Gràcies per tot, Maki!

 

camp nou

 

November 6, 2004: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-1

It was cold. Not as cold as Montreal winters, but I was back in Europe and had spent the last four months living the good life in the south of France where, beautiful truth be told, other than attending parties and chilling at various family-in-law’s downtown apartments or country mansions, I spent most of my time doing a whole lot of rien. On the sixth of November of 2004, however, I had finally made it to Barcelona to fulfill a longtime dream: to see the club of which I had been a fan for over fifteen years play a game of football.

I had timed it to perfection. It was the season in which a five-year trophy drought would finally end. Laporta had taken over the presidency a year earlier and, after a difficult start to the previous season, optimism reigned among culers. Players like Luis Enrique and Marc Overmars had retired, Patrick Kluivert had gone off to compare nightclubs on Tyneside with the ones he knew so well in the Raval and Frank & Henk were in their second season at the helm of the team. Ronaldinho, who I had wanted us to get ever since he debuted for Brazil**, was steadily winning hearts and minds of lovers of the game worldwide. We had taken Mad Sammy Eto’o off the hands of our most hated rivals for 24M and the Brazilian Portuguese midfielder Anderson Luís de Souza, better known as “Deco,” had joined us from Porto off the back of their historic Champions League campaign. The point is, I sat in the top row of the Camp Nou behind the northern goal and I was cold. Really. Frickin. Cold.

——————-

May 23, 2015: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-2

The weather was perfect. While it was definitely warm enough for my 2010/11 blaugrana football shirt, a cheap replica of which the letters that make out UNICEF have all but disappeared, clouds were preventing the sun from attacking one’s eyeballs and making the unprepared watch the whole game with both hands stuck to their foreheads to form a sunshield***. I sat up high enough to see the wannabe skyscrapers of Plaza d’Europa in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat some 2 miles south of the stadium. Tucked in my seat was a blue plastic banner for my piece of giant mosaic I would create with the other 93742 fans in attendance. Correction, not all 93742 were of the same mind. There was a small contingent of Depor fans looking down upon the pitch from their corner way up behind the southern goal who did not feel the need to participate and curiously, the club president along with assorted directors and guests seemed to have lost their banners.

It was a special day. I had not planned on going because I could ill afford to buy a ticket, but the day Xavi Hernandez officially announced his departure to greener pastures**** it started to itch. It itched and itched and itched, and the only way to scratch it was to sigh, log onto the club’s website and pay the damn money. I will never see Xavi Hernandez receive and pass the ball again. That’s basically what he does, he receives the ball and he passes it. Xavi excels at receiving and passing a football like perhaps no man has ever done before. I would have regretted not getting a ticket to see a man receive and pass a football for one last time so there I stood, in Boca 541, row 29, seat 22 in between a Catalan season ticket holding husband and wife on my left and a family of Norwegian tourists on my right (you hold the blue banner up in the sky, dummy!). The mosaic was marvelous, and beneath my banner I sang the Cant del Barça from the top of my lungs.

mosaic

November 6, 2004: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-1

High up in the stands, I felt as if in Siberia instead of Catalunya as the wind ripped through my sweater. I looked at the two middle-aged Englishmen in front of me with unhealthy envy and imagined throwing them over the outer edge of the stadium after robbing one of them of his jacket. Nevertheless, I was happy. It was dark out and the stadium lights lit up the pitch. Plaza d’Europa had not been built yet – indeed, I had never even heard of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat – but I could see the monastery of Montserrat looking down on Barcelona from its surrounding hills.

The players had gone back to the dressing room, but not before offering me a detail that years later I would remember most from my first visit to the Camp Nou – Ronaldinho wearing golden boots and warming up separately from his teammates. Building up momentum for the match were video images on the giant screen on the other side of the stadium: Cruijff’s flying heel against Atletico, Maradona chipping a lob over (I believe Atletico’s) goalkeeper, Koeman’s free kick at Wembley and Rivaldo’s chilena that assured us of Champion’s League football but a few seasons ago. I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and further into my sweater and I rubbed them with my hands. I couldn’t wait.

