The Barcelona Prawn Sandwich Brigade
Despite watching dwarf-driven football juggernaut Barcelona clout Real Zaragoza 3-1, SF’s Spanish football correspondent almost wished hadn’t bothering travelling to the Nou Camp last weekend. Thankfully some overly-familiar prostitutes and a near-death experience helped salvage what could’ve proved a thoroughly underwhelming 48 hours in the Catalonian capital.
The trick with writing for Surreal Football is accepting no matter how much effort you put into your work, most people will only read the opening paragraph because their line manager has just walked in. So before Johnny Big-desk appears over your shoulder again, ripped to the tits on seniority and requesting your immediate and undivided disinterest on a matter of zero consequence, here’s everything you’re about to not bother reading reduced to a single sentence: If you’re planning a trip to the Nou Camp make sure you pack a registered diabetic because the only thing that will rescue you from disappointment’s abyss is the white-water rush of waking up still drunk from the night before to find the alarming rumble isn’t an earthquake at all, it’s your brother having an apocalyptic, and quite possibly fatal, diabetic seizure in the bed next to yours.
Thanks for stopping by.
Now for those ‘working from home’ today, some extraneous narrative embellishments…
Maybe I caught the Nou Camp* on an off-day. The urge to give benefit of the doubt was certainly there. Hard not to when you’re sat inside one of world football’s myriad self-appointed Meccas, up to your tapas-tinged burps in Time Bandit-sized footballing Jedi pinging the ball around at PlayStation pace, maintaining a steady 103% possession over Real Zaragoza, their completely outclassed guests-for-the-night, whilst never seemingly breaking a sweat or looking even remotely interested. All very impressive, the tiki and the taka. But something was missing.
Lionel Messiah appeared to be doing absolutely nothing yet still won the game on his Christing own, scoring twice – both times with a disdainful ease befitting the Son of Man – setting up a third, turning stagnant rainwater into Pinot Grigio, exorcising a Canaanite’s daughter then rounding it all off by blinding a child with a stick just so he could show everyone how easy it is for him to restore the gift of sight with a simple kiss. You don’t get that at Vicarage Road. But something was missing.
Plenty-browed midfield superintendent Xavi Hernandez put to bed any notion that Joe Allen is his Welsh doppelganger by comfortably being the most insightful, progressive shifter of a ball I’ve seen since Sean Maunder managed a full wank through his trousers during Double Maths. But something was missing.
Iniesta? No, he was there. Of course he was. He’s always there, even when he isn’t. He’s that good. And what a pleasure it was watching him find more angles than Mondrian. Despite being cursed with a head like a dangerously inflated baby, all the apparent menace of a Dido b-side and team-mate Alex Song in his immediate vicinity reminding the world just how far from worthy of such privilege he truly is, Andres Iniesta Lujan churned out a performance so predictably imperious it seemed obtusely fitting that he should smash a 25-yard pearler off the woodwork rather than score. Because scoring would’ve been vulgar. The kind of debasing act of artless competence an oaf like Song would perpetrate, for instance. But something was… You get the idea.
There were goals. The football was so pornographically effortless I spent most of the first half laughing in a weirdly detached state of semi-arousal. And unlike the last time I was at the Nou Camp (twelve years earlier almost to the day), it didn’t rain so heavily evolving gills was the only way to guarantee survival. So what do I have to complain about exactly? Well, you recall me ham-fistedly referencing the absence of something fundamental. I’ve just figured out what it was:
Atmosphere. A game of football requires one. And if there isn’t one you may as well have stayed at home. Something the 74,000 barely sentient alimentary canals who showed up on Saturday night should seriously consider doing next time.
Despite the 99,354 capacity concrete-and-steel crater being three-quarters full (not bad numbers for a routine league fixture) I honestly think a fox shitting on a cowbell would’ve worried the decibel meter more. It can only be down to years of taking victory for granted, I surmised – an understandable spoiled-brat malaise considering the insufferable two-horse race La Liga has become. But one that wouldn’t be tolerated under similar, if slightly less aesthetically pleasing, circumstances at Celtic Park so let’s not make exceptions now.
Aside from the few seconds bookending each goal, I don’t recall a single raised voice. A few coughs, a nose being blown, two poorly concealed farts – the kind of ambient noise you’d expect a moderately busy GP’s waiting room to kick out. But without the increased likelihood of having your face spackled with bird flu-riddled sputum. More’s the pity. I would’ve taken anything for a raised temperature. Even a mouthful of toxic pensioner snot.
Initially I considered myself part of the problem: too many football tourists diluting the fervour. But no. I checked with our token local Oriel, Barcelonista to the core, ever present at home games. “It’s always like this. Unless Real Madrid are in town. Obviously. Maybe Valencia. But mainly it’s this quiet. You should’ve gone to the Mestalla. That would’ve been much better.”
And then… depression set in. I’d just suffered an hour and forty minutes of cattle-class humiliation on InhumaityJet, the dyspeptic Sikh gentleman next to me pumping a colon’s worth of reconstituted vegetable gas into my nose’s personal body space every ten bastard minutes, and for what? A game I could’ve enjoyed just as well sat impassively before a TV screen in the appalling Ikea showroom I call a front room. If I could’ve raised the energy levels enough to throw myself off the second tier I would’ve done just that. But I’d even lost the will to die.
It wasn’t till four alarmingly fluorescent paramedics burst into my hotel room 12 hours later with a bag of 10-inch needles and a defibrillator that my adrenal glands finally got the workout they were expecting. Thank god for my brother’s inability to oxidize sugar or the whole weekend would’ve been a drool-sodden wash-out. And we may never have stayed in town long enough to watch the same hapless sack of shagged pancreas being mugged by a gang of sub-Saharan sex workers.
That close to disaster, people. Now get back to work, last month’s variables won’t incorrectly input themselves.
*You call it Camp Nou if you like. I’m far too self-conscious.