Whether it’s breathtaking architectural masterpieces courtesy of Antoni Gaudi, a rousing pop opera song from Freddie Mercury & Montserat Caballe or Lionel Messi and the Nou Camp, Barcelona is an iconic city, revered the world over.
As the capital of Catalonia it is one of the world’s leading tourist, economic, trade fair and sports cultural centres. It’s played host to an Olympic Games, it has a beautiful beachfront and enjoys warm spring weather and long hot summers.
Barcelona is idyllic in so many ways, but behind the veneer of romanticism is a menacing pulse exposed to visiting football fans and hidden from the tourist guides and FC Barcelona PR machine.
An estimated 8,000 Manchester City supporters had flown into the unfortunately named Barcelona El Prat, or surrounding airports, during the 72 hours preceding the game on Wednesday evening. Well over half had travelled without match tickets, hoping to buy them off Barca touts, even it if meant sitting with the home fans, in one of the great cathedrals of world football.
Win, lose or draw, for thousands of City fans this was a match they never thought they’d see, such was the gulf that separated City from El Barca, just a few years ago.
It would eclipse Champions League trips to other European giants such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, after all this was FC Barcelona – Messi, Xavi, Iniesta etc – or, as the image makers and brand experts would have us believe, ‘…more than a club.’
By this they mean FC Barcelona is the definitive sports club that represents Catalonia and Spain as one of the country’s greatest ambassadors.
Well as ambassadors go, FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp in-house security corps leave one hell of a lot to be desired.
Yes, FC Barcelona are ‘more than a club…’ they are a pseudo militia of provocative bully boys masquerading as stewards and ‘security’.
Historically, Catalonia has always been fiercely passionate and protective of its origins, customs and culture. For decades it suffered under the oppressive jackboot of General Franco and his fascist rule.
How ironic then that Barcelona happily employ thugs complete with high-viz tabards and a very natty line in black snoods and scarves, ideal for covering up their faces when seeking to assault visiting Manchester City supporters.
The ‘little Hitlers’ didn’t care who they were pushing, shoving and manhandling – elderly gentlemen, disabled older fans, women and children, as well as the men who weren’t that far away from retaliating against the baton carrying ‘guards’.
City fans had undoubtedly been enjoying the Spanish sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere in the bars and restaurants along the famous Las Ramblas, but there was no hint of aggression.
The exchange of good natured banter and intelligent football conversation was all the rage with the Barca natives in the 48 hours leading up to the glamour clash.
Yes, there was a proportion of fans who had partaken aplenty of the Spanish brews, and yes there was plenty of City singing and chanting, but certainly nothing confrontational.
Having been informed by the official Manchester City website, that the seat numbers on tickets issued at £77-a-time, were irrelevant, perhaps the warning bells should have rung out.
The advice was that City fans would be seated on a first come, first served basis which, although puzzling when seats were clearly numbered, wasn’t perceived to be a problem.
That was until it became clear that the Barca ‘militia’ couldn’t organise a sangria sampling session in a tapas bar.
Instead of allowing easy access to the 4,600 seat allocation via a multitude of entrances, the Barca stewards insisted on only allowing entry to the stand via a single access point at any one time.
This immediately led to long queues and discomfort as so many people were having to squeeze through the narrow stone entrances.
Upon entering the Nou Camp playing arena, family and friends had every expectation that they would sit together as groups, couples or whatever – it wasn’t asking too much was it?
Obviously it was as the Nou Camp jobsworths displayed a staggering degree of bloody-mindedness, bossing City fans around like a school teacher scolding naughty children.
Hell-bent on causing as much irritation and agitation as possible, the security teams were enjoying their pathetic power trip, almost willing City fans to flare up and use it as an excuse for wanton violence.
One can only imagine the headlines in El Mundo and Marca castigating the pigs, the drunken louts who besmirch England, exporting their national disease of hooliganism.
Michel Platini and his UEFA sycophants would have multiple orgasms at the prospect of banning the upstarts of Manchester City from European club football – if only to set an example!
Having been to the Allianz Arena, the Santiago Bernabeu and Amsterdam Arena in recent times, I was genuinely shocked at the aggression and idiotic pedantic posturing of what, to all intent and purposes, were ‘ambassadors’ of FC Barcelona.
When you witness these poseurs hiding behind their snoods, batons in hand knowing they have the full backing of the Barcelona Riot Police if a City fan dares to hit back, it makes a mockery of all the FC Barcelona marketing bollocks – sorry – blurb.
With the murky goings on regarding tax irregularities on Neymar’s supposedly £50m – or is it £71m or is it £84m – move from Santos, plus Lionel Messi’s tax trial, not forgetting some very strange refereeing decisions, you begin to wonder about the image that FC Barcelona project to a gullible global audience.
I possess a Barcelona shirt from a previous trip to the Nou Camp. Henceforth it will be used as a cloth for cleaning out smelly drains.
Speaking of which, one wonders about UEFA’s labyrinth of wheeling and dealing, looking after the special self interests of the elite clubs such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
And is it a coincidence that Herr Uli Hoeness of the Bayern Munich hierarchy is looking at three-and-a-half years in jail for tax evasion?
Maybe lucid and decidedly sober City fans weren’t that far wide of the mark with their improvised chant of ‘Champions League it’s f*cking bent, Champions League it’s f*cking bent…’ continue and fade to chorus.
Barcelona is a vibrant and beautiful city and one that I hope to visit a third time, if as and when Manchester City are drawn against them for Champions League combat.
It would be nice if the combatants were engaged solely on the field of play and not up in the stands or the hidden concourses of the Nou Camp, where ‘fascism’ flourishes in the most unlikely surroundings.
By David Walker