Spain - Barça
Written by Levon Schuller
Barcelona Football Blog writer Levon Schuller, from Holland, and one of many global FC Barcelona fans, takes a break from his globetrotting ways to offer us a glimpse of what the capital of Catalonia means to a life-long fan.
Few football teams are as intrinsically linked with the city that gave them their name, and only FC Barcelona reserves the right to call itself ‘més que un club’ – more than a club – adored and cherished by masses of fans.
Barcelona. The trend-setting metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea. Its fashionable boulevards offer countless boutiques, restaurants, and nightclubs, and its inhabitants are justifiably proud of the cultural heritage left behind by the indomitable spirits of Gaudí, Picasso, Dalí and Miró, found not only in the many museums and galleries but – above all – in the very fabric of the city, whose flamboyant streets, abundant squares, and excellent parks possess a flair like no other.
However, as well as the reasons above, Barcelona is on the lips of millions of people every day because the city is also home to one of the planet’s most popular sporting entities, FC Barcelona, simply known as Barça.
Barcelona’s original ground – Camp de la Industria (1909–1922) – has long been replaced by Camp Nou. After three days of sightseeing, the moment I had so eagerly anticipated had finally arrived as I climbed its stairs.
I collected my ticket before grabbing a bite to eat and checking in to my hotel. The morning can be spent exploring the mediaeval alleys of the Barri Gotìc (Gothic Quarter) or taking in the Mediterranean from the comfort of one of the city’s many beachfront terraces. Then take a stroll along Passeig de Gràcia, one of Europe’s most elegant avenues, where people like go to be seen before visiting the amazing Parc Güell, designed by the famous Catalan architect Gaudí. Barcelona is one of the world’s most surprising cities, yet through it all I kept checking my inside pocket.
Ticket in hand, I make my way to my seat on the third tier of Camp Nou. A chill goes down my spine, and not just because of the cold. I have seen many sports arenas before, but this is something else altogether. As I look down at the lush green pitch a good 50m below me, my heart fills with awe as the stands fill with fans. Surely this is the king of all football stadiums.
I had become a fan almost 25 years ago. Had I been born in Catalonia I would have undoubtedly been a Barça fan from birth. However, being from Holland, my fandom remained hidden in the dressing room, unknown to me, until our national hero, Johan Cruyff, returned to Barcelona as a coach, and the popularity of the club took hold in my home country. Admittedly, as an 11-year-old boy watching the Spanish league highlights on the couch next to my father, the nationality of the manager was of secondary importance; the beautiful blue and scarlet striped shirts, however, made a memorable impression on me.
In anticipation of the match, a compilation video of Barça legends flashes across the giant screen above the opposite stand, to serve as a reminder of the club’s greatness: Cruyff’s flying backheel; Maradona’s masterly touch; Koeman’s winner at Wembley. Unforgettable goals that, despite being engraved in the heart of every fan, we never tire of seeing. I can’t wait for the match to start, but at the same time, I want to be here forever, in this stadium, this city, this dream...
To millions of Catalans, FC Barcelona is much more than a club: it is a symbol of their very existence, an institution that has provided an outlet to their culture for many decades.
Tonight we are not playing our main rival, however, and as a foreigner I am struck by the civilised football culture on display in Camp Nou. Its audience has often been likened to spectators at an opera, and it is easy to see why. Beside me sit two ladies in their early forties. They are seemingly paying no attention to the footballers they came to see, preferring to discuss their holiday destinations and who their daughters are currently dating. Yet, when midfield maestro Xavi Hernández dodges two opponents with an exquisite pirouette, they clap their hands and let out a loud “¡Olé!” Similar encouragement is offered to lionhearted defender Gerard Piqué Bernabeu upon risking body and limb to prevent a goal. The crowd definitely knows its football.
In addition to the legions of Catalans and Spaniards, Barça commands a worldwide following of loyal fans. In fact, there are some 350 million of them. There’s one in Jakarta, Indonesia, who I know sets his alarm for 3am to watch a cup game, and one in Winnipeg, Canada, who studies Catalan just to feel closer to the club. Their lack of proximity to Camp Nou is compensated for by their complete and utter devotion.
Savouring the victory, I kiss the club emblem on my blaugrana shirt as I leave the stadium. Around me I see fathers and sons, groups of friends, young couples and senior citizens, all decked out in blue and scarlet, a sense of gratitude and nostalgia suddenly overcoming me.
I still have two days left in the city and, of course, to love Barça is to love Barcelona itself.
FC Barcelona Academy
FC Barcelona fields the largest percentage of home-grown players of all the big European clubs, a source of great pride for fans worldwide. Currently, 12 of the 25 squad players have been raised in their academy, which is called La Masia after the farmhouse in which they previously lodged those youth players scouted from areas throughout Spain and beyond. The advantages are obvious: firstly, less money is spent on transfer fees and secondly, the cadets are trained from a young age according to a specific philosophy and style of play. And it does not stop at football. The club considers it of the utmost importance that its kids are taught social and human values, and that they receive a proper education. After all, very few will make it as professional footballers and even fewer will fulfil their dream of one day playing in the first team of their favourite club.
Dating back to the 18th century, the custom of building castelles (‘castles’ in Catalan) has its origins in rural Catalonia. A castell is a group of people forming a human tower by standing on top of each other. They can be as high as nine levels! Unless you happen to come across a team of castellers in a practice session, your best shot at witnessing this extraordinary tradition is during festivals from June to November.
Restaurant Fermí Puig
Restaurant Fermí Puig serves traditional Catalan cuisine with a twist. Named after its owner, the establishment features a private area with Barça memorabilia and a large screen to watch the games, available upon reservation. Fermí Puig is an avid Barça fan, who once famously claimed he organised his kitchen like legendary manager Johan Cruyff, with technically proficient staff who can play all positions.
Balmes 175, +34 93 624 18 35, open from Tuesday to Saturday.
Rare is the visit to Barcelona that does not include a walk down Las Ramblas, the city’s most famous street, and definitely its most crowded, brimming with locals and tourists alike. Just over 1km long, it connects Plaça de Catalunya with Port Vell, where Christopher Columbus gazes out over the Mediterranean. Filled with shops, newsstands, and human statues, it is here that fans gather to celebrate their most important victories.
Basilica Sagrada Familia
Although never completed, the Basilica Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Started in 1882, the project was the focus of the widely celebrated Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí during his last years until his death in 1926. It is open to the public, albeit for an entrance fee, which goes towards the completion of the uniquely designed temple. Be sure to visit the official Barça store across the street!
Nov 1 FC Barcelona vs Celta de Vigo
Nov 5 FC Barcelona @ Ajax (Champions League)
Nov 8 FC Barcelona @ Almería
Nov 22 FC Barcelona vs Sevilla
Nov 25 FC Barcelona @ APOEL Nicosia (Champions League)
Nov 30 FC Barcelona @ Valencia
Distance: 4,865 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 25 minutes