Barcelona 8 Puchov 0 (15/10/2003)
Most people love Barcelona. The city, that is, if not the club. I was on my second day of my second visit there, and I still wasn’t convinced. My first visit had been four years earlier, and barely a few hours into my visit I joined the lengthy ranks of people who’d been pickpocketed. The guy approached me as I walked past a seedy-looking strip club (is there any other kind?) on Las Ramblas, and I thought he was trying to encourage me to go inside. As I rebuffed him, he started some weird “matey” conversation, before walking away. I sort of guessed straight away and saw the pickpocket switch my wallet to an accomplice, who I chased down the back alleys. What I’d have done if I’d caught him, I’ve no idea. I was tired out from being out all day, and he was several inches taller than me. It did result in him throwing down my wallet, minus the cash but with all credit cards etc still in place. Even if I did only lose about £30, it soured my view of the city.
Four years later I went back, willing to give the city a second chance. I would spend a few days there, as well as take in a Barcelona match in the UEFA Cup. A little wiser and more worldly now, I didn’t fall victim to anything, but in rained. A lot. Flying in over France was lovely clear skies, but as we approached the Spanish border, a thick line of cloud presented itself like a giant duvet ahead, and I’d be under it for the duration. In fact the rain was bad enough to make part of the ceiling collapse in the departure lounge of Girona airport on the day I flew home, but everyone there was in such a stupor of boredom that there was hardly any reaction.
The rain wasn’t relentless, so I did manage to enjoyably take in a few things before scurrying under cover each time the heavens opened, but as I made my way to the stadium for the evening the rain continued.
I think when people think about taking in a Barcelona game, they imagine sitting among a 95,000+ crowd of fanatical fans, probably playing Real Madrid. A UEFA Cup tie against Slovakian minnows Matador Puchov probably isn’t quite what they had in mind. The Barcelona public clearly felt the same way. Barcelona had just come off the back of a poor season by their standards, and had been struggling at home. Conceding a last minute equaliser in the away leg probably did little to stifle the grumbles of the faithful.
And when people think about taking in the game, the often imagine themselves sampling the novelty of the high upper tiers of this magnificent venue. They probably just don’t imagine it raining. Not really wanting to spend a miserable evening getting soaked, I opted for a seat in the main stand, under the roof. The view from there, unlike the seats up in the heavens, was terrific, and so it should have been at the price I paid. The main stand seemed fairly full, but the rest of the crowd, which would turn out to be under 30,000, were generally squeezed into the back rows of the first and second tiers, under the overhang of the tiers above. A few hardy souls braved the open seats, while those in the top tier opted for umbrellas to stay dry.
It was all rather strange seeing this famous stadium with such a low crowd. And strange became surreal shortly before kick-off. As well as the Barcelona club song, the scoreboard played a full-length cartoon of Abba’s “A Man After Midnight”, with the lyrics replaced with Barcelona inspired set of words, so it was “Barca, Barca, Barca” replacing “Gimme, gimme, gimme. And what’s more, the cartoon had the song being performed by cartoon versions of the team’s stars, singing away and playing instruments. And we find Delia Smith shouting “let’s be having you!” embarrassing. All rather bizarre.
Ronaldinho, was the star for Barcelona at the time, both on the pitch and in cartoon form. While he may be unique in looking exactly like a cartoon caricature of himself, he certainly pulled the strings on this night. He opened the scoring after just 6 minutes, chipping over the keeper and a player running back to the line, after a blocked shot. Puchov didn’t learn their lesson, and 20 minutes in, another blocked shot fell to him, and he lashed it in from the edge of the box.
The small knot of Puchov fans, high in the stands to my left, weren’t deterred though, and defiantly outsung the mainly silent Barcelona fans. The defiance was dented a little further by half-time, when Thaigo Motta curled of free kick into the top corner.
With no programme to “read” during the interval, half time saw me sample the Nou Camp coffee. From what I’ve seen, Spanish clubs don’t really go in for the idea of food and drink on the concourse much, but here they had a kind of coffee bar. I was very thirsty so bought a surprisingly cheap coffee. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I was used to English grounds, where a “coffee” is perhaps 2/3rds of a pint of brown liquid at about 9000°C, that may have a vague taste that reminiscent of coffee. Here, I was served a drink which was black, quite thick and tasted great. The only problem was that it was served in something about the size of an egg cup. Great for coffee connoisseurs, but not for those with a thirst to quench. They were cheap, so I decided to buy four. I got a few funny looks, but my thirst was slated, and is tasted really good too. I also probably didn’t need to sleep for about 72 hours afterwards either.
Rather than strong coffee, the Puchov players looked to have taking a relaxing Horlicks instead during their break. Ronaldinho, who’d done enough in one game to convince me his goal over David Seaman in 2002 might not have been a fluke, weaved through before the hour to make it 4-0. Just minutes later Luis Enrique made it five. Saviola then added his first of the night past the Puchov defence, which was looking increasingly lettuce-like in its resistance.
So 6-0, with 20 minutes left. At the time I’d never seen a team score 7 goals in a game, and probably due to the amount of times I’d see teams score 6 and blow the chance of 7 (I’d even seen a team 6-0 up miss a penalty) it was something that plagued me to the edge of rationality for years. But here, surely, against a team devoid of all hope, it would happen.
And it did, with not long to wait for it either. Just four minutes later Luis Enrique added his second, and that long-elusive seventh. If I was delighted with that, I was also impressed by the scoreboard. It launched into a “No.7 themed” montage of pictures, a seat No.7, a No.7 shirt, a 7-iron golf club, a 7 of diamonds etc. What impressed me wasn’t just the slickness of the montage, but the mere fact that the club though scoring seven goals in a match was likely enough to consider it worthwhile to put together.
“But how many now?” was the question I, and most in the ground must have been thinking, perhaps particularly that band of Puchov supporters. They’d got less and less defiant as the goals flew in, and had long since stopped singing. 8? 9? 10 even? Double figures is like the holy grail to me, although that may just be my own personal obsession. But no, that would be greedy. Even if it stayed at 7, there’s no way I’d walk away disappointed. And as the last quarter of an hour ticked away, that’s how it looked it’d end.
That was delightfully wrong though, as Saviola tucked away a chance with a minute left to take the score to 8-0. It was the kind of score I could only have dreamed of. And one that those from Puchov will no doubt have nightmares about. Barcelona suddenly seemed a pretty good city after all.