Far Foreign Lands: The Diary of a Travelling Red – No5: Barcelona

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Article by Sachin Nakrani

There are few more frustrating things in life than missing out on a hotel breakfast you’ve already paid for. But that’s what happens when you wake up earlier than scheduled and despite your best efforts – long shower, slow dress, general faffing – you can’t kill enough time before the eggs, breads, cold meats and yoghurts are served up.

And so I found myself in the reception of Hotel España Ramblas, my home since Monday afternoon, with a dilemma: wait another 20 minutes, until 730am, or walk to Plaça de Catalunya, get on the Aerobus to the airport and eat breakfast when I get there. Without too much thought, I opted for the later.

Through security with minimal fuss and having had a quick slash, I sat down in departures to a ham baguette, coffee and orange juice at a place called Enrique Thomas. All very nice but somewhat hard to enjoy given it cost the best part of €15 and I could have that plus more for nothing back at the hotel had I slept a little longer. But ultimately I couldn’t. Ultimately I didn’t get much sleep at all. Why? Because of the match, of course.

Oh, Liverpool. Must it always be like this? Must we always get so close to the edge of glory only to fall away? We played so well, competed so hard, but we didn’t take our chances and they did. It had to be Luis Suarez and it had to be Lionel Messi. 3-0 and, let’s face it, game over. The Champions League yet again won’t be ours.

There’s a second leg to come and if my mate Anil is to be believed, this tie could still be won. Stood to my right at the very back of Camp Nou, as a biting wind blew through the away end long after the locals had departed, he talked through what could happen at Anfield on Tuesday. Get an early goal and that will make them nervous. Make it 2-0 by half-time and the comeback is well and truly on. We can score four, we can score five, we can definitely do this. Believe.

I want to, I really do. And I’ll be in the Kop roaring the Reds on. Hoping. Believing. Supporting. But right now, in departures, I’m struggling to imagine how we salvage this. It’s too big a mountain to climb. Too much to ask of a group of players who aren’t quite up to winning when it really, truly matters

It hurts me to say that because I love them, I really do. I’ve supported Liverpool for 30 years and this may be my favourite side to have ever represented the club. But like the parent of a slightly thick child, my love is not the same as my trust in their ability to succeed in the future.

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Perhaps I’ll feel better about everything when I get home. Maybe then I’ll believe Leicester can do us a favour on Monday and Anil will be proven right on Tuesday. Or maybe everything will feel the same because with this Liverpool side everything is always the same. So close yet so far.

Anyway, my trip to Barcelona. The footie aside, it was sound. Firstly the excitement of doing a European away having missed Porto. I gave that one a swerve having done the 5-0 last season. Savva went with his girlfriend instead. They had a lovely time, apparently. He didn’t miss me at all. Which is fine. Totally, totally fine. Seriously, it is. Whatever. Not arsed. Honest.

We were back together for this one, though. He landed on Monday morning while I arrived later that day. I got the shuttle bus from the airport, walked from Plaça de Catalunya to La Rambla, down a small alley and finally to the hotel, which was very nice and had the added bonus of a rooftop bar. Savva was there when I arrived, drinking Sangria in the sun. Game on son, let’s fucking do this.

I got a beer, we chatted for a bit and then it was a case of shower and change and back out again for dinner. We headed the opposite way on La Rambla and towards a restaurant called Cachitos. There it was two Sangrias, a bottle of red wine and tapas while we chatted some more and looked over at a table full of British women and tried to figure out if they were on a hen do. They all had sashes on – of course it was a fucking hen do.

It was a cracking first evening in Barcelona and had we headed to a bar for one more quiet drink, it would have ended in perfect style. But we didn’t do that. Instead we decided to meet up with a bunch of lads we know from the match back home who were also already out here. A bunch of lads whose alcohol consumption knows no limits. We should have known better, we did know better … but we did it anyway.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning and my body felt like it was going to melt with pain. My stomach was turning, my head was burning, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t keep my balance. I wanted to die and it was all the fault of the river’s worth of booze I had consumed the night before. There had been lager, there had been shots, there had been more sangria and then, in a club in the middle of nowhere, there had been vodka oranges. Savva and I got back to our hotel around 330am and by the time daylight arrived I had chucked my guts twice. And there was more to come.

It took most of the day for me to recover but during that time I fully appreciated just what a beautiful city Barcelona is. I first came out here for a lads holiday in January 2006 and then again for the Craig Bellamy game in February 2007 and on neither occasion was particularly blown away by the place. I didn’t get the fuss, with La Rambla especially. It seemed tacky back then – Oxford Street with trees. But this time around, I got it’s magnificence – the architecture as well as the sense of wonder in every side road that falls off it, full as they are with little pockets of life and intrigue.

All around Barcelona there is a wonderful sense of space and flow, with the port and beach a particularly high point. How many other major, bustling cities also have such a sense of serenity and escape? It’s incredible, and all there, in one place. Barcelona.

What a shame it’s natural calm and beauty was broken later that afternoon and evening by the arrival of dickhead Reds. You’ve no doubt seen the footage by now of the bloke pushing the local beer seller into a fountain, alongside other incidents of mindless, culturally-insensitive behaviour. What can I say? As with any club, Liverpool has a fan base that contains people you wish hadn’t left the house that morning, let alone boarded a plane and travelled over for the match. They’re morons born to act up and in no way representative of the majority of people I see at the match, or indeed saw in Barcelona. My guess is old fountain-pusher didn’t even have a ticket and probably wasn’t even that bothered about getting one. Instead he probably came over for a laff. For the bantz. Twat.

