PLACES I REMEMBER - BOOK EXCERPT. BARCELONA 2007

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL 1ST LEG 21ST FEBRUARY 2007
CAMP NOU [88000]
BARCELONA. SPAIN

BARCELONA 1 LIVERPOOL 2

Whenever the draw is made, phone calls and texts are quickly sent. Numbers need to be confirmed on who’s going. Their trust is then with the organiser who will obviously try to get everyone there as cheap as possible. Then it’s the dilemma of a single or a two night stay. This fixture pairs us with Barcelona, not only a brilliant team but also a great place to visit.
The texts keep coming thick and fast. Everyone fancies this one including John, who
is spending as much of his redundancy as possible on seeing as many European away games as it will a
fford. It appears that if ever there was a football ground bucket list, then this is up there near the top. It’s also one of those places on quite a few flight paths and expectations are of a cheap journey. So after many hours trawling different routes, that may save us a tenner here and a tenner there, it’s sorted.


Click ... that’s it done. The most up to now. Nineteen of us, all booked for Barca. Liver- pool to Glasgow Prestwick by train, Ryanair from Prestwick to Reus, Reus to Barcelona by coach. I just hope I’ve booked the correct dates and nothing goes wrong. Worst nightmare would be such a major cock up of my doing. I can’t relax until we’re on the plane. We arrive at Prestwick and all’s fine as I herd everyone together to pass in their passports. Then young Joes friend Anthony passes over the mintiest passport you’ve ever seen. Scuffed cover, pic hanging out, water stained. ‘Oh shit’ I think as Passport control tell him ‘Sorry, You can’t fly with that”. His mother had put it through the wash. Apparently not just the once but twice. My leadership tendencies had to take over, so I pointed him back towards the train station ‘Liverpool’s that way’ and went for a beer.

Five minutes later there’s a plan being hatched by the young lads, Joe, Rob, Jack, Dan and Anthony. ‘We’ll bunk him onto the plane’. This is post 9/11 not 1977 I think. So as we head towards the departure lounge and start boarding Anthony gets in between us all. We show our boarding cards and make our way onto the plane. I get on and as I’m fastening my seatbelt, I can see Anthony’s made it onto the plane before a young stew- ardess asks for his boarding card. A quick thinker in the party passes him his own and Anthony turns to show the stewardess the card. ‘No problem’ she says. He’s onboard but obviously there will be a head count and now there’s an extra person on board who should be on the train back to Liverpool. No worries, we’ll hide him under the seat. Have you seen the gap under the seats on Ryanair? Well remember them contortionists getting into boxes on Opportunity Knocks. This lad would have won the show. He gets curled up in a ball and Joe puts his coat over him.
The plane takes off and once we’re airborne it’s ‘All clear.’ He gets up a bit dazed and looking the colour of boiled shite, but unbelievably, in this day and age, it’s job done. On arrival in Reus, there’s no showing of any passports, we walk straight through and its away we go. Airport security. A doddle.
 

We arrive at our hotel, the classy Hotel Silken next to the famous gherkin shaped building. In fact, the gherkin is that famous I can’t remember its name, but it looks great from the terrace as we take in the surrounding cityscape and decide whether to take a dip in the rooftop pool. The hotel is perfect for us old fogeys, stylish and comfortable. Not one of them cheap and cheerful, ‘it’ll do, it’s only a bed for the night!’ type places for us. The younger element thinks it’s cool too, apparently the Arctic Monkeys recorded a video up here.

Anyway back to the day in hand. The luggage is abandoned in the rooms and we head off in numerous taxis to join the inebriated at the world’s best Champagne bar, La Xam- panyeria, located down a small side street close to the port. It’s a cool Bodega, a typical working class Spanish place, where the local Cava and Tapas are cheap. The tables are barrels and everyone stands.
Our taxi arrives ten minutes aft
er the first one and already arl Ken is sitting outside
in the mid a
fternoon sun getting some fresh air. The first couple of glasses had gone straight to his head. We did hope he wasn’t too hot as his string vest could soon be
on show. Typical Englishman abroad was Ken, God rest his soul. String vest, hanky
on head, white socks with sandals etc.
The afternoon is spent quaffing a glass or three whilst enjoying the odd tapas, plus we also get involved in a photoshoot and chat with some journos from the Champions League Magazine, which made for a pleasant after- noon. It’s gonna be a good day.

The younger lads disappear early on. They want to go to the local square to kick a ball 100 foot into the air. A bizarre ritual that seems to amuse everyone after a few pints. Later we journey along the Ramblas to meet up with them before heading off to the game.

Oh yeah, the game, that ninety minutes that always seems to get in the way of a great day. A magnificent 2-1 victory against the reigning champions, topped off a magnif- icent day. Bellamy and Riise hitting the net. Ironic given the fact that rumour had it, both had a falling out after Bellamy struck Riise with a golf club. Craig’s goal celebra- tion couldn’t have been more apt.

The following day on the journey home Tony was asked the same question about his passport by Spanish Airport security. The answer was simple, it had fallen into the hotel swimming pool.
DAVE HEWITSON