Having married into a family of cradle-to-grave Barcelona supporters, Football Club Barcelona, aka el Barça, is naturally one of the main threads in the tapestry of my life here. My sons were carted to the home matches at the Camp Nou by their dad and grandad almost before they could walk.
During summers in the mountains, I drove 15 kilometres of hairpin bends every day to buy the sports paper with its interminable transfer market sagas (by the time my sons could read and write, they were already walking football encyclopaedias.) When my father-in-law died without having made a will, his carnet del Barça (club membership card) caused more fratricidal strife and bitterness than any other piece of property.
But the one memory that eclipses all others and distils the essence of el Barça was the European Cup Final that Barça played at Wembley against Sampdoria on May 20th 1992. The city ground to a halt while every household was glued to the TV (Barça had never before won the European Cup, while arch rivals Real Madrid had won it six times: the bitter rivalry has deep roots in the history of 20th century Spain.) Tension rose to heart-attack level with the score at nil-nil. Extra time. Ronald Koeman has a free kick – and scores.
We all leap onto the balcony, yelling our heads off, singing, hugging each other: all around the courtyard families are cheering and waving. All night fireworks fizz and bang, horns honk. The whole of Catalunya is plunged into days of euphoria.
Two days after the match, our nephew got married. At the banquet, instead of making a speech, he produced a cassette recorder, raised his glass, and hit Play.
He’d taped the replay of Koeman’s goal from the radio.
The entire dining room exploded in a deafening roar of cheering, clapping, stamping, and the popping of cava corks. Again and again and again. Nothing in Barcelona’s awesome Olympics held in July that year would ever match that moment.
As the slogan goes, el Barça is more than a club (but you need a bit of history to understand why).