It's hard to live in Barcelona and not be reminded of the football. Every street there is a vendor selling Barça shirts or a lamppost decorated with Messi telling you to buy your tickets now! The city clearly loves the game and they love their club.
I live in the centre of Barcelona and, as most fans do, I travel to the game using the city's metro. As you leave your house the number of Barça shirts slowly intensifies from the one or two you see on a non-match day to a steady stream heading towards the stadium. The underground becomes the mecca for the traveling fans. Coming once every five or six minutes each train cart is crammed full of Barça fans. Some with this season's shirt, some with a Guardiola era kit, some even before that but everyone is sporting the red and blue.
You arrive at Collblanc station and it would seem as if you were in any other Spanish street if it weren't for nearly every other shop selling Barça merchandise of some kind and the thousands of fans lining the street. You begin to make the five minute walk to the stadium and the first thing you will notice is the North stand (Gol Nord) in the distance, almost overflowing onto the street below. You can see the big scoreboard every Barça fan is familiar with and the buzz of the upcoming game grows. Unlike the majority of clubs in the world, this is not only a sports team but a major tourist attraction. Fans from across the world will flock to the Catalan capital for a chance to see a game at the Camp Nou.
Making your way to the gate, there is paparazzi-esque levels of photographs being taken so much so that you would need to adopt a Messi dribbling style to avoid accidentally spoiling someone's selfie.
After the tickets have been scanned, you will catch your first glimpse of the pitch and what a glimpse it is. A pristine, green carpet lays ahead of you. Looking almost smoother than the floor of your apartment. Depending on the time of day, you will either have the hot Spanish sun steaming down onto the field or the night will be lit up by the floodlights hanging from the very top of this three tiered stadium.
It becomes very clear that you are not just here for a game but for a show. The supporting characters come out for their warm up in the form of the keepers. Next comes the pantomime villains of the opponents before finally the heroes emerge with the captain of the night leading them out. You watch in awe as Messi, Neymar and Suárez do things for fun that would take you a hundred tries to even get close. The players finish the training with some practice shots and each goal is greeted with applause as if it was a real game.
The players disappear down the tunnel as the ten minute countdown to kick-off begins. The singing section of the Gol Sud begin unveiling their flags and banners while the leader makes sure his megaphone is working. The rest of the crowd settles into their seats as the near 100,000 capacity waits in anticipation.
Then the famous El Cant del Barça begins ringing around the ground. "Tot el camp...és un clam" The lyrics displayed upon the screen to make sure the tourists can join in. The players line up and begin their handshakes as the anthem continues. "Barça, Barça, Baaarça!" it crescendos as the game prepares to get underway.
The next 45 minutes only reinforce the idea that this is a show. Every trick by Neymar, dribble by Iniesta and touch by Messi is greeted with great cheers. The crowd is hungry for some magic. More often than not, they are duly obliged. Once the ball finds the net, every fan is up on their feet. The noise can become deafening and it feels as if this old ground could give way.
The half time whistle comes and the crowd becomes disappointed it came so soon. After a brief fifteen minutes to use the lavatory and fill up with some aqua. The players are back out for the second period. The excitement is not only confined to the pitch though as Luis "Lucho" Enrique dances around his technical area. The man who is seldom mentioned outside of Catalunya is duly applauded throughout the game in a show of appreciation.
The final fifteen minutes can range across the spectre of emotion. Perhaps it is 1-1 with Atlético and the fans are desperate for the winner but worried about conceding again or maybe it's 2-1 to Alavés and the fans are desperate not to wake up to shock headlines in the morning or maybe it's 4-0 against Deportivo and the fans are baying for more blood. Whatever the scoreline, the final minutes are never dull.
The final whistle blows and the anthem reemerges. If it is a win, a hearty "Barça, Barça, Barçaaaaa! will be sung or perhaps a somber applause for the players if they've just played out a defeat.
The train ride home is another tight affair with the fans discussing the game you've all just witnessed. They begin to filter away until it is just you and you're in need of a cup of tea as a come down for the 90 minute adrenaline rush you've just experienced.
(For a short video of the crowd before kick off, click here)