I was fortunate to witness probably the most complete football performance IÃ¢ÂÂve ever seen last Monday night as Barca beat Real Madrid 5-0 at Camp Nou.
I canÃ¢ÂÂt recall a side so flawless and so dominant against such quality opposition. Every Barca player was exceptional and worthy of the superlatives lavished on them. Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta won most of the plaudits, but their defence was peerless, while Sergio Busquets had his best game in a Barca shirt. I used to consider Busquets a bit of a tool, then I interviewed him and changed my opinion.
I watched El Clasico from the press box, where I was covering the game for various publications. The man from The Telegraph was on my left, a man who probably wasnÃ¢ÂÂt a journalist on my right. He smoked roll-ups throughout and celebrated each Barca goal. He was absolutely buzzing and I was pleased for him, if not by his smoke.
It also made me realise the difference between being a fan and a journalist. I could appreciate that Barca were brilliant, but I felt nothing like the Barca fan when they scored. I love the football Barca play and was happy for their players and my Barca supporting friends, but theyÃ¢ÂÂre not my team. They could have won 50-0 and I wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have felt like I did in 1992 seeing Dion Dublin score a last minute winner from the old caged away end at SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs Dell in the rain.
IÃ¢ÂÂm extremely fortunate to be paid to attend games like El Clasico. Mates came over from Manchester with Ã¢ÂÂ¬300 to buy tickets on the black market and struggled to get in, but watching another team simply doesnÃ¢ÂÂt compare with the team you support. I saw FC UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs magnificent victory at Rochdale in the FA Cup last month. I was standing in the away end surrounded by friends who have worked hard to make FC a success. The atmosphere was brilliant and they were naturally delighted. I applauded when FC scored and smiled at the barmy antics around me, yet felt the same indifference as watching Barca.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs not like that with Manchester United. I was distraught when United lost the league in Ã¢ÂÂ92 and Barca beat United 4-0 in Ã¢ÂÂ94 (below). I was elated when United came from 2-0 down to beat Juventus 3-2 in 1999 and enjoyed that more than the famous final itself. You canÃ¢ÂÂt help the way you feel.
I buzzed off the 2008 Champions League final, but was down following defeat in Rome a year later.
Why? What was I supporting? I loathe the Glazers owning Manchester United. Most of the players donÃ¢ÂÂt really care too much about the fans either, so what is it that you support? The history and tradition of the club? The future aspirations? The football? The community and fellow fans?
The only other time I get so involved is if I watch one of my brothers play, my flesh and blood. Because I know the sacrifices they and the family have made, the training and the work. I once went to see my brother play at Barrow away on a Tuesday night. We drove up together, following his team coach and uncertain whether the game would go ahead because of the rain. My brotherÃ¢ÂÂs team mates took the piss out of the groundsman whoÃ¢ÂÂd worked his backside off to get the pitch sorted and considered the 25 other travelling fans as odd balls. Which, if IÃ¢ÂÂm honest, most were.
I stood alone surrounded by Barrow fans under a big covered terrace. They were not happy, more so when my brother scored an equaliser for a 1-1 draw. I ran down to the front of the terrace like a loon and he came over and celebrated and fans behind me told me to Ã¢ÂÂFuck offÃ¢ÂÂ. It was a life affirming moment. Better than Barca 5 Madrid 0? Yes, it was.