Bouncing Barca & the symptoms of success

Barcelona’s a happy city.

Flags celebrating the treble hang from sunny apartment balconies and news kiosks sell special edition magazines celebrating Barca’s triumph.

A cake shop round the corner is selling treble edition cakes in Barca’s colours and a place which usually specialises in stamps is flogging little silver badges encompassing all three trophies for €25 a go. 

"Wanna buy a badge?"

Barca’s five city centre merchandise stores are packed with tourists. The Catalans still look up to Manchester United as their merchandise role model, but Manchester doesn’t receive enough tourists to justify United shops in the city centre.

Real Madrid may be making the headlines with their new signings, but even if they bagged Pele, Maradona and Finch it wouldn’t wipe the smiles off Barca’s faces.

It’s their summer and they deserve it, yet given that Barca’s success came at United’s expense, I’m uneasy about it all. 

It’s also unusual that it was only a year ago that most Barca fans wanted their president Joan Laporta out.

I saw two very visible demonstrations against Laporta outside the main stand last year.

As recently as October, there was huge political infighting at Barca and key resignations because of him. 

And now? The former lawyer and fan activist spent yesterday high-fiving at a launch for a book about him before launching a new section in Barca’s museum dedicated to their treble. 

Another person with a slender and poorly printed hagiography to his name is the brilliant Pep Guardiola.

You won’t find many people prepared to admit it now, but lots questioned the decision to install Guardiola as coach last summer. The talk before Barca’s Champions League home game against Sporting in the autumn focussed firmly on Guardiola’s precarious position.

Success has changed everything, which shows how fickle some football fans are.

Xavi spares Pep the sack in September

I’ve encountered gloating ‘Barca’ fans who wouldn’t know their way around the Camp Nou any better than a campsite at Glastonbury. 

Most of my mates who support United went to Rome – ticket or not. About half of them got in to the Stadio Olimpico.

Most who support Barca didn’t travel, but they’ve got some cracking excuses why they didn’t.

I did feel for one whom I met on Sunday though. He went on a coach from Girona to Rome and took enough food for two days.

Italian police arrested him for carrying a knife used to cut Catalan sausage and he missed the match.  

I can respect those Barca fans I know who actually watch their team and as a United fan I shouldn’t be surprised about the symptoms of success.

Success attracts kids (the number of Barca socios under 15 has shot up by 34 percent in the last month) and the armchair fanatic. Manchester United fans know that more than anyone. 

I could always understand why United were so loathed around the country.

A Plymouth fan once told me that he’d watch Argyle home and away. He’d return to his local pub after a fruitless trip to Huddersfield or Hull, to be met by a smug tool in the latest garish replica shirt sat at the bar gloating about how “we beat Liverpool today.”

The bar-room bore had never been to Old Trafford. Wouldn’t you hate Manchester United fans if that was your only interaction with them?

When you are introduced as a United fan, conversations often follow a dreary and predictable pattern, usually starting with the fact myth that no United fans come from Manchester.

To avoid drowning in such soporific dullness, you don’t advertise which team you support when meeting people in social company.

Friends who watch United home and away wouldn’t dream of wearing the club's colours because the identity of the shirt has been stripped and because it attracts tools.

I was one of 18 United fans in Saudi Arabia last year and not one wore red.

"Sing when we're winning etc..."

And United doesn’t bring out the best in people.

I once came back from Leverkusen having seen United fail to reach the 2002 European Cup final to run into a work colleague of an ex at a party.

He was a corporate type and actually laughed at me for going “all the way to Germany to see Man U lose a football match.”

I just smiled and later saw him stood in the kitchen pouring his heart out to another dullard, wondering out loud why no girls would date him.

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