“Alé alé, alé alé, Força Barcelona alé” — this is the raucous chant that reverberated through the Nou Camp when I put my foot in. Ah, the Camp Nou, home to my club, FC Barcelona and might I even add, the home of football. ❤
Before I even started planning my trip to Paris for my internship, I knew I had to travel to Barcelona. Being a huge Barça fan, no way I was going to miss a chance to visit Barcelona. The plans waned at times throughout when I couldn’t find a good time to visit since there were no matches. But luckily just before I was leaving Europe, Joan Gamper Trophy between Barca and Boca Juniors was supposed to happen and hence without wasting a single seco`nd, I booked my tickets and started planning for my trip :D My cousin brother who also is a Barça fan and had traveled to Barcelona before helped me identify must-visit places and plan my travel. I planned to travel alone and spend 5 days in Barcelona.
I took an SNCF train from Paris to Barcelona which actually was a nice experience. I reached Barcelona around 10 in the morning and went directly to my hostel.
The first two days of my stay in Barcelona, I explored this historic city, visited all the famous places including La Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, Park Guell, Plaça Sant Felip Neri, took a cycle tour, clicked a lot of pictures, ate a lot of tapas and grew a beer-belly :D
To my surprise, Bengaluru FC who were on their Pre-season tour at Spain were also supposed to play Barcelona B at the Mini Estadi. I was so lucky to watch Chettri, Gurpreet and my favorite Indian team play in Barcelona. Since this was a preseason match, entry to this match was free :D Amongst a lot of Spanish fans, there stood a small group of enthusiastic Indians who were singing, dancing and supporting BFC. Hahaha, what an amazing experience it was.
The next day was supposed to be THE day. It was a sunny day and I was surrounded by thousands of fellow football devotes from all around the world. The atmosphere was one of a family day out — almost no-one was scowling. Once inside the Nou Camp, I stood watching video highlights of ‘Barcelona’s greatest goals’. I sighed out loud at an 8-year old for not pressing ‘play again’ on the video board showing Ronaldinho’s overhead kick. I had the feeling I was being a smidgen petulant. The cabinets stuffed full with every cup my club could get their hands on. The kids, mini Messi-s everywhere, were in their element. Posing on their dads’ shoulders for photos with the glistening trophies, taking selfies in the commentary booths and pointing towards like their idols do.
Messi is my favorite player ever, but my admiration for him goes a lot deeper than his greatness. It’s emotional. He’s my hero and role model, a big reference point for me; both in football and just life in general. He is fouled, often, and he never seems to milk it. There is a nobility to his game. A lifetime of being hacked down by inferior defenders hasn’t hardened him. It is just part of the job. When he got taken down, there never seemed to be any rage, just a vague feeling of being perturbed that the defender hadn’t let him continue to move with the ball at his feet, the thing that clearly gives Messi the most joy in the world. He plays the game beautifully and it looks, at least from my seat, like it brings him meaning. And that, in some weird way that’s hard to explain but I suspect other Messi fans will understand, gives me meaning.
There was a special area dedicated to the GOAT, Leo Messi, where you can see his Golden Boot awards and watch videos of his brilliant goals. After seeing the trophies, I moved to see the panoramic view of the stadium. Oh man, it was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe that I was at the Camp Nou, the same place where the likes of Koeman, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Abidal, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Pedro, Iniesta, Messi played.
The tour of the Museum was just fantastic and after the tour, I had to leave the stadium to grab some food and get ready for the match.
It was an unbelievable time taking the metro lines in with fans in their jerseys and scarves and Catalan flags out and about. Walking into Camp Nou was an experience I’ll never forget. There is an energy that I can’t describe. As far as the anthem goes, I literally got goosebumps. It was an incredible experience to have almost everyone at the match singing the anthem and seeing the Catalan flags being waved around. It was loud. Everyone joined in. Unbelievable experience. I was in Messi jersey with Indian flag all around me and had a Barca scarf which I held high when the anthem was playing and felt like I was a part of it.
Since it was the first official match of the season at Camp Nou, all the players were introduced to the fans with their official numbers this season and Messi was supposed to give his debut speech as a captain.
The stadium was filled with “MESSSSI, MESSSSSSI, MESSSSSSSSSSSSSI” chants and I am not being emotional here, but I shed a few tears when I saw him. Messi’s speech included his disappointment in not winning the CL last year and he promised to do everything possible to bring that beautiful trophy back to Camp Nou again.
Barcelona eased to a 3–0 win over Boca Juniors thanks to Messi’s chip, and Malcom — Rafinha goals. But one of the promising things was to see Riqui Puig, the 19-year-old wonder boy who looked like a ball boy play the match alongside the likes of Suarez, and Dembele.
I could write for days about this trip, but I’ll end with this: I am so glad I said YES to something my heart was telling me to do because it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. In a world where we constantly feel the need to connect, share and publish (or at least I do), taking the time to step back, be still, and soak up a moment or a day or a feeling just for YOU is such a special gift. I left this trip feeling empowered that dreams do come true. Cheers to this beautiful world, and to nurture one of the most sacred relationships we get to be in — the one with ourselves.