Ever since joining the Penya Mallorquista in my adopted home city 1.5 years ago, I am lucky enough to see my favourite team in my adopted homeland weekly on a nice TV, in the company of other fans of Real Mallorca (needless to say in a city like Barcelona, that the number of Mallorca fans is low. Our penya has a 15 members more or less would be my guess). Two games in the season were marked in my calendar: the two away games in Catalonia, where I could see the team live instead of on a TV screen. Those two teams are, obviously, FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol Barcelona. This weekend was the first of these two occasions, when Mallorca travelled to the Catalan capital to face FC Barcelona in Camp Nou. A mission impossible in theory against the best team in the world with some of the best players in the world (and the probably best one in the world at this moment, Lionel "Leo" Messi) but you never know. Last season we went to Camp Nou with the idea of keeping damage limited to 2-0 or 3-0. In the end, we left Camp Nou with a sensational 1-1 draw. This means you are never lost in advance and even the best team in the world can drop points now and then (last weekend this was proven too by Sevilla, who grasped a 0-0 in the Camp Nou). Of course, we also were realistic that the chances of realising such a result twice in a row would be very small, so most of our penya members counted on a loss. In fact, facing a team with world class players such as Messi, David Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Piqué, Puyol, Dani Alves, Abidal, … the opponent only has 1 benefit: you got nothing to lose and nobody will blame you for losing in Camp Nou. That in theory should take the pressure away.
One of the reasons why I fell for Mallorca was the fact that some of my best friends are Mallorquistas (as in: from Mallorca, not really fans of the team) and another main reason is the man between the goal posts. Dudu Aouate, the national goalkeeper of Israel and, I would say, my favourite football player on this earth. I have played as goalie myself in teenage years, so I always have a soft spot for goalkeepers. Somehow I liked Dudu when I first saw him, in 2005 I believe it was with Israel versus Ireland, pulling of an amazing save to a header from close range that kept the 2-2 draw on the scoreboard and prevented an Irish victory. The name stuck with me and then I saw him play in the Primera Division. The more games I saw of him, the more I liked him. He has charisma, fantastic reflexes, and is dominant in his penalty area. A quality goalkeeper and with the charisma that many others lack. When he signed for Mallorca, a club I already sympathised with due to its island location (I have a soft spot for islands too), my choice of which team to support here in Spain was made. Last year Dudu was crucial in the 1-1 we grabbed in Camp Nou, pulling off some great saves. This season, I mainly hoped he would not get too many goals against him.
The penya usually gets invitaciónes, free entry tickets, for its members, in case not all away end tickets are sold out to people from Palma. A fair number of people from Palma made the trip to Barcelona (although they were spread across the stadium, which I quite like as opposed to keeping fans of different teams apart) so the number of free tickets left for our fan club was limited. Luckily enough, I was amongst the first to put the name on the list, and I received the call Friday that I got my ticket. For free to Camp Nou to see my favourite club live. Sometimes you’re lucky in life indeed, a bit of compensation for all misery of other days. Now my admiration for Dudu Aouate was no secret to the fan club. Last season against Barça and Espanyol I think I made as many pictures of him as of the rest of the stadium and game combined. The president of our penya asked the club in advance if a signed shirt from Dudu was not possible as a gift. This would be difficult, I realised, but a signature and picture may be a bit more realistic. I received the message to head to the players’ hotel at noon and ask to meet Aouate for a very brief picture and photo.
