“Where yah going?” a curious Celtic lad asks; two of his friends have just crossed the street even if Camp Nou is in another direction. His mate looks back and answers “Buying a Catalunya flag!” like it was the most obvious thing. Later as the Barça hymn starts at the Camp Nou, looking up at the Celtic fans in the top of the stadium quite a few Catalan flags can be seen, at least over 10 of them. While looking down at the Barça fans an Irish flag can be seen as well. This is without a doubt a meeting between two clubs that seem to have a pretty good relationship. Before the game has started it’s not difficult to understand that irrespective of the outcome on that green pitch tonight, the love between these two groups of fans will prevail.
In a night where a thrilling game took place at the Camp Nou between a fantastic defensive side in Celtic and an as always offensive Barcelona, there were several things to observe off the pitch as well, in the stands, on the street, and in the metro. As I walked towards the green line at the Catalunya metro station, I soon found myself totally surrounded by Celtic fans. Waiting for the train to arrive, more and more Celtic supporters gathered around, all of them with a beer in the hand and all of them singing. Entering the metro, the singing got louder, the jumping started and so did the “party”.
To start with, the Catalans around looked a bit alarmed but that would soon change to smiles all around as they started to enjoy the “show” in the metro. All of this gave me flashbacks to another train, an older one in Poland. The only difference was that then it was Irish fans instead of Celtic ones but the rest was more or less the same. Just as in Poland, where the Irish wanted to make everyone support Ireland by putting their Irish wigs and hats on your head, the Celtic fans tried their best to get some new fellow fans as well. As two mothers and their kids, fresh out of a football match entered the metro, the Celtic lads greeted them. The boys were both dressed in green and white match clothes, not Celtic’s, but their local club’s. They didn’t seem to speak any English and the Celtic fellows knew no Spanish, but they still found a way to communicate. One of the Celtic supporters, a middle-aged man, couldn’t resist handing over his Celtic scarf to one of the boys. Another Celtic supporter followed suit and gave his Celtic scarf to the other boy. One of the mothers divulged that they supported Barcelona. Soon pictures were taken with their new found friends, and as the boys left the metro with their moms and huge smiles on their faces, the Celtic fans screamed after them “Don’t forget.. GLASGOW CELTIC”. I’m sure those two boys will never forget this event and had gotten themselves another favourite team.
Walking my way to Camp Nou, I finally saw some Barça fans among all those green and white shirts. Barça would obviously have more fans at Camp Nou this evening but after following this team for over eight years, I’ve never seen as many away fans at Camp Nou as I saw this evening with a huge contingent of Celtic supporters making for an incredible view.
On the pitch, the two teams with great history together on the stands as well as on the pitch walked out. It was Celtic’s fifth visit to Camp Nou with the first coming long back in 1964 when Barça won 3-1, making this the win with the biggest margin at home over Celtic. Since then the Scots have come back to draw 0-0 in 2003, 1-1 in 2004 and lose 1-0 in 2008 after a goal from Xavi. In other words, the games between these two sides at the Camp Nou, have always been pretty even (though Celtic has never managed a win) and so would this evenings game also turn out to be. With Barça taking control over the game from the very start creating good chances early on it would be Celtic who took the lead, an own goal from Mascherano (credited to Samaras) showed once again the problems Barcelona are suffering in defence. Barça, however, who have lost to a Scottish club at Camp Nou only once, 2-1 against Dundee United back in 1987, had other plans. Young defender Marc Bartra managed to impress on the opportunity given to him and his strong performance may have been one of the factors we came away with a victory. Another beast on the pitch was Celtic keeper Forster who time after time stood between Barça and the goal. A great finish from Iniesta in the first half and a late late winner from Jordi Alba in extra time in the second half saw Camp Nou explode and Barça leaving the pitch victorious. Once again, Barça demonstrated what has come to be their strength this year – the mentality. Barça has lately gone from being the Manita team to become the Remuntada team.
As noted before, it’s not only the football, the fantastic comeback, the late goal, etc. that I’ll take with me from tonight’s game. I shall also remember the atmosphere and the fans. One may wonder why two clubs which play such different styles of football have so much mutual respect and love for each other. Xavi summed it up pretty well: “Celtic, like Barcelona are more than a football club. Our clubs are a symbol of culture and community that has not always been made welcome in their respective countries.”
Walking home from Camp Nou, I saw more of this special relationship. There was a little kid walking in front of me, he was wearing a Messi shirt and waved a Catalan flag. Next to him walked what I assumed was his dad, wearing a Celtic shirt. Soon I spotted some guys wearing Scottish kilts, that and Barça shirts. Charlie Hegarty, an Irish Celtic fan who travelled to Barcelona to attend the game told me about how he and his mates drinking some Estrella at a little cafe outside the stadium, had been singing their songs when about 20 Barça fans joined in and sang their songs and later even joined in singing the Celtic songs. Seeing this and hearing even more about it makes me incredibly happy because this is exactly what I believe football should be all about.
But where does this love between this two clubs really come from, can it have to do with one specific player in Henrik Larsson? Who played for both clubs and is enormously loved by both, even tonight the Celtic supporters were singing about Larsson, the king of kings, although he retired in 2009 and left Celtic already in 2004. Charlie agree that Larsson had a big impact on the clubs’ relationship: “I would think he is the major reason. Plus, that Catalan fans are genuinely nice people and make us feel welcome here..” Although some other Celtic fans implied that the relationship was built way back before Larsson even though his presence have helped. “We have the same values. We are both more than a club” says one while Chris Wedlock says “A love for not only the game of football but both clubs are built on the shoulders of their fans. Love, respect and heart.”
Another question that might pop up in your head is why did so many Celtic fans this evening decide to wear Catalan flags? One might believe it could have to do with Scotland also wanting independence, however as Charlie explained to me, it was actually mostly the Irish Celtic fans who wore the Catalan flags. “All of the Catalans want independence, not all Scots do. It would more be us Irish who see it from the Catalan’s point of view given our history. I wore a Catalan flag tonight and I will store it away for the 7th November.”
I asked Charlie if this special relationship also makes him a Barça supporter, when Celtic isn’t playing them that is. Although he says that there is only one team for him and it’s been Celtic since birth, he did admit that “I do follow Barça since mid-90′s. Rivaldo was the man back then, but Sir Bobby signing Ronaldo was immense. And I love seeing Barça turn Real over!”
When I was in Poland, in the train returning back after Spain trashed Ireland 4-0, the Irish would not stop singing. Losing didn’t mean they would stop. It was a bit of the same tonight, Barça won 2-1 after a goal in the last minute. Most supporters would be furious losing like that, not Celtics, they kept the great smile, kept on intervening with the Barça fans and kept on singing. What was shown tonight at Camp Nou was a thrilling Champions League game but also a perfect example from Barça and Celtic fans on how football fans should be. Everything built on Love, Respect, Heart!
Images are from Charlie Hegarty as well as Alexandra’s own. Follow her on twitter: @AlexandraJonson