Magic and Mayhem: My first visit to Camp Nou

(This is a guest post from someone you should follow on Twitter, @barcelista. This is an account of their first Camp Nou visit, an extraordinary experience for any culer, graciously chronicled here for us to live vicariously through. Enjoy!)

It starts as a dream, as a kid watching Barca from Lebanon on grainy, pirated cable bought through the guy next door, and over the years grows into an ache, a desperation to make it to Camp Nou. Finally managing it this year was a whirlwind: uncontainable anticipation, anxiety and everything in between leading up to it, and then the crazy rollercoaster that was Barca 4-2 Sevilla. FC Dramalona really couldn’t have given me anything less for my first live match and I’m still reeling.

Many have described the experience as akin to a pilgrimage and it really does feel that way. I don a Barca shirt and make my way first to the Plaça de Catalunya, site of many a Barca celebration and fan congregation. Across the street is the Nuria restaurant that used to be La Rambla, the newspaper run by Josep Sunyol before he became FCB president. Fans would gather here to follow games in those pre-television days as he had large blackboards up on which the Barca score would be written as it was wired in. The nearby Canaletes drinking fountain is a fixture of Barca celebrations and its inscribed legend says that if you drink from it, you will return to Barcelona. I fill a bottle, and continue to the stadium.

It’s some kind of feeling to be one of nearly eighty-nine thousand on the night, thronging through the streets and filling the grounds of Camp Nou, everyone with this team in our hearts.

I’m fortunate to be sitting in the Tribuna (premium) section for the match, near the front and just to the side of the Barca bench, in full view of Valverde in his trademark squat. I get there early, the stadium still filling up. It is dizzying: the massive MES QUE UN CLUB on the opposite stands; the Almogavers in the Gol Nord with their steady drumbeat and never-still flags – they will go into different singing, clapping, jumping renditions all match long, echoed back from different points of the stadium; the vast immaculate green pitch; the cheer that erupts as the team runs out to warm up; the swell of the Barca anthem and pride of singing along.

It is so surreal to see all the players there in the flesh. We joke that Barca has small players but from where I’m sitting they feel so huge, larger than life. Pique in all his height and glory, right there. Ter Stegen flashing around his goal practicing saves. Messi facing me as he runs alongside Suarez. In front of my eyes. It’s a little bit breathtaking.

And the thing about Messi is, he is everything, so much so that a match where he only played seventeen minutes still ends up being all about him, the heartstrings of every person in this massive stadium tied to that man.

Before kickoff Messi presents his La Liga player of the month award to our cheers. The whistle goes and he is off like a whirlwind, assisting Coutinho in the second minute. It happens so fast, I’m barely settling in to the excitement of the match starting before I’m screaming and leaping up to celebrate with the masses all around me.

The match

The team is on fire those opening minutes and it’s everything you could hope for, aafter having come so far to see them play. In the direction they’re attacking for that first half, the sideline I’m sitting on is the Barça right wing. It’s an incredible vantage point from which to see Semedo give an absolute killer performance, Pique play his heart out despite visibly pushing through some pain, Messi work his magic. Minute 12 Messi scores Barca’s second and we are screaming again, all the nervousness about how this match — a huge test for a recently struggling Barca against an in-form Sevilla right after international break — would go, now completely dissipated. Barca is owning this. Messi is running this. He celebrates joyfully to the camera as we trade our screams for applause. His shirt has been torn in the front at some point; he comes up to the Barca bench, right in front of me, met with even more applause, takes it off and pulls on another. He is visibly buzzing and happy, and it just makes your heart sing to see him like that.

Then five minutes later, the turning point. Messi goes down, near the sideline I am sitting on but in the other half, off the Sevilla bench. We in the stands leap up, calling for a foul, but our protests quickly die down in horror as we see how he is writhing so much, in real pain. Messi never embellishes fouls so it is instantly terrifying to see him like that. He also hasn’t been injured in three years and has started to feel invincible to us. You never expect this to happen, and it is the worst nightmare of this entire stadium, almost ninety thousand people now fearfully watching with bated breath.