The hotel was Hotel Melia at the very long Avinguda de la Sarria. The hotel in a way was a logical choice: very close to Camp Nou. On the other hand, it’s in the middle of the noisy city, with no open spaces nearby for trainings. It also seemed quite a costly hotel, which surprised me a bit since we all know Mallorca has to be careful with cash. The location, in the middle of the city but not too far from Camp Nou, was close to the idyllic Plaça F. Macia, one of my favourite squares in the city. Travelling by bus to the hotel through the different city areas made me realise again how Barcelona really is a good place to be. Arriving at the hotel, I saw some great architecture, but also some oddities. There were no less than 3 Japanese restaurants at walking distance (our only Japanese player in the selection, Aki, was not even selected for this game) and at less than 5 minutes walking from each other there were 3 La Caixa bank offices. I opted for La Caixa as bank precisely for the many offices and ATMs in the city, but three offices in less than a 150 meters seemed a bit over the top. The oddest was the fact that there were 4 (yes, 4 !!) "adult entertainment" clubs along the avenue, of which one was right next door to the hotel. The contrast between a strip club and a classy hotel was quite big and I hope this club was not too distracting to the players 🙂
I mentioned at the hotel reception that I was member of the local Mallorca fan club and that our president had agreed to come here. The hotel receptionist however either had forgotten about that or didn’t want to cooperate, and refused access into the hotel, stating the players were "in meeting". "In meeting"? These are athletes, not businessmen! I assume there was some tactical talks going on, but then why was reserve goalkeeper Calatayud in the lounge chatting with his family? I tried to approach him and ask if he could ask Dudu Aouate to come out for just a 5 minutes, but the hotel security staff blocked my access. There was no other option than to wait outside. Naming the delegation leader (who is no player or staff member but a club board member) also didn’t convince the hotel staff to be cooperative. From one of the players accidently crossing my path while leaving the hotel, I heard the players would board a bus taking them to the stadium at 18:15. That was 4 hours waiting, but I realised it would probably be my best shot since the hotel staff was clearly not convinceable. I killed the time in a nearby tapas bar and took some walks, never straying away from the hotel though.
In this tapas bar I also consumed a patatas bravas (for those not familiar with Spanish cuisine: patatas bravas are baked potatoes in spicy sauce, a typical Catalan dish) and an ice cream as desert. This is important to mention because, as most of you may have read before, I have clinical depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This has greatly influenced my approach to football. In my teenage years, a defeat for my club could make me sad for days. Nowadays, I put the result aside the minute the game is over. If my team loses 10-0 or wins 10-0, weither I feel good or not is only to very limited extent influenced by the scoreline. More important is to just enjoy a game as distraction from my psychological disorders. In the past, like many groundhoppers, I walked from stadium to stadium and could visit 5 grounds in one day. Nowadays, the stress and OCD burden are just making this too emotionally exhausting, to the extent that watching the game in a pub on TV with a clean bathroom and sink nearby, is feeling more relaxing than going to the stadium. So let’s just say that if my team wins but my OCD made the whole game a hard experience, the win will really not make me feel any better. On the contrary, losing a game but having been distracted from OCD and depression an entire night, can feel good. My psychological state helped me to see football in the perspective it really is: just a game, distracting you for a few hours from the hard reality of life that starts again afterwards. I really cannot feel bad for days when my team loses, even relegation can no longer make me feel sad longer than a couple of minutes. To just be able to watch a football game without depression or OCD, that is a real victory. So tonight I was afraid more of the possible OCD attacks than of Messi’s lethal football skills.
So how does a person with OCD prepare for a game where obviously, most stadiums have no clean toilets and sinks to do the handwashing rituals. Well, I simply try to avoid needing the toilet. This means dinner has to happen long in advance of the game and should be a small meal. Then going to the toilet way before the game in a pub rather than hoping the stadium has clean toilets available, is essential too. I realise you may get hungry because you limited yourself to a small meal, but I rather be hungry than to suffer from my contamination OCD and seeing no clean toilets nearby. Plenty of time for a decent meal after the game anyway. So hence I opted for a small patatas bravas dish: kills the hunger without being a really big dish. It’s more like a big snack. I also was lucky this time with the owners of this tapas bar being very understanding: when I explained I had OCD, they assured me I should not rush with using the sink and take my time and relax. This sort of people, showing tolerance, can really make my day. I thanked them several times, because I’ve seen much less friendly tapas bar owners and it feels great to see some people do show understanding. Then it was off to the rest of the day, mainly hoping for a worryless night OCD-wise. Indeed, as much as I hoped for another shock draw like last year, the most important is to be freed of that damn depression and OCD for just a night.
