in debt, don’t count on that scoreboard anytime soon. Even with revenue topping $600 million last season (according to Forbes), that’s a dangerous dance. Buckle up if the success on the field withers and/or the Spanish Old Firm is forced to part with the lion’s share of the TV contract.

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