Barca plan party for travelling United army

A mad few days, but was it going to be any different?

All journalists specialise and if I have two specialities it’s Manchester United and FC Barcelona. With the two clubs meeting for the first time since those enthralling 3-3 encounters in 1998-99, and in the semi final of the Champions League to boot, interest was always going to be high.

There’s a lot of interest from the Catalan media about Manchester La Fianna too. It’s a timely feature for them – and a chance for me to wind up some of our players in print.

I’ve just interviewed the Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol and he’s far more optimistic than most Barca fans are about beating United. But then if the captain of Barca isn’t, who will be? And it’s not like he can do much about it given that he’s suspended for the first leg.

I’ve had meetings with the city council as well. They’ve put aside an area for United fans next Wednesday between the beach and the sea by the Olympic port. There will be Manchester music, beer and food at cheaper prices than nearby bars and past games between the two clubs will be screened.

Barcelona - the most popular weekend break destination for the British - is used to staging huge events, but the city was unprepared for the arrival of over 20,000 Rangers fans last autumn and since then they have successfully organised fan areas for visiting Celtic and Schalke 04 fans before their defeats in the Camp Nou.

Rangers fans hit Catalunya Square in November 2007

They’re not for everyone, but the intention is genuine.

An estimated 7,000 United fans will travel, 2,000 of them without tickets, and the authorities are especially keen to avoid disorder next Wednesday in the centre of Barcelona. April 23 is the day of Sant Jordi (St. George) and as well as being the patron saint of England and Ethiopia, he’s the main saint in Catalonia. Johan Cruyff didn't call his son Jordi for nothing.

For one day, the Rambla – Barcelona’s main tourist thoroughfare - is filled with stalls selling roses (which men are expected to buy for their partners) and books (women reciprocate by purchasing books). A new Lionel Messi tome is expected to be a top seller among Catalans who haven’t really embraced the culture of sports books like in Britain. Ronaldinho and Eto’o may have autobiographies, but they tend to be flimsy, cobbled together and given away free with newspapers. 

La Rambla: Ready to welcome travelling hordes of United fans 

I’m currently finishing off my next book, which will be on world football derbies. Later, I fly to Newcastle for three nights to write a piece on the Tyne-Wear derby and the enmity between Newcastle United and Sunderland. I’ll be drinking with Newcastle lads tonight and Sunderland on Sunday in an attempt to get a proper reflection of what the game means to both.

The book will have 24 derby games in total and 22 have been written. Each will be around 4,000 words – the same as the regular More Than A Game feature in FourFourTwo. Some are obvious choices like Roma vs Lazio, Boca vs River, Celtic vs Rangers and Ajax vs Feyenoord. Others like Preston vs Blackpool, Wrexham vs Chester and the Faroes Islands’ main derby may be smaller, but they can be equally fascinating.

Then its back south on Monday for United’s biggest game of the season, Barcelona away. I’ve been fortunate enough to see every United European away game this season, but for once I won’t have to travel far for this one.

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