——————-

May 23, 2015: F.C. Barcelona – Deportivo de la Coruña, 2-2

Upon his first touch, we broke out into applause and when he touched the ball a second, third, fourth and fifth time, too. Some of us kept up the applause for up to another 30-40 touches and at times we chanted “Xaaa-vi, Xaaa-vi, Xaaa-vi.” Of course, culers being culers, we grew tired of applauding as the first half was coming to its end. As for the Norwegian sitting next to me, I suppose he uses his hands sometimes, but just not for clapping (you’re at a football stadium, dummy!)

We applauded Vermaelen for his first four to five touches as well and we encouraged him whenever he did something noteworthy, like taking a shot or making an intervention. We gave Douglas some love when he came on, and I think the stadium would have exploded had he taken his chance and scored when the opportunity arose.

The nice thing about being champions was that although I still wanted us to go for a winning goal after Deportivo de la Coruña equalized, I felt no anguish about drawing the match. Most of us in the stadium stayed what we came for – the celebration of the league title and our goodbye to an extraordinary football player. Needless to say we had given Xavi a standing ovation when he was subbed out for Iniesta and we were all elated to see him – who else – pick up the trophy before all others. The players celebrated the championship with their families and it was nice to see their kids running and jumping through the confetti. It had gotten windy enough for some pieces of confetti to blow all the way up to where I stood so I caught some and put them in my wallet. Both Luis Enrique and Iniesta made a short speech, after which we watched some highlights of Xavi’s career. We cheered the goals on the giant screen, especially his 85-minute winner at the Bernabeu. When it was time for the captain to grab the mic, I dare say he was not the only one with a lump in his throat. Xavi made one last tour to give us all the chance to say goodbye. I clapped until my hands were sore and then some more.

xavi

I had not given it any thought previously but during the second half, that cold autumn night of more than a decade ago crossed my mind. It often feels as if I’ve lived a couple of lives since November, 2004 and there were a couple of years during which I wondered whether I would ever have the chance to come back to the stadium. Whenever I used to tell someone about the time I went to the Camp Nou, I called it my “pilgrimage.” I have since been married, divorced and married. I’ve lived in snow and in tropical heat. I’ve known wealth (though not immeasurable) and poverty (though not extreme). I’ve dined in the homes of Turkish transvestite prostitutes and dug for gold in the Andes with Aymara Indians. I am now of course on my greatest adventure of all – the one in which the hero tries to be a good husband to an awesome and beautiful wife and a good father to a wonderful and amazing daughter. She has her soci card and when I wear one of my Barça shirts she laughs and points at the emblem and yells “Ba,” which makes me feel I’m doing something right at least.*****

And so I thought back to my first time at the Camp Nou. I remember Ronaldinho’s golden boots and one or two pieces of magic that I wished I could have seen in slow motion replay.****** I remember going down one goal because of a mistake by left back Giovanni van Bronckhorst and I remember thinking, “oh my God, we can’t lose the one match I am finally in the stadium.” I remember cheering the goals during the second half comeback, even though I do not clearly remember the goals. And I remember being really, really, really impressed by one particular homegrown player. Not because he equalized in the second half – his goal was a consequence of the sequence of play rather than a moment of individual brilliance. It was plain to see, however, that this player was very special… I dare say, he was brilliant. What he did was, well, he was just brilliant.

He received and he passed the ball.

FC Barcelona v Los Angeles Galaxy

 

 

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*“Gràcies per tot” means “Thank you for everything.”

**This was before Ronaldinho had ever even made the move to Europe. No, I had not scouted the player intensively nor did I know him from whoscored.com, Sport / MD or Football Manager 2004. I simply had never forgiven Gaspart for selling “big” Ronaldo and since Barça has a penchant for Brazilian superstars I felt “little” Ronaldo would be Rivaldo’s natural successor. Like one of those things that you can’t explain, when I saw Ronnie in his nation’s yellow canary shirt, I knew he had to play for our club.

 ***Experience has taught me to wear a hat and/or sunglasses in the Camp Nou. If ever you go, I suggest you do likewise. Unless you sit on the side where the roof is.