Anyways, the 4 hours nearly came to an end so I again took my position on the street, in front of the strip club, next to the hotel. One after another the players came out. Odd as well were two women who had also been waiting for 4 hours by the hotel. But they were not Mallorca fans, they were not even living in Barcelona but in a small village nearby. They explained they were Athletic Bilbao fans and were waiting all afrernoon by the players’ hotel just to say hello to our coach, former Bilbao coach Caparrós. One after another the players came out and while I was mainly focused on Aouate, I couldn’t resist posing for a picture with some other Mallorca players too. Notably, I am now on a picture with Emilio Nsue (the man who marked the 1-1 equaliser in the shocking draw last season in Camp Nou) and Chori Castro (our in theory most lethal striker). I asked Caparrós for a picture too but somehow he heard I was mainly a big fan of Dudu Aouate so he advised not to waste time on posing with other players and focus on not missing Dudu. As one of the last of the group, Aouate came out. Several other admirers wanted to pose with him too, but being in a rush there was little time. I had no pen with me and thus sadly missed out on a signature, but Dudu did make a moment time available to pose for a picture with me. In a little rush of excitement, I passed my mobile phone to a bystander, quickly explained how the camera worked, and now I am proud to be on a picture with my favourite player overall. At that moment, the night was a success, no matter what the score of the game would be.
I then headed to the metro station where I agreed to meet with the 4 other penya members lucky enough to get a free ticket (the others of the penya had to sadly enough watch the game on TV. Pity, because last year everyone of our small fan club did get free tickets). In the narrow streets towards the Camp Nou, shops already were trying to sell all sorts of merchandising to us, but only of Barça. Since there was no Mallorca-related souvenir, I opted to not spend a euro on any Barça memorabilia. Another oddity was when I suddenly heard my native Dutch in Flemish accent. It appeared to be 4 Belgian tourists who had Barça scarves on. Weither they came as tourists and just decided to attend the game or weither they were Belgian Barça fans having travelled specifically for the game is my guessing, but when I explained that I lived here and was a Mallorca fan, they looked at me like "why?". Oh well, each his own preference. After a few narrow streets the impressive Camp Nou appeared in front of us. I have been at giant stadiums before: Old Trafford, Amsterdam ArenA, Olympiastadion Berlin, just to name a few. Somehow the Camp Nou is more impressive than those others. That said, I don’t find it a pretty stadium. But the size of it makes you dazzle a tiny bit nonetheless. While I disliked how many advertisements there were, one of the tiny details that was nice was that in the walls of the stadium, the logo of each official penya (fan club) was showing.
Next to the giant Camp Nou, there was the Mini Estadi, connected to the main ground by a tunnel hanging above the street. There was a game going on, the Catalan derby between Barcelona B and regional rivals Gimnastic Tarragona. A nice Catalan derby in the second level of Spanish football. In theory it was possible to do a "double" because Barcelona-Mallorca would kick off exactly 15 minutes after the end of the other game. Because of my desire to meet Dudu Aouate and because I had to meet the other fan club members prior to the game, it was impossible to attend the game in the Mini Estadi (which is not as mini as it sounds: capacity is still 20000). Also in the same complex is the Palau Blaugrana, where the indoor teams of FC Barcelona play. To show how much of an imperium this club is: the indoor football team leads the Spanish league (and trashed the nr 3, Navarro, with 7-2 the day before), the basket team Regal FC Barcelona ranks amongst the best in Europe, the rollerskate hockey team leads the Spanish league, and the handball team are joint leaders of the Spanish league along with the handball section of Atletico Madrid. Yes, Barça is succesful on many fronts, and the countless trophies are gathered in a huge museum (which we did NOT visit). Europe’s biggest football stadium with right next door a big museum, a second stadium and a big indoor sports ground… and then we’re not talking about the youth training complex which is almost a small compound. This club is massive.
