It was the September weekend holiday and, at the last minute, I'd headed over to Barcelona for a few days sun and sangria with my long suffering wife - the real bonus for her being there would no likelihood of me being crabbit on a Saturday evening after attending a Killie game! It turned out that our hotel was near Placa de Espanya and next door to a historic bull ring which had been converted into a chic shopping, dining and cinema complex - which also contained a FC Barcelona club shop! I then discovered the European Champions were at home on the Sunday evening: could there possibly be tickets left and how would a game at the Camp Nou compare to the match experience at the "Theatre of Pies?
Tickets could either be bought on-line and printed out or from one of the club shops - so just Iike Killie there were to be no cash turnstiles. As for price comparisons, the game was a standard La Liga match against Valencia's Levante; even so the cheapest seats (on the top tier behind the goals) started at about £30. Seats similar to the Beattie or East Stands were around £70-75 each. Clearly Barça does not follow the German pricing!
Ticket bought I set off after checking a route on the Metro. The trains were packed and I actually felt I was in London heading out to Wembley to see England v Scotland as I was surrounded by English football fans. Helpfully, I told them which stations to use. Walking to the ground it did have the feel of heading to an international game at Hampden - but with even more attending! Unlike Kilmarnock on a match day the roads were really busy but the tram service seemed quiet for some reason - perhaps they used the same contractors as Edinburgh? It was noticeable that bikes or mopeds seemed to be another way of getting there - quite different from any Scottish ground.
I passed the gates leading to La Masia - the Barça youth academy which has produced the likes of Fabregas, Alba, Xavi, Iniesta and of course Lionel Messi. Ah well, Killie has had Hooky, the Fow, Canero, Boyd and Naismith. Next stop was the impressive main club shop where amongst lots of memorabilia and strips two sets of "dummies" line up in the home and away kits. It did make the Killie shop feel rather small.Some folk will already know that the Camp Nou does have things in common with Scotland's national stadium : they have both hosted European club finals and, rather bizarrely, both playing surfaces are lower than the ground outside.
So down I went to enter the stadium which I found rather strange. Anyone who has visited the Camp Nou can't fail to be impressed with the sheer size and scale of the 1950's built stadium. However it is now looking rather "tired" and since the vast majority of seats have no shelter I'd doubt how practical it is during parts of a Catalonian winter. At least Rugby Park provides shelter for most fans. There were clearly fellow Scots at the game as a Saltire was spotted behind Ter Stegen's goal in the first half.
The first half was, in all honesty, a bit of a bore and a non-event. I did feel cheated that Barça had rested Alba, Pique, Matthieu, Iniesta and Suarez. They clearly play what our Chairman aspires to - "The Killie Way"- ball retention is everything and they often play it across the park, back again, backwards and start again probing for an opening. Whilst longer balls are played across the park and into channels for runners there was no "hoof ball" up to a striker to flick on or try and control. I can only wonder what some Killie fans would make of it as they still can be heard shouting "Get rid of it" to some of our players at Rugby Park.
Levante had restricted the home side to a couple of shots in the first half but like a bull in Spain in years gone by they were put to the sword and slaughtered in the second half. A devine chip from the sublime left foot of Messi (playing in a deeper Iniesta type role) was superbly controlled by Masai graduate centre back Marc Bartra who finished like a striker. The fleet footed (and easy to knock over) Neymar scrambled the second before going down for the referee to award a penalty which was lashed home by Messi - kind of like Higgy's at Tannadice! 3-0 and seemingly cruising so Barca replaced the influential Sergio Busquets with young Guamba. A few minutes later the unthinkable happened - Levante scored after Ter Stegen came and flapped at a cross ball leaving an easy chance for - to score to stunned silence.
Some Barça fans were getting restless and their angst wasn't eased when Messi blasted another penalty over the bar after he'd been tripped and held back during one of his trademark surging runs. The game then fizzled out with the fans losing interest and amusing themselves with every tier taking part in a Mexican wave. Having missed his second penalty of the season little Messi redeemed himself by scoring with a couple of minutes remaining.
Unlike being a Killie fan, it must be a strange experience turning up to every game expecting your team to win. Like Killie, the current Barça side does not seem as strong as it was a few years ago - it also lacks some strength in depth just Killie. However, unlike the lads from Rugby Park expect Barca to still challenge for Spanish domestic honours and reach the latter stages of the Champions League. As for entertainment and value...I'd suggest paying no more than 50-60 euros for your ticket to see the likes of Messi and Neymar. Maybe you'll be lucky and actually see a full strength Barca side!
P.S. Surprisingly Barça were then duly gubbed by the same scoreline in their next game away to Celta Vigo!