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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

Valeri & the Tsar at the Camp Nou

Steve Porter
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Plaça Catalunya, Liceu, Drassanes, Paral·lel, Poble Sec, Espanya, Tarragona, Sants-Estació, Plaça del Centre. My friends and I get off the Green Line at Les Corts.

A Danny Devito look-alike stops us at the top of the Metro steps.

“Quieres billetes para el partido.”

I tell him we might want to go to the match.

“Muy bien. Mira.”

He shows me four season tickets.

“Vale, ven conmigo.”

He keeps talking as we follow him.

“What’s he saying?” Ann asks.

“Pepe can get us all in for twelve thousand pesetas. Four thousand each. Less than twenty quid.”

“That’s not too bad,” says Kris. “Who do the other tickets belong to?”

“His wife and two daughters. They are boycotting matches at the moment because they do not like the tactics of ‘Charly’ Rexach, the Barça coach.”

Fans flood into the narrower Travessera de les Corts from Gran Via de Carles III. We pass the mini stadium, home of the B team, which is the size of a decent English first division ground. After that there’s the club museum and then the home of Barça’s basketball club.

At the Camp Nou itself, many people are buying from the touts rather than the official ticket offices. Pepe tells us to have a look at the official prices to prove he is offering a good deal. We all agree. Pepe gives me two season tickets. Kris and I walk in front with Pepe and Ann just behind. The stewards barely glance at the memberships. We are inside the Camp Nou climbing towards the tier in the sky. Hoping that no other favours are expected, I follow Pepe into the toilets, as agreed, to give him the ticket money.

“Muy bien,” he says slapping me on the back. “Ahora vamos a ver al Barça.” (Now we are going to watch Barça.)

Pepe picks up four free programmes at the top of the steps and shows us to our seats. Optimists would argue that the Camp Nou is half full. But fifty thousand unoccupied seats doesn’t help generate a big game atmosphere.

Thirty years have passed since Glasgow Rangers won the European Cup Winners’ Cup against Moscow Dynamo in this very stadium. Fans of the Glasgow club were unable to control themselves afterwards and Rangers were subsequently banned from European competition the following season.

This match is a more subdued affair. Just after half-time Saviola puts Barcelona two ahead. The crowd applaud, then sit back to relax as if engrossed in an enjoyable film plot. Then Els Boixos Nois, Barça’s lunatic fringe, chant “Vuélvete a la selva” (Get back to the jungle), as Wagner, Celta’s black midfielder, fires a shot just wide.

Reina launches a long kick downfield. Kluivert watches the ball come over his shoulder. It is headed back into the centre circle by a Celta defender. Rivaldo controls it but wants too much time. Wagner dispossesses him and finds Alex Mostovoi…

I am sharing a stadium with the Tsar of Vigo again. Space is infinite up here but down on the pitch Barça’s midfielders are closing in on him. In a microsecond Mostovoi spots Valeri Karpin’s run and slides the ball through the narrow channel. Karpin collects and scoops the ball over Reina. The ball hushes the back of the net—distant joyous cries from the Celta players and a few displaced Galicians. Karpin rushes to collect the ball and the celestial ants hurry back to the centre circle.

With time running out, a Mostovoi corner is headed home. The locals grumble and throw their hands up in disgust. Karpin gets involved in a rumpus on the near flank with a Barça defender. The referee flashes the red card at Karpin. He makes a pair of imaginary spectacles with his hands and is dragged, still complaining, from the pitch by two of his team-mates. The final whistle blows. The crowd is already making its way out.

The spectre of Johan Cruyff persists over the Camp Nou.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationJuly 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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