Written by CarlitoII
On the eve of THE rematch, I wanted to share my experience of living in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I moved there (permanently in my mind) 3 days after 9/11. I fell in love with the City, Las Ramblas, the fantastic area of Gracia where we lived, and the relaxed and welcoming Spanish/ Catalan lifestyle.
Needless to say, I met a lot of Barcelona fans during my 18 month sojourn in their fair city and the discussions I had with them led me to be very disappointed in their fan culture. Admittedly, this was during the days of Van Gaal at Barcelona, and the era of Zidane, Raul and McManaman at Real Madrid. Nonetheless, it seemed to me that there was a vast discrepancy between how I thought of myself as an Arsenal fan, and how they saw themselves as Barca fans.
I find it hard to recall specific games, but it slowly dawned on me that the supporters I met would rather lose playing great football. In protest at the pragmatic tactics of the dour Dutchman, the masses waved white hankies around the ground, walked out when their team went behind and constantly complained about what the man said in the press and his lack of charisma. Being a young man who had supported Arsenal throughout the Graham years, I could not understand the fans’ complicity in their own downfall.
The great history of the club was explained to me: the amazing resistance to Franco that meant the stadium was the only place in the whole of Spain where you could speak Catalan without fear, the amazing football of the 70s with Cruyff, the Cruyff-led “dream team” that won the European Cup at Wembley and the tradition of swashbuckling football that was always, first and foremost, an expression of anarchist resistance to the Fascist regime of Franco. All themes I could warm to, yet the reality was a spoilt football public that would not sing unless winning with style and constantly sniped at their players and coaching staff.
I was unimpressed. Moreover, Arsenal were playing the best football I had ever seen us play and that Summer we won the double and won the league at Old Trafford which I watched at a great Irish pub near the Sagrada Familia. There was no comparison. At Highbury I knew that if we went 1-0 down we would not throw in the towel and signal our surrender as the white hankies demonstrated, we would sing up and urge our team on. In fact, I characterised the crowd at Camp Nou as Tottenham fans- forever in thrall to past glories, getting on their team’s back and dragging them down.
Now Barcelona were not a bad team in those days. They had Kluivert on top form, Saviola looked like he was going to be top drawer and with Overmars, DeBoer and Rivaldo there was no doubting they were a force. But they couldn’t match Real Madrid at home (they went out to them in Europe too) and they didn’t play with enough panache for their demanding ‘socios’. I didn’t even want to go to Camp Nou, I was disgusted by the sniping and what I felt was a lack of support for their team. Angry and drunk one night, I asked, “Do you only support when the team plays well?” How they laughed at the young Englishman with his lack of class and his broken Spanish!
10 years later I find that my own team has now acquired a similar attitude from its fanbase. “We’ll sing when you play well enough” seems at times to be the dominant theme on the blogs and from the fans. I thought when I lived in Barcelona that Arsenal fans would forever be superior, would never question the club or the team as long as they played their hearts out and we sang our hearts out.
But it seems that success is a double-edged sword and despite Barcelona coming through their malaise to become the greatest football team I have ever seen play the game, their fans no longer know what it is to support their team through thick and thin, they are merely connoisseurs of great football and I hope with all my heart that even if we one day become as great a team as they are, we never fail to support our team when the going gets tough.