Now I have nothing against Barça, for sure not. But it will never be "my team". Because of what I just described. It is a bit too big for me, a bit too massive. Also, I find the club too commercialised. Living in Catalonia and especially in Barcelona, you are literally seeing the most absurd Barça merchandise in every shop. Apart from several official fan stores in the city, hundreds of shops sell the most insane stuff from Barcelona-coloured lollypops and chips with the club logo on the package, to fridges with the club logo and other such things that have nothing to do with football. The marketing machine works very well, but really, this is nice for one visit a year when Mallorca plays here, but this club is a bit too big for my liking. I prefer small and cosy. It’s nice for once but I could not really support this club as a real fan. Also, how commercialised it all is was showing in the countless small tents outside the ground selling Barça gear, and facepainting those who wanted in the bluagrana colours.
A third oddity appeared when on our way to the right entrance, a radio journalist of a regional radio was walking around for chats with fans, and suddenly picked me and the penya president. When we said we actually were Mallorca fans, the radio journalist (an attractive female by the way) was clearly surprised but quickly enough nonetheless was hoping to hear from us that Messi is the best player ever. We responded that he for sure is the best in the world right now but that he is too young yet to already compare with the likes of Maradona, Pele, … but that he may end up as the best ever if he manages to keep on playing as he’s been doing the last seasons. That answer seemed to satisfy the radio journalist but –more joking than anything else– I added in my best Spanish live on the radio that tonight he wouldn’t score because Aouate (my football idol) would stop whatever shot came in his direction. Knowing Messi would score a hat-trick later on tonight, I probably lost my reputation of football savant forever, although the tone of my voice should have indicated it was wishful thinking rather than predicting. But hey, I’ve been live on some regional radio station, a nice extra before entering the Camp Nou.
I said it before, the size of this stadium is massive. I wonder how the people on the highest ring can even recognise the players, that’s how big and high it is. We were lucky that our 5 free tickets lead to more or less the same places as during last season’s 1-1: very close to the field and covered (the only part with a roof is the lowest tier, where you can even hear the players shout, that’s how close to the pitch you are). We were very close to the corner flag so seeing everything on the other side of the ground in detail was a bit difficult, but still this is better than sitting way up on the highest tier with no roof. The stadium is so big it makes you dazzle a bit. As I said, I don’t particularly find it a pretty stadium: too modern to be nostalgic, but not that well maintained at all places neither. Still, it by far beats the other giant stadiums I’ve been in, although I do wish to visit San Siro and the Bernabeú before making a judgement. Also, the Besiktas’ stadium remains my nr 1 worldwide, but that is not big enough to rank amongst "giant stadiums". Fans of both teams were mixed, which I like a lot, segregating fans is not necessary and a civilised person should be able to behave when sitting next to a fan of the opposition team. Luckily we sat nicely mixed with some Mallorca fans spread across the ground.
About the game, we can be short: Barça was much much too strong and the 5-0 end result was not exagerated at all. We may have seen a different game had Mallorca converted a huge chance at 0-0: a perfect pass over the ground from the left reached João Victor at the first post, totally uncovered and from very close distance, this should always be a goal but he shot the ball wide. Such chances are rare against Barça and if you miss them, you know it will be a hard night. Had we taken the lead then, we may had another situation. Now we missed a huge chance, which would also prove to be our only real chance of the entire game.
In some way, I thought we were not that bad. Last season we had a 1-1 draw but were outplayed and Aouate saved 8 or 9 crucial shots to save the point. Now Barça didn’t create the same number of chances but just converted them very well, and we tried to attack much more often than last season but were facing a defense that was just too good. The pace in which Barça switches from defense into attack was impressive and Aouate indeed had to make some early saves before in the 13th minute Villa tried to cross hitting the stretched arm of Nsue. If it was deliberate or not, there is little discussion that this indeed is a penalty kick. Aouate chose the right corner, but Messi’s ball was just too perfectly placed in the top corner, I doubt any goalkeeper would have saved this.
