Saturday, May 28, 2011

A local's view of the Champions League Final

I used to hate the old Wembley despite its 'hallowed turf' and twin towers.

The cathedral of football? More like a shabby 1920s stadium in the middle of nowhere with appalling sightlines, rude staff and overpriced tack and canteen fodder instead of proper merchandise and food and drink.

It also had no atmosphere, so far were the fans from the pitch, which many felt (wrongly) was the reason England could not win anything. Yet you soon realised this was an isolated view.

Talk to a Parma fan about the night they won their first European trophy at Wembley. Speak to any Barcelona fan and they will eulogise about the old castle where Ronald Koeman's rocket handed Barça their first European Cup in 1992. I was there too, and have fond memories of a balmy day in London where colourful Catalonians and Genoese brought a mediterranean flavour to a northern European capital. Wembley had never seen anything like it: It is the people that make a place all right.

When I went on a tour of the Camp Nou Museum the tour guide was thrilled when I told him I had been there for that magic moment amongst a 70,000 crowd. But the mind favours happy memories. Barcelona v Sampdoria was a frustrating bore happily settled before penalties.

Sadly this time around the weather has not played ball. It's dull and cloudy, not more than 16C (60F) though that has not stopped fans in Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square with their flags and noise. The UEFA Champions League Festival in Hyde Park has been a big hit too. The Barcelona supporters club bar by Temple station has never been livelier.

Don't assume all the locals are supporting Manchester United. Premier League teams are far from English these days and in Alex Ferguson, mind-games, contempt for journalists et al., and the Red Devils' money, there are strong reasons to cheer the blaugrana. Leeds, Liverpool and Man City fans have traditional tribal loyalties to anyone playing United, but the rest of the country will mostly fall in behind the Red Devils in all probability.

Barcelona won a legion of English admirers with their tiki-taka demolition of Arsenal, but lost as many against Real Madrid with their album of dives, feigns, niggles and imaginary card-waving. The two are club giants and there is no underdog to support.

But it should be great occasion. Barça have the edge in talent while Man U have a slight advantage of location. The new Wembley is a country mile ahead of the old ground, even if it is still stuck in a forlorn corner of London. My instincts in 2009 got me to cheer a team I never normally do, but all I hope for tonight is a good game, and that the visiting fans enjoy their experience in my city.

The fans, remember them, Michel Platini?

- Sean O'Conor, London

1 comment:

Presenting... said...

Demolition of Arsenal?

Arsenal were ahead in the tie until Van Persie got sent off.