Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

Saturday morning at around 10 am we began the trek towards Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona. The greatest club soccer team of all time had a nighttime game against a team from Mallorca and our goal was tickets. Camp Nou is on the outer fringe of Barcelona's city center a thirty minute metro ride. Camp Nou towers over the surrounding apartment buildings and office complexes. The stoic, grey building is ringed with flags and fences appearing more as a fortress than a stadium.

Lines stretch out from two of the windows and through the snaking lines slither ticket scalpers. They peer through the smoke of their cigarettes using it as a magnifying glasses to size you up before making their pitch. "American? 2 tickets, no? Together? See? Nice seats. Best available. For you, cuarenta y cinca."

This haggling and investigation continues until you step up to the ticket window. Seats are available in the upper decks, standing room only the ticket agent says. Then after a pause of an eternity, "There are also seats throughout the stadium," he finishes. You are here once. Unlike an NFL or NBA game, at a soccer match, the action is only on the field. There are very few video screens. No cheerleaders shooting free pizza coupons out of air cannons. No point in playing this one safe. You are pot committed at this point so you take two seats in the lower second level along the sideline. For 90 Euro a piece, less than probably half the cost of a like seat in the Superdome, this is the view you get. 

Barca, as the fans shout throughout the game, is the best team mainly because they have the best player, Lionel Messi. Trying to explain how good of a player Messi is to Lindsay was proving difficult. "How can anyone be that good at soccer? No one ever scores. Is this going to be boring?" Lindsay said.

Messi's play explains his greatness more than words could ever hope. Within thirty minutes of kickoff, Messi had scored three goals and almost two more. Before halftime, he would assist on fourth. The second half saw him continue to command the attention of the 90,000 or so fans in the stadium. Watching Messi play soccer is the same as listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing. There is no effort in either of their talents. No reaching, no hustle, no need to practice long hours, and nothing attempted - only things done. 

Watching Messi on television does not explain how good he is. It fails to capture his aloofness off the ball. He stands or roams wherever he wants. He looks around like a child on the playground may follow a butterfly. He seems far away from the action, almost disengaged. He is short, squat, and boyish; out of place on a field surrounded by nimble men.

But suddenly the ball is on his foot and in an instant things are happening. Where a moment before a defender or two blanketed him with coverage, he has left them behind. He glides through defenses as if they were French soldiers. Messi rifles a shot on frame before the crowd has a chance to start their "Messsssssssiiii....Messssssssssssiiii" chant. When a ball slips past the keeper, the crown erupts in a startled howl. They turn to each other, palms upturned, as if to say, "What else do you expect from Messi?" It was simply the greatest display of athleticism I have ever witnessed. 

In New Orleans Drew Brees is a great football player. Brees is also great person, by all accounts. This city has adopted him as one of our own. But in Barcelona, it goes much further than that. Barca's fans collectively gave birth to Messi. They claim him as their flesh, their blood, their savior. Messi is the great deliverer, their warrior to combat the evil lords of Real Madrid. Messi came to Barcelona by divine intervention. How else does it happen? This boy they plucked from Argentina attracted to FC Barcelona by the promise of treatment for a growth deficiency. That boy develops into the greatest football player of all time. A miracle, no doubt. Of this they are all certain. And he is theirs. All theirs. And like any parent, whatever this child does fills their hearts with immense pride. 

The game would end in a four nil win for Barca. The crowd, intoxicated by the drug that is Messi, cheering throughout and engaged always. Their eyes never leave the field. There are no bathroom breaks, no commercials for car parts or grocery stores, and no video speedboat races. Just football and Messi. The two separated because the latter plays a game much different from the former. They spill out of the stadium hugging, laughing, and recounting the game. They are heading home, to a girlfriend's house, or to a bar. It is 10:30 at night, we are going to dinner. 


RBPoBoy said...

But can you buy a $7 lukewarm hot dog and an $8 Bud light like in the Dome?

Rene said...

Canned Estrella (3 Euro) and thin sliced hard sausage on a roll ((4 Euro or so). There are hotdogs though. Not cheap, but cheaper than the Mercedes Benz Superdome

docsconz said...

Great post, Rene! There is nothing like watching Barca play at Camp Nou. Messi is the greatest and you have captured the spirit completely. I spent a small fortune last spring to take my sons to a game and were rewarded with seeing Messi score his 50th goal of the season - magic!

NOLA said...

Rene, fantastic. I went to Camp Nou a couple of summers ago and took a tour. Amazing place...and I've been to 21-plus football stadiums and countless basketball arenas...Camp Nou was still incredible. I just wish I'd gotten to see a match there.