Derby Day in Barcelona

Whilst the UK huddled under an umbrella last weekend, trying to keep warm with some FA Cup good cheer, the Daggers Diary team headed over to their warm weather retreat in Barcelona where the main event was a city derby with a distinct lack of atmosphere.

Back in November, the population of Catalunya went to the polls on the possibility of independence from Spain. With the economic difficulties affecting much of southern Europe, the issue of going it alone has risen to the forefront again. It is felt in Catalunya that they provide more to Spain that they get back from the central government in Madrid.

catalunya-espanyaThe result of the election was the separatists won a majority of the votes cast, although it actually has no legal standing in Spanish law. However, the issue of independence or nationhood for the region has always been simmering under the surface and much of this has been centred around the city’s main football club. Read almost any history of the club, and it will tell you of people going to the stadium during the Franco era, and speaking and chanting in Catalan, when the language had been banned by the central government. The club even had to change its name, from Futbol Club Barcelona, to the more Spanish sounding Club Futbol de Barcelona. It may only be a small change to those looking in, but to those fans at the time, it meant a great deal.

On our trips around the region to various different clubs, there have been more than one banner exclaiming that Cataluyna is about more than Barcelona. Over the last few years, there has a feeling that the club has become more politicized than is probably necessary.

Of course, while the economic issue about independence would have been covered on other sites, the thing for us here is about the football team. Would separation mean that the teams currently playing the Spanish league system be forced to leave, and go into a Catalan league? While the Spanish league has become a bit of a two horse race in recent years, the thought of Barcelona playing in a Catalan league and basically running away with the league title is not going to attract a great deal of interest.

This would also mean that Espanyol, as the second club in the city and region, should be able to secure second place, while Girona and Tarragona would probably be battling out for the next places. Uncompetitive? Probably. Interesting? Um, well, how interesting could it be if you are winning each game by a cricket score?

Then of course there are the finances of each team. Clubs in Spain currently arrange their own television deals, which means that both Real Madrid and Barcelona have much larger financial rewards for their games being televised than all of the other clubs. If Barca were to depart, then would both be able to command such income from the television companies? And in the case of Barcelona and Espanyol at least, would they be able to hold on to their better players, if the league they could find themselves in is not that tough?

Of course, they could apply to stay in the Spanish League. There are other examples of clubs playing in a different league to their own country, with Swansea City playing in the Premier League (not to mention Cardiff City and Wrexham), and Monaco playing in the French system. However, and as much as both might not like to admit it, both Barca and Madrid need each other in the Spanish League. Not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of competition. If one was to disappear, then both would suffer. To be honest, it might affect Barcelona more, but neither of them would come out well.

Saturday 5th January 2013, C.E.Europa v U.E.Olot
As has become the norm on these trips, we have tried to fit in more than one game. Both Dan and I have managed to attend about a dozen different clubs in and around the city of Barcelona. And while there are still plenty to visit, it can start to get difficult to get a new place to visit each time we are here.

421038_10152397209880223_312292885_nAs it has worked out, there is more than one game being played on the Saturday, and we’ve chosen this trip to fly in on the Saturday morning, rather the normal Friday night. There is a mid-day kick off at Cornella, which is a short distance from the airport. However, we have about forty minutes from landing to the start of the game, and it eventually proves to be just that little bit too soon, as we don’t quite get from the aircraft to passport control and through in enough time.

So, after heading into town for lunch and wondering around for a short while, we head to our hotel in Les Corts to check in, and then we can begin the journey to our first game of the weekend.

Given that it took us until our fifth trip out here to finally get to watch Europa, there is a small irony in the fact that today they become the first team (aside from Barcelona) that we will have visited twice.

As we get to the stadium, the sun is still shining, and it is a pleasant late afternoon. The home side are doing well this year, and are second in their group of the fourth tier of Spanish football. However, Olot are top, having lost just once this season, and have conceded just eight goals. This could be a tight game.

