Michael Phoenix relives his experience of the Catalonian derby between Barcelona and Espanyol
The metro was filled with claret and yellow. I folded my ticket into two and hid it in the palm of my hand, search deep in the front jean pocket. At the far end of the train a song was beginning. A woman of 70 stepped onboard with Messi in gold across her hunched shoulders. A kid in hat and scarf got up to offer her his seat. She scowled and he sat back down.
Her wrinkled hand covered in rings gripped a pole for balance as the metro moved on towards the stadium. Under half moon glasses she looked up at two grey haired men who stood beside her wrapped in 1980’s jerseys under thick dark jackets. One talked from beneath a full moustache, physician the other through a white bushy beard. They spoke slow and curious Catalan and the lady in claret joined in. Here and there I caught words: Xavi, malady Messi, Pedro, and the names were said with joy and fury and pats on backs and hands thrown in the air. The old woman, having taken offence at some comment about Valdes, had turned her head away from the pair. They in turn began to examine the faces of the train they must have been riding together every second weekend for the last thirty years. One leant across to the other and whispered some joke in his ear and they shared the laugh of great old friends and the song that had started out of sight was coming closer and the old men saw it and together arched their necks back and then with clear voices began the next verse. All of our carriage joined in and I mouthed the sounds.
We arrived at the station a
nd the crowd began to move and carried the song with them. I stuck close to the two old men who knew their way through the throng and as we went the concrete stadium appeared above the buildings in the distance. Men with dark faces moved across the streets with cans of beer, catalan, for sale. I bought one and drank it as we walked. At the end of September, unemployment in Catalonia reached 23.9%.
I left my unwitting guides behind and passed through an old fashioned turnstile, then began to climb the clinking steps towards the 7pm January sky. At first you could only let yourself be carried by the crowd, but the tide fell away as you went higher until there were only few climbers left.
The cheapest ticket to see the Catalan derby in the Camp Nou was €57.50. For that you could peer from the top of the stadium. Up at the top there are archwayed tunnels to walk through before the grass of the pitch spreads out. As I passed under the curve everything was quiet. I stepped out and looked around. It was five minutes to kick off.
In my section there were more seats empty than taken. I sat down and the seat was cold. A group of four young men behind me stood up and as they did a hush came. I lent forward. The teams appeared from the tunnel in two streams of smoke, one yellow: Espanyol, the other claret and blue: Barca.
The speakers of the stadium fuzzed, the fans filled their lungs, Catalan flags were held overhead, and then the trumpets started. A handful of Espanyol fans cowered down below as the hymn rang out in a voice that clicked together like a key unlocking. Warmth spread through the empty section from the voices below. The players made for their positions and the sound continued louder and louder, until the first Espanyol player touched the ball.