Monday, June 01, 2009

Back from Rome ...

We had a unique perspective on the Champions League Final.

United fans from birth, Ben and I have been Barca season ticket holders at the Camp Nou for two seasons and thus able to witness the full glory of this season of incredible football. We have big hearts, big enough to encompass a passion for two teams of this stature. And then this happened.

Having got our tickets from another Barca member, we sat in the Olympic stadium behind the goal with thousands of other Barca fans, possibly the only two in the entire area who supported United.

We’d agreed appropriate secret signals and gestures to make if United scored and how to react. It was all theoretical. They didn’t score, and after the first flurries of the opening 10 minutes never appeared likely to. United didn’t turn up and for the first time I can remember I felt embarrassed for them.

I’ve seen them well beaten before and seen them play badly on far too many occasions. But I can’t remember having seen them get it wrong so badly, to play so at odds with how they needed to play. Four days on it remains a mystery. Did they underestimate Barca? Did they think their counter attacking power could overwhelm a team lacking three mainstays of defence and with two other key players just back from injury? I’ve no idea. Time to move on...

But if we were going to see United lose, sitting where we were was the best place to be. I’d have hated to be enveloped by the gloom at the United end. To witness the utter delirium of the Barca fans up close and personal was a truly wonderful experience, even for Ben whose bravery despite being broken hearted was incredibly moving. His neighbour gave him a big hug at the end along with a lapel badge from the Mataro Barca supporters club.

The Barca fans applauded every United player as they received their loser’s medals with the exception of Ronaldo, who got widely whistled for being the sullen, whinging genius that he is.

Returning to Barcelona took us back to a city submerged in utter happiness in a way that cannot really happen in most of Europe’s big cities where two or three big teams occupy the hearts of their citizens.

Take what promotion to the Premier League has done for small towns like Hull and Burnley and multiply that by a million to reflect the scale of the achievement and the population and you have a glimpse of how Barcelona and indeed Catalonia (for this is a national team in effect) celebrated the Champions League and the treble.

A million people were on the streets of Barcelona for the open top bus parade with every man, woman, child, baby, dog and shop front dressed in azulgrana. Almost every village in the region had a big screen in the main square for the locals to watch together.

Joy unbounded and indeed joy unprecedented. One is so used in life to people saying ‘you should have been here years ago’ or ‘if you think this is good you should have been here when ... ‘. Well Barca have never won the treble before; to be in the city on its finest day was indeed a privilege.

On related points:

* Sarah now knows the first two and last two lines of the Barca hymn. And she has transferred her designated Dream Man from George Clooney to Barca manager Pep Guardiola.

* Print may be dying but the Barcelona papers have pulled out all the stops for the events of the past few days with El Periodico de Catalunya providing wonderful examples of the power of newspapers to delight on special occasions.

It provided special wraparounds on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, styling itself as El Periodico de Roma, with the first two covers being in a class of their own. Wednesday’s paper recreated Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam with Guardiola as Adam while Thursday showed him aloft in the air, pointing to the sky, elevated by the hands of his adoring players. Pure genius.

The Glory Game

The great fallacy is that the game is first and foremost about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.

Danny Blanchflower as quoted by Paul Hayward in The Observer in his piece 'Barcelona's sense of style restores glory to Blanchflower's game'

More to follow on the final but that more or less sums up Barca

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eric has it right

From Eric Cantona in El Pais English edition

Watching Barça is a real pleasure for any soccer supporter,” said Cantona. “As you can imagine, this game is a dream for me. It’s the final everyone dreamed of, the perfect game. Barça is the only team that reminds me a little of Cruyff’s Ajax. Total football.”

Asked to venture a prediction on the outcome though, Cantona’s red roots shine through: “Manchester United.”

Friday, March 06, 2009

JDF Jones

I have just heard the terribly sad news that journalist and author JDF Jones has passed away.

