So, in light of a lack of football, I’ve decided to plunder the memory bank and talk about two games that I was fortunate enough to see live, and the surrounding experience.
There’ve been a good deal more matches that I’ve attended, but I’d say that Chelsea v Barca in 2009 and the Champions League final of 2011 have given me the two biggest thrills, and for different reasons.
May 6, 2009 was a warm and sticky day in the English capital. I spent the majority of it on a boat on the River Thames. Not just any boat mind. The boat which is the headquarters of Penya Blaugrana London, Barca’s official supporters club in London and the only penya in the world to be on a boat.
At that time I wasn’t a board member, that would come later, but I digress. The mood was jovial if a little subdued.
As we headed to Stamford Bridge, the nerves kicked in and a few of us were ‘roughed up’ by pockets of Blues fans as we got near the ground.
Once Essien had scored his fantastic volley, my eyes somehow found a Chelsea fan in the main stand, but level with the away end, who pointed directly at me and did the throat-slitting gesture. Charming!
He proceeded to do the same at regular intervals throughout the match as if to somehow intimidate me. Wasn’t working by the way.
And then... INIESTAAAAAAA! My god, it was glorious. To a man, I believe that most cules had accepted our fate, and so the outpouring of emotion when that ball hit the back of the net was like nothing I’d ever experienced - and haven’t done since.
People were crying their eyes out, I lost my voice from all of the shouting and cheering. It was sheer, unadulterated mayhem. And it was magnificent. The single most incredible moment I’d ever been privileged to watch at a football match.
I looked over at my crestfallen Chelsea friend and gave him a little wave. His response - which can’t be printed here - was almost as entertaining as the golazo!
And so to Wembley two years later.
We’d beaten Man United in Rome, but for some parts of that final were quite fortunate, certainly in the early stages. Wembley was an entirely different kettle of fish.
I was with the London Penya again, and now, as a board member, I’d helped spend the previous night entertaining 400 cules and some of the Barca board at a hotel by Tower Bridge, for the traditional pre-match meal.
At that point, I didn’t even have a match ticket. There were nine penya members that were entitled to a ticket, given the way in which the allocation had been agreed, however, there were only five available.
With one by right going to the penya president, there was a one in two chance of me being lucky. Four would go to the game, four would have to watch on the boat - which wasn’t a bad substitute in all fairness.
Though seeing your heroes in your own backyard was a once in a lifetime chance.
A waitress would pull the tickets from a bag. Asked for what raffle number we wanted from a book, I plumped for 433 - ‘the formation we’ll play tomorrow’ I remember saying quite clearly.
With three of the tickets picked out and still no luck, I had resigned myself to not being at Wembley, and being the last ticket out, as if for added effect, the waitress pulled it out slower than she had the other three.
4.... 3.... 3 !!!! I couldn’t believe it, but I had to subdue my joy because there were others not so lucky. I was buzzing all the way home that night, but less than nine hours later I was back in London, this time at Trafalagar Square.
It was heaving with Barca fans, and a smattering of United followers. A few TV cameras were gathered about but not doing too much.
I arrived with what looked like quite a heavy package. It was, in fact, a 20 metre x 4 metre flag I had had made especially for the final. Along with two other penya members - one for the middle and one for the other end, we made our way to the top of the steps at the base of Nelson’s Column and then unfurled the flag.
That seemed to be the catalyst for a party. The roar began in front of us and then seemed to head to the back of the square in a wave. The crescendo built and built and the TV cameras couldn’t get enough of it.
Nor could Barca themselves as board members joined us to wave the flag enthusiastically. We all sang and joined in a blaugrana communion for a good six hours before getting the tube to Wembley.
I can only describe the match as the finest display of football I have ever seen in my entire life, and am likely to see.
In that 90 minutes, everything that we knew Barca were capable of, they brought to the party. Yes, Wayne Rooney scored a great equaliser, and yes, for a short time afterwards we looked a little ropey.
But that was as dominant a performance in a Champions League final as most football fans will witness.
It was against a pretty good United side let’s not forget that. Not vintage United, but certainly not as poor as some would lead you to believe.
Sir Alex’s assertion post-match that they’d ‘never been beaten like that,’ was right on the money.
So many players were in their pomp that night, and what a joy to witness it live. To top it all off, the incredible moment when Abi lifted the trophy. Goosebumps!
Needless to say we were back to the boat afterwards, and free drinks until 8am meant another lost voice for a few days.
It was worth it though! It was so worth it.