I’m sitting in arguably the most famous football stadium in the known universe on the night of the biggest club game in football, the Champions League final.
It should mean something special. Even though FC Barcelona aren’t playing, it still should be an adrenalin rush watching the final from the beautiful game’s holy shrine at Camp Nou.
But it isn’t.
It all starts well. There’s a tingling of the spine when I arrive at Barcelona’s Camp Nou and walk through doors to see those familiar wine and blue colours everywhere. The excitement builds as we head towards the pitch to the sound of the famous FC Barcelona hymn, El Cant del Barca blasting out of the loudspeakers.
“Tenim un nom, el sap tothom; Barça! Barça! Baaarça!”
The glorious stadium is empty, but the words dripping with passion are enough to give me a seductively tasting appetiser. Built in 1957, it holds 99,354 fervent fans. It was supposed to be called the Estadi FC de Barcelona, but Camp Nou (new stadium) struck a chord with the supporters and stuck until it was finally officially recognised during the 2000/2001 season.
As we walk around the edge of the pitch photographing the legend MÉS QUE UN CLUB from a dozen different angles, FC Barcelona’s photographer tells me a great little tale of how he ‘just happened’ to be in the perfect position with his camera when, after a particularly fractious El Clásico, the club’s water sprinkler system mysteriously sprung into life drenching Real Madrid’s manager, the chosen one José Mourinho.
The experience lives up to and exceeds expectation. But I have one eye on the time. When I mention that the Champions League final is due to start, my words are metaphorically headed over the bar.
We pass through the away teams’ dressing room where legends look down on the long benches before we pause in the press room for a photo shoot with a surprise guest – Barcelona’s Champions League trophy. To touch such a beauty on this night is just a dream.
As our tour reaches the museum – a state of the art affair with a huge wall of touch panel screens in three languages – it becomes obvious that things are not going to pan out quite as I had visualised.
The museum attracted 1.6 million visitors in 2011, the highest number of visitors at any museum throughout Europe. It’s an impressive, ultra-modern affair. All the club’s trophies are on show and all the glories chronicled. But the museum doesn’t shy away from darker times such as during the reign of Franco who famously favoured Real Madrid; or when striker Quini was kidnapped in 1981.
It is more than a football club’s museum, it also pays homage to the Catalan spirit that illustrates what being Més Que Un Club (more than a club) actually means.
But I’m distracted. The Champions League final has kicked off and so far there’s been nary a mention, neither have I seen a TV which looks as though its going to be screening the game.
The unthinkable forces itself into my brain. I’m in the second greatest football club in the world’s stadium and they’re going to completely body-swerve the fact that the Champions League final is taking place.
The unthinkable turns out to be true.
Even a photo with ‘the team’ – one of the most popular and lucrative attractions in the museum – can’t distract my feelings of shock and disbelief.
“But these are football people,” I whine to anyone who strays near. “All football fans want to see this match… don’t they… don’t they?”
Then, to make matters worse, a heavy dose of salt is rubbed into my gaping wounds.
Whilst Chelsea are grinding out a benzodiazepine victory against Bayern Munich I’m sitting in front of a bank of TV screens muttering away like Muttley from Wacky Races. Not only am I missing the most prestigious game of the season; I’m having to watch re-runs of the year Barcelona won six trophies including the Champions League.
Instead of watching the 2012 Champions League final I’m watching the 2009 one. I’m watching Barcelona beat Manchester United once again. And I’m not chuffing happy about it.
Despite my disappointment, under just about any other circumstances I would have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Camp Nou. The stadium is all that you would expect, the people who work at Camp Nou are understandably proud of their club and their enthusiasm enhances the experience. And the museum is fascinating and engaging whether you’re a football fan or not. A visit is highly recommended – just not when there are any important football matches that FC Barcelona aren’t involved in taking place.
The Camp Nou Experience costs €23 for an adult and lasts almost two hours – just enough time to completely miss a football match in fact. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm 2/4 to 7/10 and from 10am to 6.30pm during the rest of the year except for match days.
I bitched my way through the Camp Nou Experience as a guest of the Catalunya Tourist Board.