Saturday, 6 December 2008

Barcelona v Valencia. 06/12/08

"I love tapas. And it must be so much more enjoyable eating it knowing we haven't abandoned our kids in the hotel room to go missing."

Barcelona 4-0 Valencia. Camp Nou. Saturday 06/12/08
Whisper it quietly, but I don't really like Barcelona. It's a sacrilege thing to say, like admitting if you ever met Princess Di you'd like to punch her in the face or that you actually like Ryanair. But this blog is nothing but truthful so there you go.

Why don't I like Barcelona? Well if truth be told I don't really like Spain. It's too hot most of the time, the streets are constantly dirty, the beer isn't particularly good and going for a sleep in the middle of the day is the preserve of university students once the lunchtime showing of Neighbours has been done, not an entire nation.

The little magician, Lionel Messi
What you can't argue with though is the city's football team. Under Pep Guardiola they have been absolutely fantastic, playing some scintillating football with some of the best players in the world in the famous red and blue shirts - Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi and the cherry on the top of the cake, Lionel Messi.

Joining an animal rights march on Las Ramblas
But before we headed off to Camp Nou to see them take on Valencia, there was a day exploring Barcelona to get through. Or at least there should have been until we decided to join an animal rights protest on Las Ramblas, doing our part to save creatures Espana over.

Andy enjoys his omelet in a baguette concoction
Spanish beer isn't particularly pleasing to me so we downed several as well as a bizarre omelette concoction that came in a baguette before kick off in a small cafe just around the corner from the stadium. For such a massive arena, it is rather difficult to spot being hemmed in by buildings but once there it is simply amazing.

Camp Nou in all her floodlit glory
Panoramic Camp Nou
Three step tiers packed with just shy of 99,000 seats under the glow of floodlights was quite the mesmerising sight. The clientele were not like your normal football experience at all. Up in the Gods, it was like watching an opera. People came to be entertained and enjoyed smoking large cigars during the game. The only songs sung bar the Catalonian national anthem when the teams emerged onto the pitch were just the repeating of a players name - HEN-RY HEN-RY HEN-RY mainly on this occasion. So despite the 94,000 in there, the atmosphere was worse than even Wembley. Ouch.

But boy did the former Arsenal man deserve his choruses of approval. A magnificent hat-trick helped Barca on their way to a 4-0 win with Dani Alves bombarding forward from right back like a man possessed to score the other. Valencia were never really in the game which meant the fact I was wearing one of their disgustingly brilliant yellow and red striped shirts in the home end wasn't a problem at all. Not that it ever would have been as you rarely see a ruck at the opera.

Valencia trying to get out of their own half, without much
The smoking ban in England has put paid to any opportunity
to consume a large cigar a half
Messi was disappointingly quiet on the day by his normal standards but it's hard to expect anything else when you are triple marked. And of course, three men on him allowed plenty of space for the other talent in the Barca side to exploit, namely Henry with that marvelous treble.

The 1992 Olympic Stadium - home to Espanyol
So the football was the main purpose of visiting Barcelona. But we found enough to do in the other two days there. The 1992 Olympic Stadium was checked out on the Sunday, currently home to the cities other side Espanyol and where England have faced Andorra on a couple of occasions. It's set in the Olympic Park which is worth a look around although the most exciting part of all that was sampling a bizarre lemon beer in a tapas restaurant. This was my first experience of tapas and I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly without the stress of knowing you've left your four year old daughter asleep in a hotel room while you go out to enjoy it. We are not the McCann's after all.

Tapas successfully consumed without losing a child
And it really is impossible to go to Barcelona and not do the Camp Nou tour. Even non-football fans get in on the game and you can see why, checking out the changing rooms, the players tunnel, the trophy room and best of all for me the chapel that is in the players tunnel were ultra-religious players can go for a little prayer before the game.

The chapel in the Camp Nou players tunnel
My one regret about the trip is that we never got the chance to see Sagrada Familia, the huge still-as-yet not even half finished cathedral of the city. Would that have made me like the city? Doubtful. For me, Barcelona isn't the special place that everyone makes it out to be, it's just another city on planet Earth. The football team however is out of this world.
More than a club
Scott McCarthy - European Champion

Not a good evening for Valencia
Barcelona: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves 1, Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez, Eric Abidal, Alexander Hleb (Bojan Krkic), Yaya Toure, Xavi (Seydou Keita), Lionel Messi (Pedro), Eidur Gudjohnsen, Thierry Henry 3.

Valencia: Renan, Miguel, Hedwiges Maduro, Raul Albiol, Asier del Horno, Manuel Fernandes, Ruben Baraja (Michel), David Albelda, Joaquin (Pablo Hernandez), David Villa, Juan Mata (Vicente).

Attendance: 82,889.

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