July 1, 2015

Barcelona- a real football story

The following short story is from 2001. I am sure you will still find it exciting and refreshing even today.

I have a friend at work named Martin Jona, who is originally from Argentina, but currently lives in New-Zealand. Martin spends his spare time writing for the online daily sports newspaper in Spain; "Don Balon", which covers sport events in Spain, as well as around the world, focusing mainly on football.
In 2001 I spent six days in Barcelona with my friend Benny, who came from New York. I asked Martin if he could help us get tickets through "Don Balon", to either watch the Barcelona football team, or to the second team in the city "Espanyol".
Martin made the necessary arrangements and informed me that not only 'Don Balon' invited me to visit the Camp-Nou Stadium, one of the largest and most beautiful stadiums in Europe, but also, that a pair of tickets for the Barcelona game would be available for me in the ticket booth.

The next day I woke up having mixed feelings. I was so excited, yet worried that something might happen to prevent this incredible wish of mine from coming true. I started doubting all that Martin had said, thinking 'something must go wrong'.
Benny and I arrived at the stadium at 10am and immediately started looking for the ticket booth. We went around the huge stadium, from one booth to another, to find very few people who could help and communicate in English.
At some point we thought we reached the right booth, which was closed until after the siesta. Therefore, Benny and I took advantage of the situation and spent the day watching the practice of Barcelona Youth football team followed by the Barcelona basketball team that practiced in the amazing training complex. We finished the afternoon shopping at the local 'Zara' store.

At 5pm the ticket booth opened, but our tickets weren't there. You can imagine how disappointed we were... We started walking back to the hotel.  On our way we bumped into a person who told us, using his broken English, that we were yet again in the wrong place. He directed us to the right place, frantically but happily we started running towards that booth.
We finally reached the right booth, where we got our tickets for the next day's game. Despite spending a hectic day of chasing the tickets all over the stadium, we felt as if our mission had been accomplished. Had we known the surprise awaited for us the next day, we would have happily agreed to spend the whole night on the stadium's floor.

So what was our surprise? We reached the stadium two hours before the game was supposed to start. We tried to enter through many gates. For a half an hour we walked from one gate to another, asking confused security guards "Donde Esta?" (Where is it?) While showing them the tickets, only to find another confused security guard who sent us to an even more confused supervisor. We didn't understand how neither of them recognized the tickets, although the tickets were issued directly by the Barcelona Club, or why they don't let us in. Were our tickets so rare and special that no one recognized them?
While we started getting frustrated, we heard a short, older man with a mustache, wearing a Barcelona hat calling us to approach him. He seemed like one of those people who knew everyone and everything about the team. We showed him the tickets and he asked us to wear it on our neck, as a badge, while he led us to a side door, pointing us to keep walking ahead. 
We started walking in the direction the old man pointed us out. The hallway was dark and silent. We kept walking straight and then down the stairs of a spiral shape staircase, into another dark hallway while thinking "Could the people of Spain sent us to the cellars of the Spanish Inquisition once again?" and then something happened, we smell it- The smell of grass. What a thrill. We figured we are walking in the right direction and after two minutes we ran into another suited guard who looked at our badges and pointed us down the stairs. While walking, Benny asked "have you noticed the dressing rooms?" and I thought to myself that I did see people change, but I guess I didn't pay it much attention because I was distracted by the smell of the grass.
We kept walking downwards in a dark, coal-mine-like tunnel, which had small light bulbs that shed dim of light every few steps of the way. We reached the end of the tunnel and walked up a few steps to find ourselves, just like in a dream, standing on the Camp-Nou Stadium football field.

Barcelona Stadium

Benny and I looked at each other with disbelief. Here I am, just a simple guy who asked his friend to possibly use his connections, mesmerized by what I see and where I am. I was only an arm-length away from the players of Barcelona, whom I've watched many times on TV A sudden fear came over me, that in a few seconds someone will come and tell me that this is all one big mistake, that our tickets are fake and I'll be arrested for trespassing, while all I wanted was to sit with the rest of the Barcelona fans and watch a nice football game.

Looking around us, there were dozens of reporters with tape recorders and photographers with sophisticated cameras, all taking pictures and filming the 80,000 people in the stadium. While I was standing on the field, amazed, holding my brand new 50$ digital camera I had bought a few days earlier, and Benny with his single-use camera, I felt all eyes on us. Benny felt the same way and told me to immediately start taking pictures, so by the time the reporters approached us with questions, we pretended to be the two online sports reporters from America (2001 was the beginning of the digital cameras and internet era, so we were a hit).
Benny and I started acting like real reporters, taking pictures of the stadium, of every corner, of every fan, of every player who came on the field to start his warm up. When I realized Rivaldo, the Brazilian player, was just a few meters from me, I froze. It took me a few seconds to come to my senses and I was back to taking more pictures, like the rest of the reporters. While wondering how I got myself in this position, I saw Emmanuel Petit, Luis Enrique, Kluivert, Xavi and all the rest of the famous players of Barca get off the filed, and back on, while thousands of Confetti papers were thrown in the air, and I'm on the verge of a heart attack.
We realized the game was about to begin as we saw the reporters starting to spread out and walk in different directions, but we had no clue where to go next. Right on time, came the short older man with the mustache, for the rescue. He led us to our booth that was on top of the stands, just above the grass, a special place for reporters and journalists like ourselves, with TV screens and cold/hot drinks. We sat down and watched the game.


Confetti papers

The game ended and Barcelona won 4-2. We were wondering where we should head now. We showed our passes to another guy who led us through another dark tunnel. This time he told us to turn left and walk up. We walked right in the press conference room. This time we were not hesitant. We were the 'Don Balon' online reporters from America.

The press conference started with the interview of the Barcelona coach, followed by the president of Barcelona. Then, Xavi, a young player who grew up in the club answered some questions. I look around to find Luis Enrique sitting meters away from me on a chair. Then Enrique gave an interview and I looked at him as if I understood every single word he said. After him, Kluivert, the talented Dutch striker who scored 2 our of the 4 goals that game, answered some questions, and we were so in character that we considered asking our own questions, but we stopped ourselves and just enjoyed the moment.

Luis Enrique

When the press conference was over, we stepped out and saw Kluivert giving an interview to the TV so I got as close as I could and Benny took a picture of me with Kluivert.

With Kluivert

Taking the last pictures, we stepped out to a dark night outside, but a lot of light on the inside, full of energy that can't be described and an unforgettable experience.

The next day I got a text message from Martin who told me he watched the game on the Spanish channel and right when he was about to fall asleep, he recognized me standing next to Kluivert and couldn't believe his eyes. If he couldn’t believe it, what am I supposed to say! Till this day I find it hard to believe that this actually had happened to me.

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