Watching the ‘El Clasico’ at Camp Nou
[I lived to tell]
Last week I ended up in Barcelona on my annual European vacation. As luck would have it, the El Clasico was being held in the city the same week.
It sure didn’t disappoint.
This post will talk about my phenomenal experience, to arm all soccer fans out there on what to expect if they get the opportunity to witness this spectacular event.
Tickets for the El Clasico are extremely scarce. If you didn’t pounce on them when the window opened some 6 months prior to the game, then be prepared to shell out a premium on black market tickets. It is an extremely lucrative business in that part of the world and your wallet will get lighter (that is if you happen to even find a ticket).
As soon as I found out the impeccable timing of the game and how close I was to attend it geographically speaking, I was determined to fork out quite a ridiculous premium for the tickets. After numerous fruitless trips to the official ticket agents (scattered all over Barcelona sitting in their red booths) for four consecutive days, I decided to scout Craigslist (against my better judgement). I found a guy who was selling Category 5 tickets at almost four times the original price and decided to email him (remember this was still against my better judgement.. ). It was my one shot in the dark. And to my absolute shock, he responded within an hour, demanding a holding deposit of 200 euros to be immediately transferred to his Paypal account, all makings of a immensely shady dealing! Again, against my better judgement, I followed his instructions and waited with bated breath until he gave ‘further instructions’. Turns out he was flying from Tel Aviv for the game the day before and just happened to have extra tickets. Now, at the time I didn’t have the mental capacity to speculate or validate his theory other than just looking him up on LinkedIn, where thankfully he appeared quite genuine.
Anyway, we changed our travel plans to accommodate seeing this stranger. A day before the game, we got on the train to meet him in front of Hard Rock cafe at Las Ramblas. Trust me, holding those tickets in my hand felt like gold :)
Getting to the stadium
Let me tell you a bit about Camp Nou. In the magnificent Gaudi-influenced city of Barcelona, where most everyday buildings are stunningly designed, depicting generations of painstaking effort that was put into keeping them in sync with all the overall architecture of the city — you would expect the one and only international soccer stadium to be an intricately designed marvel.
Camp Nou is this rather unassuming, beige colored almost amphitheatre-looking circular structure located in the north west region of the city. Walking out of the train station, the stadium just shows up in your face! No warnings, no beautiful lawns, no lines of street vendors greet you. If you live in North America and are used to attending football games, you may be a tad disappointed. However, the game that you will witness at here will make up for the stadium’s aesthetic shortcomings.
On game day, getting to the stadium from any part of the city can be challenging. Scores of locals and tourists are trying to do the same thing. Traffic, both foot and car increases as the game time gets closer. Also Uber does not work in Barcelona. So your best bet is the Metro. Try and get to the stadium atleast an hour and a half before the game to avoid the accompanying stress (and to take photos without random limbs in your frame).
Once inside the stadium, the weight of history tends to loom for a first time attendee, but you get over it quickly. Over the past 2 decades, I have watched on ESPN, my share of unbelievable games held at Camp Nou. It felt surreal to finally be there!
What to expect during the game
Faces. Songs. Cussing. Flipping of the finger(s). And a LOT of emotion. Also, great wireless reception all along ;)
Spanish folks are an emotional lot. Their lives are pretty closely tied to soccer. And a big game like the El Clasico often causes emotions to flare up a bit.
The buzz throughout the game is definitely unlike what you may have seen at any other game. The singing is mesmerizing, starting with the all 100k attendees singing the official Barcelona song at the start of the game. It was amazing! Probably my favorite moment of the evening.
Barcelona fans are immensely proud of their current stars — Messi & Co, and their undeniably monumental success this season has turned even the most mellow fans, a tad boorish ;). Hence the flipping of the fingers towards the Madrid stands during every pro-Barca decision. At the same time, the roar of unified dissatisfaction at a denied penalty for Messi was hard to miss too. You could probably hear a pin drop at the stadium every time Real scored!
After Mardid scored their second goal making the scoreline 1–2, many Barca fans started leaving the stadium with 10 minutes still to go. The seemingly rhythmic shaking of heads was easy to spot :). However, we left after the final whistle (trust me, I’ve seen what can happen during extra time, and I was in no mood to take that risk!). Slowly the crowd vacated the stadium. It was very very slow and somewhat chaotic. You will get stuck in the crowd, and on the trains. There is no way out other than this. It took us more than an hour to get to Las Ramblas to get dinner.
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This was probably one of the most unforgettable evenings of my life. I sincerely wish this on every true soccer fan :)