People are often surprised when I tell them that the lower levels of the Spanish game bear a passing resemblance to our own, in that the ball is up in the air a fair amount. That isn’t really surprising though, when you consider that the third rung of leagues contains eighty eight teams, while the fourth has roughly two hundred. With those figures, it is not entirely surprising that the quality will fluctuate wildly.

The ball is off the deck a lot in the opening fifteen minutes, but the game soon settles down, and the ball now starts to spend less time being aimlessly hoofed backwards and forwards, although there is one visiting defender who seems not to be able to pass the ball less than thirty yards unless someone gets in the way.

The question of who should kick the ball out when a player is injured is revisited just after the half hour. An Olot player is lying on the ground, but while they have possession, the ball doesn’t leave the field. Once Europa gain the ball, they are asked to put the ball out of play, but the home team carry on. Eventually, the Olot captain takes matters in to his own hands, by booting the Europa left winger, prompting a yellow card, and a group of about ten players arguing and pushing about the rights and wrongs of what has gone on.

The home side have the best chance of the half, but it is 0-0 at the interval. At this point, kids are entering the field from all corners, using the goals at each end, but also those attached to the side as well.

The only goal arrives eight minutes into the second half, and it is a well taken tree kick that provides the first and last moment of action for scoreboard operator.

The half continues though, and it is a good contest, although there are a few on both sides that hit the ground far too easily, looking for free kicks. The way that the Europa players celebrate at the final whistle is understandable, given the amount of effort they have put in, and as they celebrate, the visitors troop off and the kids return to take advantage of the fact that the floodlights are still on and that means that they can get on to the pitch.

The trip back into the city centre is busy, and the trains are packed with people heading towards Catalunya station, as well as the Ramblas. With crowds on the pavements four deep, plus with the Christmas decoarations lit up along several roads, we are witness to the Cavalcada de Reis, which is the culmination of the the Epiphany celebrations, and the parade is covered on the local television channels. It’s not easy to escape the vast amount of people, but we are able to eventually enter the nearest station, and head back to the hotel.

Sunday 6th Janaury 2013, U.D.A.Gramenet v A.C.Mannleu
There a few options for us for the Sunday lunchtime game. There is one option that is on the Metro system, one that is just outside the city, and one that is further afield. Although attending the game at Girona is a possibility, it is about an hour’s journey and so that is swiftly ruled out. The next game to come under the microscope was a trip to A.E.Prat, which is just outside the metro network, and so would mean a trip on the mainline trains. Although we have done this before to places like Sabadell and Gava, the gap between trains meant that the game at the other end of the metro system won the day.

23331_10152399882470223_329063015_nFrom our hotel near the Camp Nou, it is a forty five minute journey from Les Corts to San Peixauet, although luckily the stadium is next door to the station exit. After we have paid our €10 each, we enter the stadium, and are immediately accosted by a home official selling raffle tickets, to win a bottle or red wine. Clearly it would have been nice to win, but the bottle would have been over the liquid allowance on the plane.

This is Dan’s first visit to Santa Colomb, but my second. The previous occasion was back in October 2010, having ventured out here for Barca v Seville. On that occasion, the game ended 0-0, but at least that was an entertaining one to watch, when if it ended goal less.

Today’s game though isn’t as good, and although it is quite nice sitting in the sunshine watching football, the lack of excitement proves to be enough to dampen the spirits. There are half chances for both sides, but there are also a couple of glaring misses which means that a goal is not going to be forthcoming. To be honest having watched this, I doubt that there would have been a problem had I won the wine, as we would have drunk during the game.

There are though a couple of drummers that position themselves behind the shaded end of the stadium prior to the game, and as they bang their respective drums, there is no-one within fifty yards of them. As the teams select the goal to defend in the first half, the two are on their way down to the other end, to stand behind the goal that Gramenet are attacking. They are eventually joined by about a dozen or so fellow home fans and proceed to sing every now and again. However one of the drummers has positioned himself next to a pushchair bound child, who looks as though they spend most of the half with their hands over their ears.

