Football pilgrimage: Part 2, Nou Camp build up
A trip to watch the biggest game in the world.
I am few weeks away from embarking on a football pilgrimage, a major tick off my bucket list, to watch my favourite football club (FC Barcelona), the biggest club football game on earth (El Clasico) and some top class Champions League knockout games live. My first blog spoke about the anticipated itinerary, today I focus on the build up for the Nou Camp.
The gap is into double digits
I didn’t miss a single second of this week’s biggest two La Liga games. Real Madrid lost their derby game at home 0-1, and Barcelona eased off Sevilla 2-1. The Catalans are now firmly perched atop the La Liga table, leading the Madrid teams by 8 and 12 points respectively. It’s some surprise how Atletico have made a bunny out of their aristocratic city rivals, the past two years, after being bullied for well over a decade. ‘Cholo’ Simeone’s team give impressions of a hard-on-the-nuts outfit, but a close look at Saturday’s stats reveal Real Madrid committed more fouls and Atletico Madrid, more shots on target, than their rivals.
Real now have to play Celta Vigo and Sevilla (albeit, both at home) in the next three weeks. These are tough games, with both visitors vying for Europa League spots. So in all probability, by the time El Clasico kicks off, the gap between the rivals will stay in double digits. Will the El Clasico turn out to be a dud affair then with Barcelona all set to regain the title? Will that impact the ticket prices and attendance by the time I reach there?
Ticket price trends
All El Clasico (reasonably priced) tickets get sold out before your internet feed can even alert you. Tickets are normally released in 2-3 batches and then sell off the moment they open – not even in hours. So the black market is your best bet on the eve of the game.
Else you have top (and dependable) sites like viagogo.com to buy now. But to give you an idea, as I checked today, the worst seats are available at around US$550 = Sing$800 = Rs. 35,000. These are seats where you sit atop the corner flag, at the top most stands, with stand separators likely blocking part of your view.
There are VIP tour tickets available at the FC Barcelona website now too. But they cost an astronomical four times the above prices quoted! So the best bet is the black market and hope that the intensity of the game reduces, a bit, by then (Read: Title more or less decided, away fans selling off tickets for cheap, locals preferring to make money too).
The Catalan low decibel levels
Unlike the South East Asian, East European or English cultures, the Spanish aren’t very vociferous by nature. The Camp Nou still struggles to generate the raucous atmosphere witnessed in sports globally. Last time when I was there, in 2013, the FCB authorities were running campaigns to get the crowds more involved. It also stems from following an all-conquering team. The expectations are at a different level. A win is taken for granted. A scrappy goal gets limited appreciation. A nutmeg, dink or dribble gets some loud “oohs” and its only in masterclass goals, counter attacks or brilliant moves that the crowds get involved in some depth.
Contrast this to the other games this past weekend (personally great for me):
- India beat Pakistan in cricket in front of an electric atmosphere
- A young Manchester United team buoyed by the crowd knocked back Arsenal’s title hopes
- Pep Guardiola’s next club, Manchester City won a fierce, competitive and heart-stopping Capital One Cup final vs. Liverpool
- Guardiola’s current assignment, Bayern Munich beat Wolfsburg away from home.
The Nou Camp cannot match any of the four atmospheres above, even on an El Clasico night, and now with lowered stakes, it can only benefit travellers like me in getting a relatively cheap ticket. For the record, I have a local friend, who will arrange for me. Friends around the world helps, doesn’t it?
There could be a few subplots though
- The match, my brain says, will happen on 2 April, Saturday night and not on 3 April, Sunday (as mentioned all over the internet). This is because the following midweek will have Champions League quarterfinal first leg knockout games, where both teams are likely to ply their trade.
- Real Madrid, with the domestic title all but lost, may prefer to have an eye on their Champions League encounter - as their best bet to salvage the season. This could mean they rest any player carrying niggles.
- The Galacticos manager, Zinedine Zidane, may come under the hammer by this date. Especially if the interim matches with Celta Vigo and Sevilla don’t go to plan. Nothing can satisfy the Nou Camp faithful more than seeing a super star Madrid manager getting the sack after the Clasico.
A lot can happen by the time the players walk down the tunnel towards the pitch! And am eagerly awaiting!
(Coming up part 3: Barcelona, beyond the Nou Camp)