Inspired by Trizia Fiorellino’s looking back at a couple of recent games, Jon Cakebread-Brown exiled in Madrid thought he would do something similar.
As a Chelsea fan living in Madrid since 1995, it’s not been easy for me to go and see my team. I made it to Seville for the 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup QF 1st leg against Real Betis (a 2-1 win thanks to two Flo strikes in the first 10 minutes) and, by borrowing a friend’s season ticket, the 5-1 aet Champions’ League QF 2nd leg trashing in the Camp Nou four years ago. That Barcelona tie returns strongly to mind with the latest QF second leg looming next Tuesday in north London. Not that there are many parallels between the two games, just that next week again offers the chance to progress further than ever before in this truly great competition. Last time in Catalonia we were seven minutes from a semi final against Valencia. Hopefully, no disrespect to Monaco, this time we’ll do it and I can go and see Chelsea at the Bernebéu.
That night in Barcelona was unforgettable. I went there alone taking a flight from Madrid and a train into the centre of Barcelona to pick up my friend’s season ticket and had plenty of time to soak up the pre-match atmosphere in the Ramblas, a beautiful wide pedestrianized avenue that runs down to the sea. Chelsea here Chelsea there Chelsea every f****** where. Good natured banter aplenty, loads of bars, but not one hotel room to be had.
I took the metro to the Camp Nou. That was bizarre. It was as if the District Line had somehow been transplanted into the guts of the Barcelona metro. The train was pretty full of noisy Chelsea fans singing the usual ‘We are the Chelsea so f*** off the rest’ and the then in fashion ‘Ed de ‘Oy-Oy’ to the Gary Glitter ‘Rock and Roll’ 1970s hit. We all got off the train at Les Corts station and walked up and out into the sunshine as if we went there every two weeks and straight over the road to a large bar which was already full of others with blue shirts and scarves holding those ridiculous plastic litre beer cups that can’t be safely held with one hand. Obviously they’re designed to reduce broken glass and encourage greater consumption of alcohol.
Some time later I made my way towards the massive amphitheatre that is the Camp Nou. It’s a huge bowl whose entrances number over 100. I was early so I bought a special ‘friendship’ scarf in Barça colours but with both teams’ logos. I ambled around the stadium and got to my seat early. For those interested, the season ticket was a credit card that I swiped at the turnstile which allowed me in without problems. Once inside I found my seat was perfectly placed – halfway up the south stand a bit to the right of the centre circle. The away support was already in place, shoved right to the top of the east ´fondo’. They were colourful, clapping in unison and presumably singing, but I couldn’t hear them. Their position reminded me of Gerald Scarfe’s artwork for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ where the stadium was so high the highest seats seemed to be hanging upside down. Barcelona’s fans are affectionately known as the ‘culés’ (koo-lez) which means ‘arses’. This is because years ago you could see their arses hanging over the edge of the top of the stadium. Now they stick the away support up there. I suppose when Arsenal played there, the Arse fans were arses too.
The main reason why I couldn’t hear our fans was that a Pink Floyd sized PA system was blasting out sound from reruns of past Barça triumphs, and as the locals came in, their noise was also blasted out via microphones dangling above the stand where I was. Some 20 or so CFC fans appeared to my right which made me feel a bit better, but I was alone in a sea of culés.
As kickoff approached, the fans in the main stand opposite me were asked to raise up the pieces of paper on their seats above their heads. It formed an impressive blue and red (azulgrana) mosaic spelling out the required score – 2-0 to Barça. Coupled with the miked-up cacophony from the PA system, this was all pretty intimidating, but I kept quiet and forced a smile with my azulgrana scarf not revealing the Chelsea logo. My smile was made easier when the excruciatingly dire catalan Barça dirge was played and sung just before kickoff. Believe me it’s so bad it makes Tottenham’s ‘Ossie’s Going to Wembley’ sound as good as Radiohead. I realised that the Catalans around me were probably relations and friends of the friend I had borrowed the season ticket from. I winked at the young lad to my left, ruffled his hair and he smiled. Now they really thought I was a culé.
Not surprisingly, Chelsea froze and allowed Barça to come at them. The required 2-0 scoreline was reached before halftime with Figo blasting one of them in after a rebound from the post. I think Kluivert got the other one. As the ground erupted on both occasions, I hung my head low and felt the disappointment. It was of course Figo who had scored in the 1st leg. Job done for them then, or so it seemed. The second half saw a better Chelsea with Wise superb in the middle. A Chelsea attack led to the Barça keeper (they always have a dodgey one) kicking the ball out straight to Tore Andre Flo on the edge of the box a bit to the right. He curled it left footed into the top corner for a glorious strike. That’s three I’ve seen him net in Spain. I jumped up and shrieked with my arms in the air. Alone. They shouted and spat ire at me and I felt something wet in my hair. Culé spittle I presumed. That’s nice. So much for the friendship scarf. But like the Wolves fan at the Bridge last week that Trizia told us about, what can you do?
Now I was looking at the big digital clock as it slowly ticked down the minutes. Rivaldo missed a penalty. Too nervous to laugh. Seven minutes left. The clock seemed to stop. Then Barça had another penalty and Rivaldo made it count this time. In between I think Babayaro, who generally was awful, was sent off. Extra time in the Camp Nou with ten men. Dream over. Just as well really as a probable thrashing in Valencia was waiting in the semi final as they beat Barça 5-3 on aggregate. In Spain, when a team thrashes you, they say they’ve given you a bath. This 5-1 aet defeat meant we probably avoided that bath.
After the match I passed the time in the Ramblas again where Chelsea fans were happily chatting and drinking, and watching the game again on TV. I was disappointed but, like everyone else, at the same time pretty satisfied with what had been achieved by Vialli. Maybe next week we can finally make further progress.