ItÃ¢ÂÂs raining on the Camp Nou. BarcaÃ¢ÂÂs players are shaking hands with opponents Osasuna as the clubÃ¢ÂÂs stirring anthem Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂBarca! Barca! Barrrrca!Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ rings round a half-empty stadium. Many home fans have stayed away because of the weather. Until a roof goes on in 2011, the stadium remains three-quarters exposed.
The 50,000 present include the Almogavers, a Barca ultra group who, incredibly, are singing West HamÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm forever blowing bubblesÃ¢ÂÂ anthem in English. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs a hundred strong Barca/West Ham supportersÃ¢ÂÂ club in Catalonia and the English influence tonight doesnÃ¢ÂÂt stop there.
The metro to the stadium was packed with groups of inebriated Brits, the sort who make you embarrassed to be a British passport holder with their louder-than-bombs approach. The Barca game was intended to be highlight of many a stag do, a small part of the growing football tourism business. The Catalan giants count on around 10,000 visiting tourists Ã¢ÂÂ most of them northern Europeans Ã¢ÂÂ for every weekend home game.
IÃ¢ÂÂm here for the fourth day in succession following a two-part interview with Lionel Messi on Friday and Saturday. For a blag, I was going to copy the interview technique of the Saudi Arabian journalist who, granted access to Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs recently, proceeded to ask the following inane and unintentionally hilarious questions. The editor would not have approved.
Messi, the current darling of Barca fans, was on good form and appeared oblivious to the pressure that others are placing on him. To finish off I asked him to name his Perfect XI Ã¢ÂÂ be it Argentinian footballers or a current World XI.
Ã¢ÂÂIs it OK if I have a think about it and email you my choices?Ã¢ÂÂ he asked, ever thoughtful.
At the other end of the football scale, my younger brother Jonathan just called. Now 31, heÃ¢ÂÂs a semi-professional who has played at more clubs than Erick Morillo, career highlights include scoring a penalty for Altrincham in the 2005 Conference play-off semi finals and being the first ever signing for FC United of Manchester. HeÃ¢ÂÂs now at rivals Curzon Ashton and played at Wakefield yesterday in a 0-0 draw.
Ã¢ÂÂI got on for the last 10... and was sent off,Ã¢ÂÂ he moans.
Ã¢ÂÂTheir centre-half was pinching me under my arms. So I fronted him and he went down as if IÃ¢ÂÂd elbowed him. I didnÃ¢ÂÂt. I got sent off, despite the **** head suddenly getting up and telling the ref I hadnÃ¢ÂÂt elbowed him.Ã¢ÂÂ
His frustration doesnÃ¢ÂÂt compare with those of the Barca fans. The game is now in the 88th minute, tied at 0-0 and Barca look as though they wonÃ¢ÂÂt take advantage of a rare Real Madrid loss on Saturday night. Then Xavi scores cutting MadridÃ¢ÂÂs lead at the top down to six points.