Football is a religion in Europe. As an American, with the exception of the World Cup finals, I have paid very little attention to football. That changed for me by moving to Europe with a little boy, as a fan of the sport, and the love of watching kids of all ages play the sport. Everyone lives and breathes football here and the star players of the game are the gods of the football universe. In Barcelona, and other parts of the world, Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona, may be the most popular player in the world.
In Europe and almost everywhere else, Football is the game you play with your foot and a round ball. In the States, this is called soccer, whereas the American football game uses the foot in very few plays in the game. Go figure. Now as a local, in this blog, I will refer to it as football.
I have never been to a real match and, unfortunately, we were leaving Barcelona, two days before the The Champions League football match at Barcelona Stadium, otherwise known as Camp Nou.
Regardless, we decided to go to Camp Nou, to the Museum and you can see the pitch (the field) from several perspectives. Of course, be prepared if you are going with children to just give them your American Express card when you enter, because you will be spending money there.
Camp Nou is the biggest football stadium in Europe as it holds approximately 100,000 people. There is an electricity in the air, even when it isn’t a game day.
As you approach the stadium there is a giant mural of the top players on the FC Barcelona team. The first thing you see in the Museum is the trophy and memorabilia room. You will see the evolution of the balls and boots that have been used over the last 80 years. You will see an amazing collection of trophies (As of this writing Barcelona have just won the Champions League final – Congratulations). All looks and sizes. The room is dimly lit and all the trophies are in glass cases. So forget about using a flash on your smartphone and camera and try to use a lens with an aperture capability of 2.0 or better. At a minimum, it is better to take photos of the trophies from the side of the glass than the intuitive straight on picture.
You will also learn about the history of the club and the special relationship, the club has with the public. Photos and newspaper clippings are thrilling to see. In one case, is a Barcelona #10 jersey (Messi’s number), with President Obama’s last name on it. It was a gift to the President
After the Museum, you go inside the stadium to a higher perspective as see the view. At that time, I realized how big this place really was, and how awesome it must be to watch a match there. As I was taking some wide- angle photos of the stadium, I noticed the men mowing the grass on the pitch. The more I watched, the more intrigued I became. Why were two men using these relatively small mowers for such a large field and what were the lines in the grass about?
I ended up taking photos of them at different levels to show the contrast between the size of the mowers and the size of the pitch. Apparently, there are different types of grass and they cared for each in a special unique way.
During the tour you will be asked, with no obligation, to have your photos taken with a green screen, where you will later have a photo with you and Messi hugging, with the team etc. Do it and accept the fact that you will be relieved of more euros at the end.
You will also see a locker room with the usual facilities. For me, my eyes zeroed in on the refrigerator with a built in ice machine. One of the hardest things for me to cope with living in Europe, is almost no fridges have the built in icemaker. I am an iceaholic. I was more envious of that than the big Jacuzzis.
The icing on the cake is going down to field level. For some this is selfie heaven, but sooner or later, people realize it is big and so wide, that without a wider- angle lens, or someone shooting from much higher, it will be hard to get a perspective shot.
For me, watching the groundkeepers go up and back on the pitch in a long, detailed meticulous way was a labor of love. It is also cool to see the leather seats – the players, reserve players and coaches, use on the field. Take your time after your photos and just soak up the history and gravity of the football shrine.
As you complete the tour, you are offered multiple combinations of photos, albums and magnets with the green screen photos they took. Then the finale, the store where jerseys, balls, and anything else you can think of is on sale. It is very well done and reminds of a Nike store in Chicago.
Five hours later, we left Camp Nou, and it had become a part of all of us forever.
On a side note I would like to tell you what I love about watching matches on TV vs. American sports and what I love about children playing it here. On the TV side:
- No, or very few, commercial interruptions during each half of play. To be able to watch a game and really get into the ebb and flow is amazing. In the States, I have to tape the game, start an hour or so later, go on Internet and phone lockdown, and fast-forward through all the adverts. Ridiculous.
- Aerial view of the field. At all times you can see at least half the pitch at any time and know where all the major players are. In American football, they show you the line of scrimmage and the main players and one receiver downfield if the ball is thrown to him. You have no idea where the other players are and how the play is run. The only plausible explanation I heard is because the coaches don’t want to look stupid if you were able to see context. An interest note is that you will always see quarterbacks (the lead players) looking at a notebook that has these aerial views, so he can study formations. So they are shooting it, just not distributing it.
- There is a purity and simplicity to the game. You just need a ball, shoes and maybe shin guards and you are good to go. It is a team sport and whether you are the goalie, defense or striker you can be a star. When we go into a park in any city in the world, and my boy is holding a football, another boy will start to play with him even if they don’t speak the same language. They speak the language of football. Rich or poor, whatever the background, football is a language and a religion.
- The more you watch and play, the more you appreciate the clever moves and strategies the players use. No matter how much experience anyone has, they can always get better.
I guess before I go, I should mention FIFA. In the long run, the truth will come out. Yes, less developed countries were brought into the football fold, but at a great cost to human rights and countries. I was not shocked by the story, but by the fact that it was the United States taking down FIFA. Why didn’t Europe take the lead as the world powerhouse in football? I am sure there is a very complicated and very political answer.
Fortunately for the players, fans and kids enjoying the sport, football in itself is pure and will become more and more popular even in the States. I highly recommend any family in Barcelona to go to Camp Nou and witness history.