I couldn't describe him any better than the bulletin from the Financial Times does:

[He] was a towering figure in the creation of today's FT ... JDF became foreign editor of the paper in the 1960s when the FT had little coverage of international affairs. He laid the foundations of the worldwide network of correspondents that has allowed us to become such a global paper today. As managing editor in the 1970s he played a huge role in building up the FT talent pool and in the creation of the first international edition of the paper . He was also the founder editor of Weekend FT in the 1980s and Literary and Arts editor.

He was also hugely kind and generous to me, both personally and professionally, when I arrived in Johannesburg in 1982 as a young correspondent for Reuters, fearing the place somewhat and knowing nobody at all there.

Dinners at his magnificent house (which he shared with his then partner Mary and her daughter Polly) were long and liquid affairs which vastly boosted the profits of various Cape vineyards.

Journalism for JDF was meant to be as enjoyable as it was important and his running of the FT Southern African bureau was designed to further such aims.

He employed two extremely able journalists in the bureau to do all the heavy lifting stories on company results, the economy, gold prices etc while JDF concentrated on the bigger picture stories - whither apartheid, whither Swaziland, whither the region as a whole.

Most of these stories seemed to necessitate extensive travel, with beautiful Cape Town a particular favourite during the summer (shurely 'when parliament was sitting'? Ed)
We shared a memorable journey to the heart of the Botswana desert in a Land Rover with two other journalists.

In one unforgettable moment we had just sat down by some rocks to enjoy the magnificent desert sunset when heard on the BBC World Service the of death of the vile and soon to be unlamented South African ex PM BJ Vorster.

We toasted his demise with several cans of very cold Lion lager.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Words fail me ...

Messi. Again.

Eating out in Barcelona

Chef Aidan Brooks has a very comprehensive, funny and knowledgeable guide to all that is good about eating here. Well worth reading.

Friday, January 30, 2009

It sooooooo quiet ….

Barcelona appears to be subsiding into a crisis-induced slumber.

We have driven down the main thoroughfare of Avenida Diagonal at 8pm on the last two consecutive evenings. This is rush hour time in Barcelona and normally one of fearful traffic jams– people work late here; yet on both nights, we have sailed down a clear road in minutes.

The economic activity of the city and the region is slowing down rapidly. The car industry is coming to a halt; tourism is down and with it takings in bars and restaurants; construction is finished.

Another major leg of the economy – fairs, conventions and congresses – are also in big trouble. Bread & Butter, the fashion tradeshow is returning to Berlin while the Barcelona car salon has been axed – it’s very much a second tier event, the type that get the chop in a climate like this.

It’s not all gloom. We celebrated Rebecca’s 16th last night in the bar of the Omm Hotel and at El Japones restaurant. Both were humming.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The wind in Barcelona

Some of the damage in the park opposite our flat caused by the hurricane winds that whipped through the city on Saturday morning ...

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Ben's latest talent ...

... is a hugely impressive impersonation of the Camp Nou announcer, who (and he's done it for the last 50 years) discloses the team lineups before the game in a deep and rich Catalan accent.

Worth asking Ben for a riff next time you see him. sadly, I don't think we can count on this as a career prospect. While the incumbent may indeed retire at some point, the job is an unpaid one.

Idiot wind

The Barcelona Council website runs a very useful RSS news service which updates you on what is going on in the city.

One feature is a Friday update on the weekend weather. Last Friday's called for some cloudy and mixed weather.

what we got on Saturday were hurricane force winds nearing 140kph which did huge damage to the city and region as a whole. Ben and I left the flat at 10am, saw a tree careering down the road and turned back. Huge pine trees were felled in our local park and on the main roads. Many of the suburbs in the hills still have no electricity.

Most tragically, four young baseball players, aged 9-12, were killed when the sports hall they were sheltering in collapsed and buried them. The photos of the boys, so smart in their outfits and caps, are too awful to look at in the papers.

But what on earth were they doing even going out to play on that morning? The winds had been wll signalled, having battered the Basque country on Friday and tracked down from there.

Why didn't the Generalitat cancel all sports as the Basque government had done?