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August 2015. It’s amazing to think of how I accidentally got to see the legendary Barcelona football team play live in the flesh. I’d been wandering around the Spanish city of Bilbao when, quite suddenly, a huge coach pulled up in front of me and a bunch of familiar looking guys filed out onto the sidewalk and into a plush looking hotel. Some of them looked very familiar… in fact, wasn’t that…? They had pretty much all disappeared by the time I figured out I’d just seen the Barcelona team arrive. Was there a game going on? “Yes, Bilbao plays Barcelona,” said the friendly Spanish waiter in a nearby tapas joint. So I rejigged my wanderings and headed down to Athletic Bilbao’s impressive San Mames Stadium expecting to see feverish crowds. But the place was dead! Much to my confusion it turned out the game was taking place the next day, so I shrugged my shoulders and went back to my sightseeing.
August 2015. I hadn’t even thought about getting a ticket. I mean this was Barcelona; it was bound to be sold out, right? I wasn’t even going back to the stadium, but then as fate would have it I found myself in the neighborhood the next day about an hour before kickoff. So I started following the streaming lines of red and white striped supporters. This time San Mames was positively buzzing! Soaking it all in, I instinctively joined one of the counter queues just to be nosy. “Uh… are there any tickets left?” “Si, where you want to sit?” “Um… with the home fans?” “Ok, 50 Euros”. “Alright, then”.
August 2015. Before I knew what was going on I was peering out over the pitch inside San Mames just before kickoff. I soon got chatting to a friendly home fan who agreed to take a photo for me… but only on the condition that I put on his Bilbao scarf. “You will support the Bilbao, yes?”he asked me, to which I replied sure, why not? In truth I didn’t really care who won, but figured I should probably root for the local team, especially as they were huge underdogs.
August 2015. The game itself wasn’t a classic its fair to say. But the atmosphere in Sam Mames was nevertheless electric throughout, the Bilbao fans really getting behind their team and giving some of the Barcelona players just about every shade of vocal hell. Barcelona weren’t really on form that day, but the gulf in class was still evident in the simple, elegant way they stroked the ball about and some sublime touches from the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Busquets. I remember the nervous silence that engulfed the stand around me as Rakitic lined up this dangerous looking free kick. And then the rippling wave of audible relief as the ball drifted harmlessly over the bar.
August 2015. In the end Barcelona won the game 1-0 and unfortunately the loathsome Suarez bagged the winning goal. This was particularly irksome as he’d been up to his usual tricks all game. Rolling around on the turf at every opportunity, selfishly failing to play in a teammate during a promising move and constantly hassling the ref for a multitude of pointless reasons. Messi on the other hand was a joy to watch, despite cutting a mostly frustrating figure that day. The highlight of the game, by a country mile, was when Barcelona were awarded a penalty. It was Messi of course who stepped up to take it and I’ll never forget the deafening roar that greeted the acrobatic save pulled off by Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz. Better still, I was quick enough to capture the moment on video – a great addition to the LL archives!
Like this? Check out more reports from my wanderings around the Spanish city of Bilbao.
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