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Saint ATN

Football, no, not the US/Canadian, the international soccer scene

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Never been much of a soccer fan. I've played iterations of FIFA on the different consoles over the decades. I've never been attracted to the game. 

Some reason whilst in Barcelona I wanted to attend a soccer game for once. I wanted to gauge the experience there versus the US version for what we experience. I've experienced football stadiums all over the US, been to rowdy WVU games, some LOUD LSU games, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience.

The game I selected happened on 08 Mar 2017, Barcelona vs Paris Saints Germaine for the qualifying match to advance in the Champions League in Europe. Unbeknownst to me and my beloved, we bought our tickets online, not knowing what to expect. We had an air BnB and right next to the FC Barcelona store and we got jerseys to be in the spirit.  

For starters, on the way to Camp Nou, my eyes were met with people running. Now this doesn't mean much to you or I and the average fan, however, I noticed as we got closer, no matter the age, as the game approached starting people were literally and figuratively running to their seats. I mean flat out to the stadium doors, all ages, every age, I was mind blown. Something I'd never see en masse at a saints game. Everyone knows the drill and the time and granted you do not get felt up on the way in nor do you have to use clear plastic anything. People can bring in their own food and drink. It's there, I tried it, not very good by US standards but palatable and stayed down. 

We make our way to our seats and there are men seated in our seats, I show them our tickets and they whip their team ID's from their wallets. They literally own the seats we're sitting in. An usher comes swiftly and explains that they literally own the seats and have rights to them as the team is owned by the fans. I was both taken aback and impressed at the same time. So they found us 2 seats closer to the field. 

As we got to our seats Barça was already up by 1 already. Turns out it's a double elimination tournament game. The previous game between them saw PSG win 4-0. This meant that Barça had to score 5 points above PSG to win and advance. For soccer, this is a steep climb, if not impossible, in fact, it's never happened in the history of the Champions Cup. 

When Barça had the ball, you could hear a gnat fart if it wasn't for the chants and I mean chants. There had to be 20 different chants and everyone knew them and everyone was chanting along. The stadium was a hive mind, silent and cheering with the cheers, then whistles as PSG fielded any ball, insert even more chants. I noticed some were anti-PSG, it seems they're the Falcons to them. Hate, seething hate, so much so that the entire PSG fan area was surrounded by bulletproof glass. I've never seen anything like it. The fans were completely corraled inside a plexiglass cell away from the Barça fans. Then the drumming, incessant drumming pounding in the background cueing the crowd into the next chant seamlessly. 

This game I happened to select turned out to be the biggest comeback in Champions Cup history and we got to witness it first hand from behind the net the final goal. Barça scored again in the final seconds to put Barcelona up 6-1. The passion of the fans was palpable and many of the diehards around us were in literal tears. Tears of absolute joy and disbelief. It reminded me of the moment that ball left the foot of Hartley and sailed thru the uprights sending us to the big game in '09. This wasn't the Super Bowl, but it was the closest thing I'm gonna get to the perfect game experience in soccer. Diehards of the team congratulated us on our baptism at Camp Nou and the game we did it at. 

The chants continued and I learned the Barça victory song as we stumbled back to downtown Barcelona. I've never heard so many cars going by beeping loud and victoriously. Camp Nou is a ways of a walk to downtown and crowds of fans cheered and high-fived each other and embraced each other in victorious camaraderie and we were caught up in it. We were offered various foods, drinks, and hearty hugs and high 5's. It took a solid hour to get back to civilization and our feet were sore, but the experience we had just had kept us going. Good luck getting a cab or uber when those games let out, you can just forget about it, no ones coming. I gotta admit, it was an amazing experience, I was hooked. 

I've now immersed myself in the game and have been learning the history. Now I'm a follower of international soccer, not so much national teams as much as FC Barcelona. I like that the team is owned by the citizens, they've been around forever, they are passionate about their team. They used to suck for a long time but have recently fallen in their best years. The team has some of the most exciting players and also one of the best players to ever play the game, ever. Sounds kinda familiar, don't it? 

So there you have it,  I went by chance for a game and ended up with an experience for the ages, one that I'll happily take to my grave. I'm glad I went and got to see a game to experience the differences, there are many, each have their high points and lows. The icing on the cake is it happened to be one of the most epic games in soccer history. I've been told on the Barça forums I'll never see the likes again and to not expect such excitement. I'll enjoy my lightening in the bottle for as long as I can. 

Seasons over, we didn't finish how well we wanted to. We were eliminated in the next round of the Champions League, we did win our Spanish Cup. There are high expectatons and now we're in the offseason and into the next team rebuild with a new coach. Very exciting times ahead and be it good or bad, I'll be there. I don't become a fan easily, but that night I became a culé for life. 

Força Barça!

 

Bonckers, Dru and Slidell Saint like this

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Great experience man.  I've got so many great stories, and wonderful experiences to tell, just from going out of your comfort zone and trying something different.  Some especially good ones in Europe, including Barcelona.

Also, it's not just FC Barcelona that is owned by the fans.  I'm no expert on this, but FC literally means Football Club and it's pretty universal that those teams are owned by the fans.  I've been told that if you are a paying member of the Club, you can go to the teams training facilities and work out, practice, whatever else.  I've never seen it or done it, but that's what I've been told.  Which is just crazy to me.  Could you imagine if people in NOLA were just able to go onto Airline Drive and start working out in the gyms or playing football on the fields?  

Anywho, great story man, crazy how trying something on a whim can turn out into something so phenomenal.  I'm surprised for a game of that magnitude they were even able to find you seats!

Saint ATN likes this

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I played soccer in Metairie as a kid, when I was 11 they started the first rec leagues there. Played only 2 years and pretty much lost interest. Then came my 2 boys, we live in a pretty soccer crazy area around DC so starting at about age 6 they played on their first teams. My oldest is a pretty incredible athlete, he started as a sophomore in HS, played for a great club team and got quite a few Div 1 college offers (unfortunately soccer scholarships are rarely a full ride), could run forever, very fast and quick and a lefty, he could literally play any position on the soccer field (except goalie). He didn't want to give up the college social life so he plays just for fun now. My youngest struggled to stay on his club team, played JV but didn't make varsity. He finally hit his growth spurt at age 16 and started for his club team. Very, very good player with great vision, physical with a good shot, a born inside mid. But he didn't like to run, so he never became the player he could have been (and has since told me he regretted that). I did some assistant coaching and managed my older son's team his last year (thank god we had good, sane parents), I really do miss those days. And it really turned me on to the game itself. Especially since my boys are huge fans, I have been watching the EPL (and occasionally La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A) for some time now, it is an awesome game, I never thought I would love it as much as I do now...

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I never played it as a kid. My two older sons played when they were very little (when it's pretty much just a moving scrum of kids all trying to kick the ball) and didn't stick with it.  My youngest is much more into baseball and basketball and never played soccer because of conflicts with travel baseball.  So I've never really been around the sport.

My only live professional or higher level soccer game was a DC United game in RFK in the early years of the MLS.  It was fun and they have a dedicated group of fans known as the Screaming Eagles who chant and sign and gave what essentially was a 2/3 empty stadium (this was easily 17-18 years ago) some life.  But didn't really sell me on the game.

Now, having said all of that, I do watch the World Cup (men and women's) with great interest, as well as the Olympic soccer tournament.  Maybe that's just nationalistic pride, but I have come to appreciate the game.  I just haven't fallen in love with it (yet?).  But I can absolutely see how an experience at a game of one of Europe's most storied teams could change that.  Will have to put that on my bucket list.

 

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