The world stops

Play stops, players and ref checking on him. My heart is racing as the medics run onto the pitch. Valverde rises from his squat, looking on from his box. At some point play resumes but I don’t remember exactly when; unable to look away from where the medics are working on him, their backs to me blocking the view of what’s happening. That’s the worst part — with no TV close-up or replay, just seeing him there in agony yards away, not knowing what it is that’s wrong. All I can think, based on how much he is in pain, is it’s hamstring, it’s his knee, it’s the worst.

Dembele and Rafinha start warming up. My hands are over my face and my eyes are welling up with tears. The longer it goes on, medics still working on him, Valverde alternatively glancing between him and the ongoing gameplay, the worse the fear and concern. And Barca are playing with 10 men for what feels like ages, with Messi lying incapacitated just beside them. The atmosphere in the stadium has shifted and you can feel the players’ distraction, but they hold it together fantastically during that time, which to me feels like the most immense thing they did all night.

The Camp Nou sings and chants for Messi. Eventually I see one of the medics turn to Valverde and signal for a substitution, which after so much time is startling. I had thought a substitution was definitely imminent, especially with the subs already warming up, but it seems they took their time to absolutely rule Messi out from continuing — because that’s Messi.

When they do get Messi up and his bandaged arm becomes visible, the relief of: arm, not leg, is enormous.

Resilience

Dembele comes in and I can focus more on the match now, though I remain in tears through halftime. Busquets takes a ball to the gut, goes down and stays down too long, the Camp Nou singing Buuuusi, Buuuusi. Pique detours to the sideline for a drink, grimacing as he clutches his back and neck, which he continues to do all match, clearly dealing with some pain. It all just feels like too many blows, too much of our players suffering in a short space of time, and I’m a bit overwhelmed.

But there is such a resilience to the team during this time as well, a feeling that they are not about to let this match go wrong after such a strong start just because they’ve lost Messi, and they step up massively to keep things going. After halftime we’re all a bit more composed and ready to take on the second half.

It’s not hard to get caught up in the atmosphere of a rallying Camp Nou: the protests on every ref call and completely deafening whistles on both Suarez penalty shouts, everyone on their feet when he’s awarded the second, erupting when he scores; the applause at every move a player pulls off, and every move he doesn’t; chants of every player’s name when something happens to him; different songs and Independencia chants interspersed throughout; the absolutely epic slow-to-fast clapping buildup the Gol Nord gives for every freekick. The section I’m sitting in seems to have a lot of older socis and season-ticket holders and I’m flanked by two older, somewhat fussily-dressed ladies and it is amazing to see them getting worked up, yelling at a player or the ref, celebrating a goal.

Ter Stegen gives us an absolute masterclass which is an unimaginable delight to see in person, saves celebrated as if they were goals. Coutinho is pushing so hard and punches the air in frustration at one point at a missed shot. We concede one but then Rakitic beautifully volleys in another and it feels good to yell and celebrate again. At 4-1 now some of the fans who no doubt are in here week in week out go “Right, I’m good” and start to leave; unthinkable to me but it does mean a lot of space frees up where I’m sitting, so that when a ball comes sailing into the stands it bounces off the empty seats and into my arms, and I somehow knew it would, as if everything that could happen in this match was absolutely going to happen. A young boy behind me asks for the ball and I toss it to him to toss back to the pitch. The rest of the match plays out in a mad back and forth between the two teams where Sevilla get another, but Barca sit prettily at 4-2 by fulltime. The whistle goes, the Barca anthem starts to play, we sing along and break into applause. It’s been an absolutely crazy night.

