Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Barcelona - Part Two

Monday, May 28 2012.

We're skipping Sunday. It was a day at the beach, which enjoyable though it was, was never going to be an event. A story. The only thing of note that I feel compelled to report to you was the disturbing practice of fat, hairy men paying to have their fat, hairy bodies massaged by women bonkers enough to offer such a service. No, not me. I'm not hairy.

At the risk of over sensitive types accusing me of some sort of racial slur, I nevertheless feel duty bound to point out also that the women offering this service on the beach in Barcelona all looked to have some kind of Far Eastern origin. I don't know if this is significant or not, it is just a fact. To their credit, they at least had the decency to carry out their irksome task with that weary look of 'it's a job' about their features. Job satisfaction is not something these women seemed to aspire to. Which was handy judging by the client list.

And so back to Monday, and the Nou Camp. The home of Barcelona FC is, I believe, the only place we visited on this trip that we had already explored thoroughly on our last visit here in 2009. I wasn't expecting any major changes in the three years since then. As it turns out there are differences, but they are subtle. In any case, you just can't go to Barcelona for a whole week and not visit the Nou Camp, even if you have seen it only three years previously.

One thing that has not changed is the lack of accessibility to the full stadium tour. Actually, I'm taking a slight liberty there. Last time we visited we were not aware that the stadium tour was inaccessible because we visited on a day when it was closed completely due to a U2 concert being staged that night. Yet if it is not accessible now, then it wasn't accessible then and we just didn't know it. Accessibility is a murky area, but we have not quite reached the stage where things that were once wheelchair friendly suddenly become wheelchair unfriendly. Apart maybe from a few women I know.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that it will be the museum only for us (with a small, unexpected bonus near the end). We get this for a more than reasonable 19 Euros, or 9.50 Euros each. To put this into context it is far less than you would pay at Liverpool where the most recent trophy additions are bordering on antiques, or at Manchester United where there are new trophies but also new fans, than whom there is very little worse in football or even in life itself. The kind of people who will support Chelsea this time next year, or who can tell you all about the treble winning team of 1999 but look at you blankly if you ask about Jimmy Greenhoff or Arthur Graham. Who? Doesn't matter.

Getting from our hotel at Avenue D'Icaria to the Nou Camp involves a couple of bus rides, which you would think would cause all manner of accessibility problems. As those of you who have visited these pages before will know I can't go from Lime Street to St.Helens Central without great risk of ending up in Garswood, and anyone who has been to Garswood will feel that pain instantly. Fortunately, Barcelona is one of the better places I have visited in terms of accessible transportation. The number 14 bus stops right outside Hotel D'Icaria and drops us half way down La Rambla, where there is another stop nearby for the city's tour buses. Unlike in Los Angeles, all of Barcelona's tour buses are fully accessible, and so within an hour or so of leaving the hotel we are at the Nou Camp once more.

We have a late breakfast in Pan's, which is like Subway only nice. All around the restaurant there are television screens, some showing music videos and others showing Barcelona games from various eras. During one, Hristo Stoitchkov is abusing a referee using only hand gestures, while in another Rivaldo is performing sporting miracles which do not involve cheating. A double miracle, if you will.

The gangway leading in to the museum has changed, I notice instantly as we begin. Last time there were various exhibits placed in a row running along the centre of the gangway. Now there are only billboards with adverts. Barcelona is a club which prides itself on it's refusal to jump aboard the commercial gravy train currently dominating football, but if anyone knows how to advertise themselves they do. Most of the billboards advertise the club's own merchandise, others advertise goods used by their players. Boots, energy drinks, shirts, training tops, that kind of crap. Barcelona, run by the fans for the fans, is nevertheless as commercially savvy as Microsoft.

It takes a very long time to get around the museum if, like me, you read everything that you can. I have an interest in history, particularly sporting history, even if I seem to have a total and complete inability to retain the information I learn. So it is with great surprise that I discover that Barcelona was founded by Joan Gamper, along with a group of Swiss, English and Catalan footballers. This is why on the club crest you will find the St.George cross along with the Catalan flag. It does not explain why they have not had an English footballer in their ranks since Gary Lineker, who left in 1989 and can now be found delivering clunkingly awful gags with his other matey ex-pros on Match Of The Day. What explains that phenomenon is that firstly English footballers are terrifyingly over-rated, and also that they are equally overpaid here in England. The English Premier League is now the richest in the world and as such, believes itself the epicentre of all club football. Chelsea's recent bus-parking European Champions League win will have done nothing to dispel this kind of mania.

I digress again. Other stories of interest at the Nou Camp museum include the strange case of Enrique Castro Gonzalez. Quini, as he was known, was kidnapped at gun-point on March 1 1981 and held for 25 days. The police arrested one of Quini's captors when he was on his way to collect the ransom money. Shortly after his release, Quini scored twice in the Copa Del Rey final defeat of his former club Sporting Gijon. The following year, he scored the winner in the European Cup Winners Cup Final against Standard Liege of Belgium. Arguably, kidnapping boosted Quini's career significantly.

One of Barcelona's greats of the late 1950's was a chap called Luis Suarez. Suarez was not Uruguayan but Spanish, the first Spaniard to win the European Footballer Of The Year award. He also helped Spain to win the 1964 European Championship, 44 years before the current generation of Spanish players started to take over the world. As far as the available information at the Nou Camp goes, Suarez never racially abused or bit anyone, nor did he ever celebrate the missing of a penalty which he had deliberately conceded by blatantly slapping the ball away from the goal. None of which stopped Barcelona from flogging him to Inter Milan in 1961 when they were a little bit cash-strapped. He is considered one of Inter's greatest ever players, helping them to two consecutive European Cup successes in 1964 and 1965. Barcelona are really just a selling club.

Not really. They are more than a club. The motto says so. 'Mes Que Un' Club is the message written proudly across the seating one one side of this great stadium, used by the club since 1957. There is also Nike tick on the other side. Commercial? Capitalists? No. Anyway, this brings me around to the little bonus I was telling you about earlier. The presence of Bono and his pals scuppered any chance of seeing the inside of the stadium last time I was here. Emma went in for a sneaky peak but she had to use a couple of steps to do so, and when she got there found that the pitch was invisible due to The Edge's tent. Or something. None of that on this day, however. In the three years since we were last here someone has thought to place a small ramp slightly away from the main stadium viewing area, and I am therefore able to get inside the Nou Camp itself for a look around. Feeling only slightly envious of the people I can see walking along the sidelines and off down the players tunnel while on the full tour, I am still happy enough to be able to view one of the best stadia in world football from an ideal vantage point high up in one of the stands. As much as I love Saints and Super League, it places a little perspective on nights out at Langtree Park.

We get back on the tour bus to explore the Palau Reial de Pedralbes, which until 1931 was the Barcelona residence of the Spanish Royal family. There is a long, gravelly path leading up to it, and the area is decorated with monuments and fountains of some grandeur. However, this Monday is a national public holiday and so it is shut. The door is almost guarded by a statue of Isabella II, Queen of King Alfonso XII. With a beautiful and curious eccentricity, this site is also the home of a ceramics and textiles museum. Which, this being a public holiday and all, is also shut. We take a short stroll around the grounds and head back, where the only place serving anything edible by the time we re-emerge are the fishy restaurants from Saturday night.

But we pass on the Grappa and the bread.

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