I’d been planning this trip since I bought my F.C. Barcelona tickets in November. But really, I’d been dreaming of this since I first became a European football fan at 14.
I haven’t been constantly referring to this as my “religious pilgrimage” for nothing.
The history of F.C. Barcelona is one of my favorite histories in all of sports. The team has served as a symbol of the Catalan people through their struggles since the team’s founding in 1899, living up to the motto of “more than a club” — or “més que un club” in Catalan.
Catalonia is a region in northeast Spain that includes Barcelona and the surrounding area. Nationalists have long been arguing for independence from Spain, and the Catalan people faced intense persecution under dictator Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
When Catalans were persecuted for speaking their own language under Franco, they spoke it freely in the Camp Nou — Barça’s stadium. The famous El Clásico rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid dates back to the era of fascism and the clashing of traditionally Spanish and Catalan identities. This is now as politically charged as ever after the jailing of nine Catalan protesters in October 2019.
These two teams dominate the Spanish first league, La Liga. Madrid is currently in first with 53 points and Barcelona follows closely with 52. The third place team, Getafe F.C., sits 10 points behind.
The colors on Camp Nou’s flags shine red and yellow — senyera — the same as Catalonia’s flag. All the signs list the Catalan language first. The club’s anthem, “Cant Del Barça,” is in Catalan. They are a people unafraid and unashamed, proud of their team and the identity it represents.
The passion of this team has also translated to its success on the pitch over the years. It’s the only European club to have won the treble twice, which includes a European championship, league championship and national cup in the same year
The day I’d been dreaming of was the day I had when I arrived at Camp Nou. It was a sunny afternoon in the high ‘50s, the line to my section’s entrance was nonexistent and Barcelona won over Getafe 2-1.
The 90 minutes of playing time were perfectly on par with the rest of the experience. Lionel Messi made stellar passes and seamlessly wove through defenders and Marc Andre Ter Stegen consistently blocked Getafe’s shots. Even though Barça was dominating in possession, the game still kept an exciting pace throughout all 90 minutes.
Barcelona played its classic “tiki taka” style, which includes quick short passes between players with minimal movement. It’s a type of play dating back decades for this team and shows its dedication to the art of soccer. It’s pleasing to the viewer and has equally successful results for the team.
The official fan section down at the front of the stadium was loud enough to be heard even by me, at the very last row on the opposite end. At one point they unrolled multiple large Catalan flags and began loudly cheering until the entire stadium was as well. It was the loudest roar from the fans besides the two goals.
The final whistle blew to announce the win as the sun was setting over the hills on my left and “Cant del Barça” was starting to play through the speakers. I wish I could capture that moment forever. To me, that happiness is what being a football fan has always been about.
When I was 14, I watched a Barcelona game to see Neymar Jr. and Messi, my favorite players from the 2014 World Cup. Since then, I’ve gotten up at 5 a.m. for matches, snuck my laptop out to watch games in class and used up my data to stream in the back of cars on road trips. The 90 minutes of watching this team play beautiful football have been my joy in good times and a beacon of happiness in gloomier ones.
Six years ago, I heard Catalan singing and saw the passionate fans of Camp Nou on my computer screen and thought, “That must be a beautiful feeling.”
I can confirm. It was. It is.