The come down

As the team flows back into the tunnel and fans start to leave, I linger as long as I can, taking it all in. Pique speaks to the press at the sideline and young boys in the stands near me scream out to him, asking for his shirt. Rafinha alone runs out onto the emptied field. He had peeled the Captain’s armband off of the immobilized Messi and warmed up to take his place, but ultimately returned to the bench. Now he takes over the pitch, kicking a ball around and running some drills, as if to vent his pent-up energy from the match, and I feel that so much. The groundskeepers come on to tend to the grass, moving around him.

The emotions run so high as I finally leave Camp Nou, passing by and paying homage to the statue of Kubala on the grounds, and head into the perfect Barcelona night. Just taking in everything that had happened, the joy of this team compounded with the sadness about Messi. The club is quick to release his prognosis, and the fact that it’s so much less severe than initially feared is a relief. Even if he’ll miss the next couple of matches; even if seeing him was a big part of my drive to finally make it to Barcelona for the first time. But if this had to happen, still he did everything he possibly could have in the short time he was on the pitch; assisting, scoring, a magnificent seventeen minutes.

Champions League finale (bonus Rafinha)

It’s funny how things end up working out though. Rafinha is a player I am a big fan of and one who I never thought I would get to see start and score in his possibly limited time left at Barca, yet Messi’s injury meant that there he was in the starting lineup, in a Champions League match no less, when I was back at Camp Nou for the Inter match a few days later. This time I was sitting in the lateral midsection, in the U of the UN of MES QUE UN CLUB; facing the benches and among a younger faction of the fanbase that was a lot more animated, yelling and reacting to the gameplay. It was fantastic to be among them.

There was Messi, sitting off the Barca bench with his son. I caught wind that Rafael Marquez, an all-time favorite of mine, was also at the match and it felt exciting just to know he was there. Goosebumps as the Champions League anthem played. Minute 1, Camp Nou sang Messi’s name. Barca came out in full force and put on a brilliant show. Rafinha scored and my heart swelled, jumping, screaming, applauding. When he was subbed off we were all on our feet, clapping and singing his name, Rafinha, Rafiiiinha. And the same again for Arthur, who was sensational all night. It was so incredible to be a part of that outpouring of love and support for these players in that stadium. Alba scored his banger right in front of me as my yelling at him to shoot turned into a celebratory scream. 2-0, Barca completely shut Inter down, everything was beautiful and I was buzzing all night.

It is an indescribable feeling to be in Camp Nou, to watch these masterful players and be a part of it all. It’s surreal, it’s magic, it’s pride and beauty, it’s so much love. And what an incredible first — but surely not last — visit. Gracies Barca, and hopefully, as is written on the stadium exit: see you soon.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

18 Comments

  1. October 31, 2018

    Thank You for this wonderful description. I felt like I was there. 🙂

  2. October 31, 2018

    Beautiful Description Of Such Amazing Experience! Read It With Tears Welling Up My Eyes! Thanks So Much For Sharing This! Look Forward To Having This Camp Nou Experience Some Day Soon!!!! Gracias!!!

  3. mvarfi
    October 31, 2018

    Thank you for this touching prelude!
    Once in Barcelona, my itinerary to Camp Nou will be the same as yours come April 7th. My first time!

  4. Khing_prince
    October 31, 2018

    One word for this article, “heart-stringing”…..iVisca el barca!

  5. Jim
    October 31, 2018

    Yippee! A Samper sighting !

    Hope he can still walk. He must be about 30 now. Probably lost a yard as well

    • Jim
      October 31, 2018

      That is just so sad and unfair for a young lad. I hate to see careers ruined by injury. It seems so random.

      • Jassper
        October 31, 2018

        Its so disheartening to see him unable to play till further notice AGAIN!!… He’s our own wilshere..

  6. luisthebeast
    October 31, 2018

    Not impressed by Dembele and this Malcom guy.Against Segunda level defenders i expected our wingers to be great at 1 vs 1 but i did not saw that.
    Alena was good but cant tell that he can be good vs big guys.
    Miranda still too young.

  7. ooga aga
    October 31, 2018

    bummed for samper.

    we had a good month of October id say.

    we beat tottenham, sevilla, inter and real mandrill by a combined score of 15 – 5.

    show me a better team in the world.

