I had this perfect dream, like a jewel in the sun - Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballè once bellowed with immortal conviction – The wind is a gentle breeze and the bells are ringing out; Barcelona, such a beautiful horizon…
As I climbed the final steps that opened into the cavernous theatre of football, never before has the sentiment of a song rung so true.
With the early evening sun setting and a warm wind blowing from the surrounding Catalan mountains, The Camp Nou rises from below the earth like a majestic giant overlooking the city.
As night closes in, kick-off ever closer, families gather and picnics emerge. Any remnant of the English terrace culture eradicated with the distribution of sunflower seeds and a cultured kiss.
Gone is the pre-game downing of beer and the vexing ingestion of barely warm pies, replaced instead by an overwhelming anticipation fed by Latin passion.
For one night only I am able to unite in the euphoria and join the chosen few: ‘Barça, Barça, Barrrcelonaaa!’ - cries the crowd in accompaniment with the seemingly indefatigable brass section.
Piqué, Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi’ – Men and women, young and old, the stadium as one conducts the players; giving a name to every touch of the ball.
With darkness surrounding me, the pitch glows. Blurs of scarlet and blue dance around the static shapes of opposing players, the immediacy of the passing a ballet of one-touch football: precision and flare.
The dance progresses, the choreography more elaborate; the throng becomes hungry and then suddenly it happens. As if in slow motion, nothing more than a nonchalant back heel finds an opening.
Requiring no invite the Argentine assassin – ‘Messi!’ - is on the ball. One touch and he is beyond the flailing defence of his opponents, a second for composure - and finally he is firing low past the despairing goalkeeper.
The rout begins; a siege mentality besets the travelling team. But this is no heroic Spartan resistance, a total capitulation both on and off the pitch. Wave after wave of attack occurs and the wayfaring away fans sink deeper into cold plastic seats, casting a desolate shadow in their station high amongst the clouds.
The shrill of the final whistle brings the ceremony to a close and 90,000 Catalans erupt. The cathedral of football is now empty, but in another 4 days the ritual will begin anew - Barça, Barça, Barrrcelonaaa!