Sunday 6th January 2013, FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol, Estadi Camp Nou
And so to the final game of the trip. This is our second trip to Spain this season; at the start of December, we attended the game at this very stadium against Athletic Club de Bilbao, and as Barca strolled to a 5-1 win, there were a few chants for independence during the game. However, apart from this (and as we have noted before when attending Barcelona home games), the atmosphere was more than a bit muted. If they were to be winning each game even more comfortably than this, what would it be like then?

307581_10152400736980223_1861479547_nDuring the week, the Catalan nation team played Nigeria in a friendly game at Cornella El-Prat stadium, the recently built stadium of RCD Espanyol. With a team containing the likes of Puyol, Valdes, Pique, Xavi and seemingly half the Spanish national team, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, which may be a surprise with a team containing that lot.

Several regions in Spain have their own national team, and recent games for the Catalan version have been staged at the Camp Nou, as well as the Olympic Stadium, now standing idle after Espanyol moved out. The Basque version played as well, drawing 1-1 with Colombia just before Christmas.

Dan is of the opinion that this is arguably the home team’s toughest game of any season after Real Madrid. Given that Espanyol have recently drawn at the Bernabeu, then he might be right.

For me, the Camp Nou is still a fantastic place to watch football, and although I have been lucky enough to go quite often recently, I still find the place inspiring. It isn’t enough for one English woman though, who upon entering the arena proclaims that she thought it was bigger than this. There is no pleasing some people…

It is a surprising feature of games on Spain that few away fans travel, even if the game is in the same city. There are a few visiting fans present, but at kick off, there are only seven, which is bolstered to a whopping eleven a few minutes in. To their credit, they continue to sing even after Xavi scores the first on nine minutes, and they continue after Pedro gets the second. It does start to drop though when it goes to three, and after Messi scores from the spot to make it 4-0 with less than half an hour played, they are all now sitting down.

Some of the Barca play is brilliant, and is still able to wow a crowd that must have got used to some fantastic football over the last few years.

The second half is often a bit of an anti climax, especially after you have gome a few goals up at the interval. Today is no different, although Barca still manage to two goals disallowed for offside. Ten of the players that start for Barcelona have come through the youth system (Dani Alves being the odd one out), although as the game continues, this is eventually whittled down to eight, which is still a fairly good amount. Substitutions take the flow and momentum out of the game, but unfortunately for an Espanyol side that looks totally forlorn, even a home team barely out of second gear proves to be too strong. Espanyol do have chances, and a great one in the first half, but Sergio Garcia hoists it high and wide. If he had converted, then at 2-1, the result might not have been as convincing as it eventually turned out.

The away support has dwindled to the extent that there are none left with fifteen minutes to go. There is one away fan sitting just a block or so along from us, but even he has put his coat on, presumably to hide his shirt as he makes his way down the stairs to the street below.

We let the crowds dwindle after the final whistle, but Dan wants to get some chips, so we head against the flow of people to a burger stall so that the late night snack can be bought. Then the hotel beckons, so that we can watch Mallorca v Atletico Madird on the box, while getting the packing sorted for the trip back home.

photoMonday morning is another bright and warm morning, so we head back to the Camp Nou so that we can get a shirt printed, and wonder around before heading out to the airport for the flight back home. If merchandising is reaching saturation point, then top marks must go to the marketing genius that came up with FC Barcelona batteries. Yep, if you thought the singing toaster was brilliant, then batteries are a new high in the attempt by a football club to wrest more money from your wallet. Would you go to your local club and think, as you wander round their store that “I wish they did the batteries for my television remote control?” Well now they do.

We also find out why the away support was so low. Apparently, at the last meeting between the teams at the Montjuic, there was a fight between the two sets of supporters, including fireworks launched into rival areas. Since then, neither club has taken supporters to the other, and thus we learned why there were no Espanyol fans at the game.

It has been another successful weekend, even if we haven’t seen as many goals as we would have liked. The quality of the football has been great (well, some of it), and even the delayed flight, plus a question and answer session at immigration at Southend Airport can’t dampen the trip.

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