All that glitters certainly isn’t gold


It is a clear free-kick on the edge of the Inter Milan box.  25 yards out, dead centre and ten world-class players queueing up to create some magic.  86,000 fans wait expectantly.  The stadium all of a sudden lights up with tens of thousands of mobile phones, trained on the pitch, the owners of them choosing to view the incident through a small screen rather than with their own eyes.  Welcome to Modern Football.

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It was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.  A major industry event in Barcelona coinciding with Barcelona’s Champions League tie against Inter Milan.  I wasn’t the only one who had the same idea and almost everyone I bumped into during the day around the conference centre mentioned they were heading to the Camp Nou for the game.

For many of them, especially our cousins from across the Atlantic, would be attending their first ever game.  For me it was Charlton Athletic versus Burnley at a decaying Valley back in 1974, so a visit to Europe’s biggest stadium isn’t a bad way to lose your cherry.

For the club, European games are a gold-mine for the club.  With season tickets not valid for these games, it is all pay and with so much demand for seats, the club set the price high….eye-watering, vertigo-inducing high.  By the time I bought my ticket I paid €109 for a place in the top tier, almost closer to the stars than the gutter.

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As you climb up towards the Gods you see that the Camp Nou is far from a world-class stadium behind the veneer.  The stairwells are cramped and show their age – some parts of the stadium haven’t been touched since 1982.  Whilst there are plans in place for an upgrade and expansion of the stadium in the near future, today it is light-years away from the image of the club on the pitch.  At half-time fans have to queue on stairways to get a drink or something to eat, with the narrow concourses dangerously overcrowded.

The seating areas are basic to say the least.  Seats exposed to the hot Catalan sunshine have faded over time, offer little leg-room and are exposed to the elements.  It’s hardly any different to the San Siro, the Stade de France or Stadio Olimpico.  But few who visit care, they are here to watch the magic on the pitch..in theory.

I took my seat just as the teams came out on the pitch.  My first sign of the demographic of the fans around me was when the club anthem, Cant del Barca, fired up.  All around me the phones came out, videoing the scene.

The couple in front of me settled down for the next 90 minutes.  Each of them had a carton of popcorn and got their phones out.  As the game started he pressed the record button on his phone, she fired up her Netflix app and started watching ‘The Good Place”.  Welcome to the world of the Modern Football Fan.

Resplendent in their £70 shirts (or £99 if you want the ‘vapour’ version whatever that is) and half/half scarves, they are the perfect fans for Barca.  Spending close to £500 on a single visit to the Camp Nou is what Modern Football is all about.  Popcorn-eating, Netflix-watching fans who actually don’t care what happens on the pitch but have at least Instagramed their visit and ticked off another tourist destination.

The free-kick in question caused quite a stir.  Not for the quality of the strike but for the tactic used by the visitors in laying a player on the floor to stop the genius of a free-kick hit low to take advantage of the jumping wall.  The fan in front captured the moment on his phone and replayed the moment first to himself and then to his non-interested girlfriend, missing the resulting corner and goal-line clearance.

I’m sure my neighbours aren’t unique either in the Camp Nou or in most other major stadiums in Europe.  The huge increase in commercial and TV revenues now means major clubs and their stars are as big as movie stars, and people are prepared to pay top dollar to watch them.  That means clubs are prepared to price-out some of their traditional, loyal fans who turn up close to kick-off, don’t spend in the club shop or overpriced concessions stands.  Unfortunately, that is Modern Football.

As a self-appointed Football Tourist I have nothing against the sentiment of travelling around the world to watch football, but that is what it should be – watching football.  Not watching football through a lens, or watching US hit TV shows.

 

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Plymouth away or double Barca? Tough choice


Plymouth Argyle away on the cold and wet English Channel or Barcelona v Granada on the sunny Med?  Difficult choice for the Daggers Diary team.

Today, the Daggers travel to Plymouth, hoping to maintain an impressive start to the season that has seen us in the dizzy heights of a play off spot. Given my pre-season pessimism, I would have said that would have been an insane thought had anyone bought up the possibility back in August.

Dagenham Dan and I though are not heading west. Instead, we are flying out from the Eddie Stobart Aerodrome (a.k.a. Southend Airport) for our first trip of the season to Barcelona.

Up until a couple of months ago, kick off times were not confirmed until around ten days before the game, meaning that booking flights was a nightmare. We could never be sure of when the game you were going to was going to start, meaning that we might be able to book an early flight for the Saturday, but would invariably end up coming back on the Monday. On our early trips to Spain, we would fly in and out of Girona, coming back on the first flight home on the Monday morning. This would mean getting to the bus station for 3am, for an hour’s journey to the airport. There were a couple of occasions where the game had finished around 11pm, so after just a couple of hours sleep, we were on our way home, bleary eyed and very tired. The sight of a conga of people waiting to board the plane back to Stansted in an otherwise deserted departure building is not one I wish to see for some time.

As these trips become more frequent though, the planning has got better. Now, we go for the home game preceding a Champions League fixture. In one of his less busy times, Dan went through the fixtures for the last few years and discovered that Barcelona almost always played on a Saturday before playing in Europe. That kind of detail has helped us out several times, and certainly it has done with this weekend, as we depart early Saturday, and return on Sunday evening. The schedule has us out of the country for about thirty six hours, which is plenty of time for three games. Continue reading

Write Barca off at your peril


History?  You want history?  What about the mighty Barca crashing out of the Champions League after a humiliating lesson in football in Milan?  That was sure to be on the cards as Dagger’s Diary Brian headed off to the Camp Nou on Tuesday…..

This trip represents a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first midweek trip to Barcelona, and also my first Champions League game here. While Dagenham Dan will be at the Daggers game against Torquay, I am here on a solo trip for the first knock out round game against Milan.

Barcelona are going through a bit of a wobble at the moment. A 0-2 first leg defeat at the Guiseppe Meazza three weeks ago has left them with a rather large challenge tonight, in order to progress. If that wasn’t enough, a league defeat at Real Madrid (coupled with a cup defeat to the same opposition) has reduced the lead at the top of the league.

Of course, even the best teams can have a bad run of form. The Milan defeat has been put down to just an off-night for the side, but the drop in form has also come along at the same time that the coach, Tito Vilanova has been in New York, recovering from cancer surgery. While those who have stepped up to lead the team are obviously giving it everything, the loss of the team leader is clearly having a negative effect on the club. While the president has said that the health of Vilanova is the main priority for the season, losing such a lead in the division, as well as the Cup and an early exit in the Champions League would mean that, in a world that demands success ever more impatiently, no trophies would signify failure, no matter what the moral issues of the time.

100_5939 Recent performances have not quite reached the high standards of the last few years, coupled with the results. Not keeping a clean sheet in the last twelve games signals a problem in defence, and the reliance on Lionel Messi for goals suggests a rebuilding exercise for the club in the very near future. However, Messi, Puyol and Xavi have all recently signed contract extensions, which should keep the side together for the next few years at least.

This game against Milan though is one that, even at this stage, will go some way to defining the club’s season. If they can succeed tonight, then the resultant boost from recovering such a negative position should provide enough to get league campaign back on track. Defeat, and the nervous looks over the shoulder at the approaching Atletico and Real Madrid might just turn the last couple of months into nerve fest which Vilanova might not appreciate, especially given the health scares of the last few months. Continue reading