Perhaps my experience for a football match in Madrid lowered my expectations for one in Barcelona, but I was amazed at the difference I experienced last night. As usual, I had no ticket before the match. I wasn't worried, because lots were available on the FCBarcelona website (of course, not accepting American credit cards). Camp Nou holds 100,000, so I figured I would have no problem finding one. I had read that no beer is sold in the stadium, so I stopped at a little corner bar a couple blocks away for a couple beers and a bocadillo for dinner. Things clearly picked up about an hour before game time and I made my way toward the stadium. This time I had a seating chart ready on my phone, and I talked to one scalper who offered a perfectly fair price for a good seat that I didn't want - I'm not sure he understood I was saying no because I was looking to pay less for a seat that wasn't that good. An older gentleman seemed to be watching my interactions - he quietly said to me "I have a better seat for less" at one point but stepped away as the scalper returned. Afterward, he pulled me aside and showed where his ticket was on the chart and offered a price well below face value. "You'll come in with me. If you don't like the seat, you don't pay me." It didn't seem to be up for discussion. He gave me a member card to have scanned on the way in (I'm not sure how much I looked like the guy on it, but no one seemed to even look) and we walked in to where the seats were. I told him I could already pay him for it; they were great. He wouldn't hear of it. He wanted to take me up to the higher level so I could see the view of the whole stadium. I said sure. We walked through the halls and we talked about his history working in hotels, his surprise that I was a soccer fan from the US, some family, some politics, some stadium history. When we walked out the gate to a view of the massive but gently sloping and very open stadium, my heart fluttered a little. This was the opposite of the closed-in cramped stadium in Madrid. I was amazed. The game itself was fun. My new friend Reece (I might not even have his name right) was clearly a Messi fan: he would let out a sound or say his name every time he got the ball. The amount of subtle delicate footwork and intricate plays were impressive, but I'll admit I was surprised by how small and quiet their supporters were. I tried to pay Reece for the ticket during halftime, he still wouldn't take it. He finally accepted my money once the game was over. We took a photo, said our goodbyes, and I walked on and stopped for a beer and some tapas while watching the huge crowd try to pile into the metro station, deciding not to get into that mess like I had in Madrid. But once the line was gone and I went to the station, the gates were locked. So much for my being so smart. In hindsight, it was a fittingly memorable way to end the night, but what really made it special was a stranger deciding to take me under his wing to share his home stadium experience. Thanks, Reece.
[note: apologies for blog posts before June 2009 that may not be correctly formatted]