 ****Greener. Ha… ha…ha.

***** “Ba” is “Barça.” My daughter excels at the first two letters of words. “Wa” can be both water and wallet. “Ti” means titty and teeth. “No” is no as well as nose. And so on and so on…

****** This was before YouTube.

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Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...

17 Comments

  1. hansh
    May 26, 2015

    This is beautiful, Levon, thank you so much for sharing. (Even though you’re making me tear up all over again!)

    One day I’ll make my own pilgrimage to the Camp Nou… Of course I’d love to do it while my favorite players of today are still featuring, but whenever I go it will be my team and I will love everyone who I get to see play.

    • May 27, 2015

      Thanks, hansh. I hope that day will come soon!

  2. Inamess
    May 26, 2015

    Very Nice Article Levon. Some footnotes :

    1) Super Depor to relegation gift: This is the 2004 Depor team that made the amazing comeback and almost won the CL if not for Mou’s Porto. For us, last Sunday was Xavi’s sendoff but for them one of the most important and exciting games in years. Go figure.

    2) We tend to see from 2004 – present as three Barcelona’s but might it in the future viewed as one Barcelona that only ends when we fail to win La Liga or get to the semi-finals of the CL for two years in a row. It’s an arbitrary standard but so would any other measure.

    3) Xavi and Dani go to PSG. First of all would it be a big deal if both did? It’s a marketing coup for them as well as bringing them instant credibility as a big club. Would Xavi and Dani’s experience make the difference for a CL campaign next year? I feel PSG has been our main rival these last few years in terms of signing players and clearly they want to become us. So why not have a staring lineup of previous Barca players and near signings: Marquinhos, Silva, Maxwell, Alves, Xavi, and Ibra.

  3. ooga aga
    May 26, 2015

    Gracias motorcito de Terrassa

  4. ooga aga
    May 27, 2015

    FIFA officials arrested for corruption by Swiss authorities in Zurich.

  5. Raj
    May 27, 2015

    Hi Levon, I am Happy… Very happy. “….I wear one of my Barça shirts she laughs and points at the emblem and yells “Ba,” ….” Thank you very much!

    • May 27, 2015

      Hahaha, she does the same when she sees a picture of one of our players and she claps when she hears the Cant Del Barça!

    • Raj
      May 27, 2015

      Hoping for a day wherein I will be reading your kid’s post here :)….

    • May 27, 2015

      Now that it seems, even 2010 WC was alotted under bribes, its possible FIFA might have got bribes, possibly for the first time for Under 17 WC, from India.
      Since nothing happens without a bribe in our country (:)), its possible FIFA was surprised by the generousness of Indian FA :). Its very unlikely FIFA must have got bribes for the youth WC, so.

    • Raj
      May 27, 2015

      We have enough strength to bribe anyone :(…. If bribe alone can allot WC in India, we can easily win the bid.

  6. ian_percival
    May 27, 2015

    Man utd agrees Nico Gaitan fee, guess van gaal is going with Argentina revolution this time. They’ve got Rojo,Di Maria,and Gaitan’s deal is almost done,plus their huge interest in Otamendi,it spells out his intentions. Sorry for the off topic though,just having that feeling that we’ve missed out on an exciting player,or maybe he’s not barca material,just saying. BTW Ronnie suggested we go for Coutinho and i think he’s right,young promising player,and he lived in Barcelona once,when he played for Espanyol. Just hope the board considers him. He would be a good replacement/understudy to iniesta.

    • May 27, 2015

      Gaitan was suggested as a big talent, some even look at him as a replacement for De Maria in the Albiceleste team. Going to MUnited should help him.
      And Otamandi, really, he was definitely within the best 3 cb in Spain this season.

  7. Doug
    May 27, 2015

    Wow Levon – excellent article. I’m sitting here in Cincinnati, OH, and you made me tear up.

    • May 27, 2015

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. ian_percival
    May 27, 2015

    I think coutinho will be very good for us

  9. georgjorge
    May 27, 2015

    Congratulations to Sevilla and Emery (sadly no Denis Suarez in sight). I just like them!

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