La Liga First Timers
Three Aussies take Camp Nou for the first time. This is our experience.
In my recent travels I discovered the Portuguese have a word called saudade. Saudade is a longing to return to some place or some person to have the same feeling you once had. There’s no direct translation in English – hence why you need a whole scenario to explain it. But this word has to be one of my favourites. The truth is, we all experience saudade for something. Whether you’re thinking back to an experience you had with someone and want to go back to that very moment, or it’s a place – like Camp Nou was for me – this longing is a universal feeling.
Moving to Barcelona in a pursuit for all things football sparks this saudade as I go back to places I have been before, chasing that same feeling of awe that I had the first time.
The first time I went to Camp Nou, it was for a tour of the stadium. I was utterly and completely overcome with admiration. Okay, I know it’s a large man-made structure, but you have to think about what it represents, not just what it is. Even with no people in the stadium, you can feel the intensity. Walking through the stands and the change rooms, you’re surrounded by a history of legendary players, notions of civil war and a fight for independence that roots itself so deep in Catalan history. It’s overwhelming to be completely honest. You don’t need to be a Barcelona or even a football fan to feel it and be struck by its intensity.
But what I felt this second time was even better.
October 6 2019, I was with May and Michael, two friends who happened to be with me on the same weekend in Barcelona and who both share a passion for FC Barcelona. You might remember May from the Anfield experience… I guess you could say she is my designated football companion (grateful to have one!) Michael has been my friend for many years, always bonding over our love for football. His love for Barca runs (almost) as deep as my love for Liverpool. We knew it was going to be a special night for us all, but especially for these two Aussies who had dedicated so much of their lives to the Catalan football club.
As we walked through the gates of Camp Nou, drums were banging suspenseful beats outside the stadium. The beat synchronised with our pounding hearts as we made our way with anticipation through the crowds. I could hear Catalan and Spanish, a little English too. We weren't the only first timers, that’s for sure. Something that sets Camp Nou apart from my Anfield experience is the accessibility of tickets. It encourages people from far and wide to come and experience Spanish football. For a football club that could afford to seat only members, I respect this a lot.
The three of us entered the stadium in our Barcelona jerseys*, like kids in a candy store our eyes lit up. Camp Nou was more full of eagerness and excitement than it was people, and for a stadium that seats over 99,000 that says a lot. Seats that climb as high as the clouds were full of people from all walks of life. Blue, garnet, red and white all swaying in synchronisation around the stadium. Endless rows of jerseys and flags that should have clashed because of their rivalry, instead created a vibrant tidal wave of colours around Camp Nou.
As we had made our way to our seats we noticed that despite the alcohol-free beer and the bocadillos de jamon instead of meat pies, the stadium still smelt so incredibly reminiscent of the ones we knew from home. It oozed a sense of familiarity, which is a special feeling when you are so far from your childhood memories of the meat pies or hot chips you ate in the stands at ANZ stadium. We fought the urge to eat the jamon and stuck to our waters. Hydration was key for a game like this.
We were now in our seats and FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC were on the pitch. We saw Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Ousame Dembele… the list goes on. This was iconic. What was only match-day 8 out of 38 felt so intense for an Australian who had never sat amongst the energy of La Liga before. Michael, all starry eyed, couldn't believe he was seeing his football hero Leo Messi for the first time. A local hero in Barcelona, an international football icon everywhere else. Recently injured, it was an honour to see him play. What a feeling to be breathing the same air as him. As a Liverpool fan, seeing Suarez was just as cool. He was the guy who put FC Barcelona on the map for me so many years ago. It might even be the reason I ended up falling in love with this city. Gracias, Luis.
A bicycle kick from Suarez, a classic free kick from Messi, stunning shots by Vidal and Dembele. Sevilla battled hard too, with an incredible first half. Two red cards and a few yellows to keep the crowd on their toes. Final score: 4-nil to Barca. We could not have asked for a better game from FC Barcelona and for our first La Liga experience. A dream come true for any football fan.
We left the stadium as soon as the game finished, walking for an hour all the way back to my apartment on the other side of the city, spotting Barca fans all the way. They were like confetti all over the city in their blue and garnet jerseys. By 1am we had found ourselves at a Syrian restaurant, stomachs rumbling and ready for a well-earned meal. Sitting and savouring our shawarma, falafel and hummus, some other Barca fans had walked in - they had the same idea. The owner of the restaurant started asking us all about the game. As we talked in Spanglish, explaining our feelings towards the game and trying to articulate our excitement, my mind trailed off... I thought to myself; this is exactly what I moved to Spain for.
*I pledge no allegiance during Champions League, I promise!