The too long to read version of this article would be: "I was at the El Clasico". But I hope you continue reading as I extrapolate a little bit.
I'm going to start this article with an apology to, well, everybody on Barca Blaugranes, but especially to Arron Duckling with whom I regularly communicate, but we exchanged many email par day before my "trip", and not once did I mention where I was going. I always referred to my leave as the "trip" to whomever I discussed it with. It wasn't always easy, but somehow I always managed to call it the "trip". The reason behind it? Every single time I went to a Barcelona game incognito, Barcelona always won. We even pummeled Malaga once, something we would've gladly taken this season. Call me superstitious, crazy, or stupid, I wasn't going to jinx it (again). And the way this panned out I might actually start practicing this more often.
But back to the story at hand. As a matter of fact, this story begins on 7 December 2014, when I drew four tickets out of a hat for the New Year lottery held by Slovenia's only official Barcelona supporters club, Penya Blaugrana Eslovena Triglav. The top prize of the draw? A ticket for the El Clasico played on 22 March 2015. Late in January the draw was held. With 603 lottery tickets in contention for the top prize chances of winning were slim. But wouldn't you know it ticket number 0175, one of my four tickets, was picked out of the bowl. What followed was a mixed bunch of disbelief, elation and shock, and I honestly didn't really celebrate until the official results were released a couple of days later.
After the "honeymoon" phase ended I booked the flights, reserved an apartment with four great guys, and simply waited for the departure date to arrive. Being in Barcelona many times now you aren't drawn to the major landmarks as much as you were in your first trips. As you get to know parts of the city you start wondering the streets and discovering places not featured at the top of the "must visit locations" lists. But it's always a good idea to keep your camera on your person. I have to remember that one next time...
Waking up on Sunday was immediately different to the days before. The light-heartedness was replaced by anxiety and anticipation. The confidence in a positive result - a win - remained, but you started thinking about the starting lineups, the availability of Sergio Busquets, the inevitability of Real Madrid's hard tacking, Mateu Lahoz, weather, etc. Speaking of the weather, before leaving to Barcelona the weather report looked gnarly: 20 mph wind throughout my stay with heavy showers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with light showers on Monday. With a report like that the only thing that we could hope for was that the game would be played in nice weather because avoiding rain altogether seemed impossible. But somehow we woke up to a sunny Sunday morning with only a light shower in the night from Friday to Saturday before. Fears about the rain remained, but some of Barcelona's best El Clasico victories came in the rain, like the Manita El Clasico, so we were confident in a win regardless.
Hoping on the metro a couple hours before kickoff we joined up with a 20-some strong Slovenian Penya contingent and made our way to our seats in time to boo Real Madrid players as they came out to warm up and cheer on the Barcelona players as they came out to stretch. Armed with a camera and my piece of the nearly 100.000 strong mosaic I watched on as the players got ready and returned to their dressing rooms for a couple of minutes before returning to the collective singing of the Cant del Barça, FC Barcelona's anthem. I've been to a few Barcelona games before, including an El Clasico, but the singing this time around, combined with the stunning mosaic made this the best build up to a Barcelona game I have ever witnessed.
Sadly, the cheering had only one way to go from there - down. And it went way down. My first El Clasico was a loss and the atmosphere at the Camp Nou then was much better than on this day. Granted, we largely played a poor game on this rain-free night, but sometimes the lift in play can come from the stands, but, sadly, this crowd was not up to the task. There were people that didn't even jump out of their seats on goals scored by Barcelona - and I'm not talking about the few hundred Real Madrid fans.
A crowd of 98.700 should be loud enough to force all the nearby birds to fly 5 miles away from the Camp Nou, but apart from the Barcelona goals and a couple strong chants late in the game the crowd was largely disappointing. Considering I was barely able to speak later that night because of all the screaming (and cursing of Neymar) I did, I think I have the right to call out all those that didn't offer the support the team playing in front of them deserved. The spectators were probably consistently the loudest on occasions when Cristiano Ronaldo touched the ball. Boos were flying in from all sides of the stadium then. The calma celebration just fired everybody even more.
I was sitting in sector 351, which is located right behind the North goal, the side that only one of the goals were scored on, and I had a perfect view of it all the way. The swinging cross from Lionel Messi from the left side, Jeremy Mathieu escaping his marker, before finishing the chance off with a perfect header. But that doesn't mean I didn't see the plays that happened on the other side of the pitch. Thankfully my eyesight isn't as bad a Lahoz's is as even I saw how many mistakes he made and I was sitting about 80 yards from some of them.
Even though Neymar missed the most chances, none of them made me feel the agony as Messi's miss did. It's not because he missed a sitter or anything, the reason behind it was that he dribbled past numerous defenders before making his way to the middle and firing not a foot wide of Iker Casillas' right post. It was because that immediately after he started the run it reminded me of so many gorgeous goals he scored from similar plays, and with the form he was in games past me, and just everybody at the Camp Nou, expected that ball to finish in the back of the net.
It wasn't to be on that play, but Luis Suarez was there to rescue Barcelona with his brilliant control and finish after a stunning Dani Alves pass to cause an eruption at the stadium. With Real Madrid fading, especially compared to the first half, and Barcelona picking up speed everybody started waiting for the goal that would secure the win and put Barcelona level on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Sadly, the misses kept adding on for Barcelona who continued to waste chance after chance. Neymar was the main culprit as to why Barcelona only won by a single goal, but other also drew profanities from the Camp Nou crowd. It's difficult to explain how in the two minute onslaught in the dying minutes of the game none of Jordi Alba, Suarez or Messi managed to find the back of the net.
But had it not been for Claudio Bravo it could've ended much worse for Barcelona. Bravo was especially dominant in the second half where I once again had a great view of the action. His two saves on Karim Benzema could simply be called "point-savers". From my point of view the second one looked especially impressive. Set up for a shot before it was deflected on its way it looked like the ball would squeak just inside Bravo's left post, but fully outstretch the Chilean tipped the ball out of danger.
The final whistle provided the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. The three points were in the bag, and even though there was a sour taste because of all the misses, Barcelona still won the El Clasico. A task they failed miserably at earlier in the season. A drink to calm the nerves and analyze the game were now on the docket.
The following day was the nicest of the five days I was Barcelona. The morning afterglow of the El Clasico win and the sun was shining. I was on my way to the Museum to relive some of the greatest moments in Barcelona history and go down to the sacred ground, the ground that Barcelona defeated Real Madrid on not 24 hours ago. Those that haven't been on the full Camp Nou Tour, I fully recommend it, it is absolutely worth the money. Monday was the last full day in Barcelona as the flight home was the only thing left to do in Barcelona.
The next morning as we were getting ready to fly back home when we found out about the unfortunate Germanwings flight 4U9525. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of everybody involved. To us who use airplane travel only a couple of times every year flying will never feel as natural as driving in a car. On days like this that uneasy feeling of being at the mercy of the weather, the pilots, the mechanics, etc. are exacerbated. Travelling by airplane is still by far the safest method of travel, but occasionally tragedies do happen and when they do they are always hard to swallow. It added a very sad note to what was otherwise a great trip.