  8. TITO
    November 1, 2018

    Dembele was again a walking disaster.
    I was impressed by their pressing and aggressiveness, of course they had a point to prove, and it lasted until middle of the second half when they burned out.
    Nevertheless, some mistakes that we made in simple passing when under pressure where childish (Munir, Dembele, Denis, Semedo …). I was especially frustrated with Dembele because he continued with the same attitude from the last games.
    I don’t care if it is a cup match and the desire is not the same, if this goes on, he needs to go. Otherwise, sit down with him and give him a good “talk” about what it means to represent this club. I wont judge Malcom because he almost didn’t had any minutes prior to this game. He needs games. Only the cup is not enough.
    On the other hand, i was glad with Vidal and those kids in the back. Alena can also be a very good player, few mistakes he made are just something that can be fixed with time and experience.

  9. squeen
    November 1, 2018

    Hmm. Last year our bench was solely at this play-level and it was a bit rough for the starters basically having to play every game. Thankfully it’s a bit better this year (but then you get the opposite extreme of fans complaining because they think a player on the bench should be in the game—still that’s a better position to be in as a club).

    Semedo and Lenglet looked class to me. Vidal too, but despite his tenacity, he still hasn’t quite adapted to Barca’s style. Alena looked decent too (at times).

    …but is is so hard to player for the best team in the world. Honestly, there is almost zero tolerance for losing the ball as a result of opponent pressure. I mean, yeah, sometimes Barca takes a CALCULATED risk and tries to penetrate, and sometimes that doesn’t pan out and we lose possession, but it just looks stupid when the defenders pressure the player of the ball and he coughs it up before a chance is even created. That’s the whole Positional Play thing, right? There is almost always an outlet, and if you fail to use it and lose the ball without having even made it to the dangerous spaces, then most of the time its on you for poor judgment.

    These guys were bought for their talents (speed, strength, foot-skills, etc.), but it always remains to be seen how smart they will be in the Barca system—because you can’t observe them in that system before you buy them (because for the most part it doesn’t exist elsewhere). Everything depends on your teammates.

    He’s a small bit of math. If your team is only 75% accurate per pass, what is the chance of stringing together 5 passes? Only 23.7% (i.e. 0.75 ^ 5). If you are at Barca and your teammates and you are 95% accurate with your passing, then the chance of keeping the ball after 5 passes is 77.4%. That’s a very different play-environment.

  10. squeen
    November 1, 2018

    Sorry a bit more leaking out of my head….

    I begin to wonder how much of Dembele’s career (youth, other clubs) were the coaches guility of using him in a “just-get-the-ball-to Dembele-and-let-him-run-with-it” manner. I say this because he seems very astute in the last 20-meters, but seriously ignorant anywhere else on the pitch. Even his dribbles/take-ons fail him in tight spaces. He only seems to thrive in yards of space or when he has forced a defender into some sort of state of advanced momentum. Also, he shows a bit of contempt for the pass-to-teammate. It’s often a sloppy outside-of-the-foot flick, like “Hmphf! I’m stuck. Here, you take it. WHATEVER.”.

    In his defense, a lot of world-class attackers/strikers have found it difficult when forced out to the Barca wings. I don’t think Henry or Villa particularly enjoyed it. It’s a weird space to be sure.

    Perhaps one of Suarez’s most amazing gifts is his ability to adapt and invent inside that weird space of being a Barca striker—sliding from side-to-side of the pitch, dropping deep for wall passes, being an outlet for the keeper’s clearnace balls, reinvigorating the art of the dummy, and bamboozling defenders solely with movement. The guy (who’s profile I thought was an anathema to the Club’s squeaky-clean image) has impressed me with his deference to Messi, team spirit, club loyalty (NEVER talks about leaving, or complains about the coach), and work ethic. I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: I think every Culer should give a small thanks to Suarez for Messi being a one-club player (fingers crossed) and playing with renewed joy on the field after what seemed like a darker time for him before Suarez’s arrival when too much of the attacking onus was on his shoulders (and he was embroiled in legal matters). Eveyone needs a buddy. I love the images of Messi as babysitter to Suarez’s kid and the two of habitually playing cards when the team travels..

