Originally I’d bought a ticket for Barcelona v Las Palmas but television rights changed the kick off time and I couldn’t make the game. Instead, I decided to book a stadium tour of the Nou Camp.
This was my first ever stadium tour so I’ve got nothing else to compare it to. I thought it was alright. I much prefer to see a stadium full of people than a ‘Qatar Airways’ advertisement displayed in the seats. But there were all-access experiences I’d never seen before. Like being in the press box and the away changing room. I even got to sit on the very comfy padded seats of the dugout and watched everyone pretend to be Luis Enrique for the day.
I did have a nagging feeling throughout the tour of what I can only describe as underwhelming boredom. Normally when I enter a stadium for the first time, I have a great buzz in my stomach. It wasn’t there in the Nou Camp. Most probably because of the lack of match atmosphere. I also felt FC Barcelona were more concerned about being a business than a football club. I mean, the price of a small keyring of Nou Camp grass was €5 while a photo with a greenscreened Lionel Messi was starting from €20! Also, I noticed that despite having 100,000 seats, some of the views are pretty poor…
I’m sure most other big stadium tours are the same, without the match buzz there is always going to be an underwhelming feeling. To give credit where it’s due, I did spend a good hour and a half there. There’s plenty to see and explore and it’s also pretty cool seeing the players come out of the tunnel on TV now having been there. All in all though, I think I will stick to the matchday experience.
Visiting Barca’s city rivals Espanyol felt so much more low-key and down-to-earth. There were no fancy billboards outside. There was hardly anyone there at all, to be honest. All around the entrance gates were the names of great players who served the club. Mauricio Pochettino, Pablo Zabaleta and Roberto Martinez were the only names I recognised.
When I was about to leave, I noticed a statue. It wasn’t of a player or manager. In fact, it was their fans. A boy on the shoulders of his father, holding a scarf in the air with his granddad next to him as well as his sister. Generations and all genders commemorated for their support.
Now, I didn’t go round the whole outer parameters of the Nou Camp so I don’t know if they had something similar to these gestures. But I don’t feel like they would have. Espanyol seemed like they had a different club ethos altogether. And they’re still in La Liga so not that far off Barca’s level.
Going around the city afterwards, there was such an underappreciation for Espanyol. None of the vendors sold their scarves or shirts and there were no official stores that I stumbled across.
I hope to see one of their matches one day. Hopefully against Barcelona.
1992 Olympic Stadium
This experience was probably one of the best I’ve ever been on. It’s no surprise that the best views come for free and my journey up the hills of Barcelona brought better panorama than going up any building for a fee. Honestly, Sants-Montjuic is such a nice area. It’s so open and rewards you the further you continue to trek.
When I reached the stadium I was excited. To have reached my first landmark in my Hibernation Stadium Tour felt really good. The anticipation that it might convince people to get on board with my charity event now I’d actually put it into motion gave me great satisfaction. I hoped it could make a difference somehow.
Once I’d done the important things and got my charity pictures all sorted, I took in my surroundings. To think this was the stadium where Carl Lewis broke medal tally records and Britain’s own Lindford Christie won the 100m final. I imagined what it must have been like with the stadium full. I could feel the history of the place.
Outside the stadium brought more emotion but of a different kind. If being around the track felt poignant, being outside was mesmerising. Everywhere you turned there was a superb view of Barcelona. You could see out to the sea, into the mountains and through the heart of the city itself. I didn’t want to leave. Everything was peaceful and calm. I’d never experienced a place like it.
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