Tuesday night’s trouble led to the police closing down the square where most of our supporters had gathered, as well as part of La Rambla, meaning Savva and I had to go the long way round in order to get to Lonja de Tapas, our place of choice for dinner. A really nice, welcoming gaff where we eat seafood paella and watched the Tottenham-Ajax game on Savva’s phone.

After dinner, Savva decided to meet up with the boys from our crew who had landed a few hours earlier and were up for a big night out. I, on the other hand, decided to head back to the hotel and get an early night. My head had just about cleared and my stomach had just about stopped turning and all I wanted to do was cut my losses. So it was a case  of tea in bed while watching the early 90s classic movie, Bodyguard (dubbed in Spanish).

Yes, I know I sound like an old woman, but you know what? It was bloody lovely and I felt all the better for getting a proper night’s sleep come the morning. Match-day.

The sun was shining and the square was open again, so that’s where Savva and I headed after breakfast. This time it was him who was feeling rough (two big nights on the ale does that to a man) while I was fresh and firing. We sat at a table on the far side of the square and watched it slowly fill while drinking more sangria.

It was there that I noticed something about our travelling support – a lot of them look the same. It feels like I’ve missed a memo or something because apparently we have a uniform now: dark shorts, dark t-shirt made by either Under Armour or Boss and a cap carrying the badge of the team we’re all out here to watch Liverpool play. Once you notice it, it hits you like a speeding train.

Take, for instance, the group of six lads stood near our table. Five had black t-shirts on, four were wearing Barcelona caps and each and every one of them had a top wrap around their waist. Surely it reaches a point when one of them turns to the others and says: “Seriously boys, we need to mix this up. People are staring.”

The square – the same one we took over in 2007 – was soon heaving and from the far end emerged the rest of our crew. Backs were patted, beers were handed out and then, around 2pm, came the split – the older gents decided to head to the beach for a wander and some lunch while the younger lads decided to stay where they were and keep on drinking.

Savva and I decided to ‘go old’. It was a good choice. The atmosphere of the day was marvellous and what better way to take that in than with a stroll towards the sea. Past the port, past Alan Kennedy having a drink with his pals, and finally to a seafood restaurant overlooking the sand and water.

We ate, we chatted, we discussed the match and the season as a whole. There were varying levels of confidence in regards to the challenge in front of us as well as those to come. It was absolutely lovely – a mix of anticipation and serene contentment that you only get on late-season trips like this.

What a shame, then, that a few hours later we found ourselves shivering in the dark, high up at Camp Nou and having seen Messi do what Messi does – win games for Barcelona.

I can’t remember the last time a game got away from us so quickly and devastatingly. One second we are 1-0 down and pushing hard for an equaliser; the next it’s 3-0 to them and we’re thankful it hasn’t got any worse. But then that’s football at this most vaulted level, when the true geniuses and bastards come out to play.

Speaking of bastards …. you really notice what an absolute fucking swine Suarez is when he no longer plays for your team, don’t you?

We didn’t deserve to lose – certainly not 3-0 – and what made a shitty night even worse was the away end. As I remembered it from 2007, the worst in European football: in the Gods and, in certain sections, an absolute joke given the location of a Perspex screen that makes parts of the pitch practically invisible. That’s were our dozen or seats were located, each of which had cost a frankly disgusting €112. Fortunately we were able to shift to the back of the stand without much hassle, which improved the view if not the watching experience given what took place between 9pm-10.50pm local time.

Adding to the crap match-day experience, one of the stewards on the way into the ground took Anil’s flag for no other reason than to be a major dick. Another lad had similar bother, although that did at least lead to an amusing exchange in which a Scouser in shorts tried to explain to a Spaniard in uniform that “My bird” referred to the Liverbird and was in no way sexist.

So it wasn’t a great night and now, as I wait for my flight home, my mood is glum. I’m frankly fed up with another season that promised so much but almost certainly is going to deliver nothing. The double? I’d take a single, any single, right now.

But at moments like this it’s important to remember the bigger picture, to appreciate what has come as much as to despair at what won’t. Because there’s no doubt this has been a cracking season. Week after week, game after game, us Reds have been able to get behind a brilliant team, full of identity and application that has provided us with the warm rush of winning on a near constant basis.

Just think about how lucky we are to have had all those occasions when we’ve come away from the match feeling happy. A simple emotion but one that can be so elusive. Just ask an Evertonian, or a Man United supporter, or frankly anyone who follows a team in this country that isn’t ours or Manchester City. Ask them about the moods they’ve felt since August and they’ll tell you it’s been a mix of fury and upset on a near regular basis. Plenty of  disillusionment, too.

In contrast, we’ve had almost total joy and contentment. And yes, we may not be feeling that now, nor almost certainly next Tuesday or the following Sunday, but should that mean everything that came before no longer matters? Because it shouldn’t. A season is nine months long and for 98% of that time we’ve had it good – nay, we’ve had it great. We should remember that. Now and deep into the summer.

For us match-going Reds there has also been the trips abroad. Because of my love of Liverpool FC, I’ve visited Moscow, Porto, Rome, Kiev, Naples, Belgrade, Paris, Munich and Barcelona in the last 19 months. Excursions that have enriched the mind as well as the spirit, brought me experiences as well as a chance to hang out with my mates and have a laugh. And for that I’m grateful. Grateful to this team and grateful to my dad for making me a Red. Life could have been worse, much less interesting, but instead here I am – at an airport, after another European away. There was heartbreak but there was also joy.

And barring a miracle at Anfield next week, that’s the last of these pieces for some time. Hope the seven people who read them enjoyed doing so. As ever, we go again.

Up the Reds.

Article by Sachin Nakrani

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