Not much later David Villa made it 2-0 almost, but face to face with Aouate, the Israeli goalie saved his shot brilliantly. By then I had already photographed the stadium in each corner but again, despite having already over 100 Dudu Aouate photos from last season, I spent another 20 or 30 photos on Aouate alone. You’re a fan for some reason, no? 🙂
The 2-0 was delay of execution. Cuenca’s cross reached Adriano on the far post. He passed the ball very quickly to the other post where Messi shot the ball into an empty net. It went so fast that the defense was simply outplayed in a fashion that rarely happens, even for the standards of Mallorca. I feared the crossed in advances because I knew how dangerous those can be, but the Barça players were given way too much liberty. At the half hour mark, Dani Alves lifted the ball over the defense in a perfect way, leaving Messi with the simple task to shot the ball past Aouate in the net. 3-0 after half an hour and a hat trick for Messi, if only I kept my mouth shut towards that radio reporter… At that moment Barça lowered the pace, although it could have been 4-0 with some more luck for Barça: Aouate had to punch a cross from the right away but collapsed with an own defender and went down hurt. The shot from, I think, Thiago, was blocked from going into the net by João Victor. Half-time score 3-0.
Right after half time the score went up to 4-0. Cuenca, one of the many youngsters breaking through from the Barcelona youth ranks, came face to face with Aouate, dribbled him and shot into the net. The quesion again: where was the defense? Aouate was without blame all game long but still it was 4-0 with 40 minutes left to play. There is some serious work to be done at the defense… After that Barça lowered the pace a bit, although there were still opportunities for a higher score. Piqué, who entered the game during second half, saw in a scrimmage his ball be cleared in front of the goal line by Mallorca defender Chico. A brilliant Messi free kick was equally brilliantly dived out of the far corner by Aouate. A magnificent save and I felt proud a bit, even with the 4-0 score. He had not been at fault in any of the goals anyway and prevented a higher, more embarrassing score. The only player to still find the net was Dani Alves, who in injury time fired an unstoppable shot from distance against the crossbar from which it bounced into the net. Probably the nicest goal of the entire evening, and knowing he also gave a brilliant assist at the 3-0, Alves was one of the best players on the pitch by far. For Mallorca, we can say that the score could have been higher and that the defense has serious work to do to improve. A bit of solace for me was that none of the 5 goals were goalkeeper mistakes and that Dudu at times prevented more goals.
Last year it was a game full of tension and against all odds we grasped a 1-1 draw. This year, Barça did convert the chances and the result was a 5-0. Now losing here is not a shame, it was expected. For a team whose aim is to stay up, the points have to be gained in games against the lower ranked teams, everything we got so far against bigger teams (draws against Valencia and Atletico Madrid) is bonus. The defeat at home vs Gijon on mid-week was a lot more sour than this more or less expected defeat in Barcelona. Last year we stayed up with just 1 point more than the relegating Deportivo La Coruña, and that was with 8 points gained against Barça, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. So of course the points you get against the big teams can be decisive. But losing here is not a shame, and the players should just focus on the next games now.
Some remarks: Camp Nou is impressive, but those for whom a game is not complete without singing fans, ultra’s and/or tifosi, this is not the right destination. Most Barça fans sat still on their chairs and only stood up when there was a goal. Singing occurred only at limited moments and apart from a very tiny portion of fans behind one of the goals, few made effords to create noise. A mexican wave attempt was downward a failure because only those on the bottom tier stood up while the others higher up in the stadium sat still. Now for me this is good, I prefer it cosy and not too noisy, for me singing fans can be nice but they are no requirement for a nice game. Those however who think otherwise should know that, no matter how many there are in the stadium, the Barça fans aren’t exactly specialists in making an intimidating atmosphere. For those who share my point of view that noise is not so important and that it’s nicer to cosily watch a game without segregation of fans, a once-off visit to Camp Nou can be a pleasant experience.
For me, as weird as it may sound after losing 5-0. the evening felt pleasant and somewhat like victory when I realised my OCD and depression did not bother me the entire day. There was enough distraction, I had met my favourite player to pose for a picture, and my OCD didn’t strike during the game neither. To me, such a night even when the team loses, is a moral victory. The team lost, but I beat OCD just for one day. So all in all, you won’t hear me complain about the night out in Camp Nou. I was afraid of OCD striking at the Camp Nou more than being afraid of a defeat. The OCD didn’t strike, so no complaints here.