    • georgjorge
      November 1, 2018

      Wow, lots of very interesting thoughts from you. Thanks!

      Regarding Suarez, it really seems as if he runs all game long to do all the things you mentioned above. But he usually doesn’t even have the highest distance per match, so I guess he’s very good at picking his moments and running smartly. Which puts all the “Suarez can’t press” comments a bit into perspective.

      Démbéle is really worrying in a team context. He doesn’t seem to improve, and doesn’t seem to care. Only those on the inside can know if it’s down to his youth and inexperience, or if his skills don’t fit the system anyway. But remember that Xavi said in an interview that he was “shocked” when he saw how little Abidal understood about the Barca system when he arrived, and he became one of the best in his position.

      • TITO
        November 1, 2018

        Maybe i will sound too harsh, but Dembele’s football intelligence cannot be compared to Abidal’s. At least to what i see on the pitch.
        Maybe im not the one to judge it, but that’s how i see it, unfortunatelly.

  11. Jim
    November 1, 2018

    Ok, I struggled to find a stream last night for the game and didn’t really see anything until about 30/40 minutes in ( in fact just as Samper left the field). So what I saw was limited.

    What I did see though was something not much better than a Scottish league game, lots of running about and pressing but nobody able to string passes together. I was upset about Samper ( calf injury and a month out but maybe not a surprise given the amount of time he has been out. I remember Messi having secondary injuries way back) so maybe that coloured my view, I reckon that a few of our side just haven’t played any matches so we’re totally rusty ( and that’s an issue) but it was seriously unimpressive to me. Disjointed and rushed for me.

    That wasn’t a Barca side. There were a few bright spots. I think Miranda looked okay but didn’t look like he valued possession, I could see what Kxevin sees in Alena ( I thought he looked the most up for the game and keen to go forward and carry the ball through the ones but maybe not great defensively ) but otherwise what are we doing with our youngsters? We looked a typical back to front second tier Spanish side, at best. Disappointed I didn’t see Puig ( where was he?)

    Then today I come across this.

    http://www.espn.co.uk/soccer/barcelona/story/3686535/barcelona-legend-xavi-voices-la-masia-concerns-after-joan-vila-departure

    I’m now concerned. Xavi knows what he’s talking about when it comes to our style of play and he hasn’t been one of those former players who take delight in slagging their club. So when he tells us that something is going wrong I think we should at least sit up,and listen. For me, Barto needs to get him in and casting an eye over the running of La Masia . I’ve only seen this game and bits of B on a poor stream but I’m not seeing the Barca style anywhere. If anyone has a better understanding of the Bs please let me know and put me right.

  12. mvarfi
    November 1, 2018

    I was more curious than nervous about the game. Didn’t particularly like Leonesa’s rough approach, so I was relieved that Puig didn’t come on at all. It would have been too much to see him physically thrashed. His guile and quick feet may have saved him most of the time, but some of the opponents looked a bit massive or too thuggish for me. Perhaps I’m underestimating his strength.
    I share Jim’s sentiments about the play. Barcelona’s man of the match was Cillessen. I know he’s 29, but he always amazes me that he is capable of maintaining his brilliant form despite playing once in a blue moon. Lucky to have two stellar goalies, whose demeanor I love.
    I’ll not dwell much on a match that looked like a dress rehearsal performed by impatient understudies. Still, a point of reference was established for the underused players, which is good. We should see a better performance come December 5th.

    • mvarfi
      November 1, 2018

      PS. Samper’s situation is heartbreaking.

    • squeen
      November 2, 2018

      I’ll second appreciation for Cillessen. I love that guy’s attitude. We are lucky.

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