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Barcelona away in 2002 – How it was, when it was

3 weeks ago

As the week began, I wouldn’t have thought a Madness concert and watching Man City beat the Mackems would be the highlight. That’s because I was booked onto a Tess Mann chartered flight out of Newcastle International on Monday 9 December 2002, bound for Barcelona, where the plan was to watch the toon play in the Nou Camp the following evening.

I travelled over with my brother’s mate, who worked alongside him in the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.

Our kid never made it because of something going on at work, so it was just the two of us, although we did meet up with a bunch of lads from Spittal on the Tuesday who’d made separate travel arrangements.

Monday afternoon was spent on the ‘hop on, hop off’. Being familiar with the city, I thought attractions like Parque Guell and Montjuic would provide some respite from the Irish bar just off La Rambla where we eventually joined the action early evening.

As the drink flowed, some of us turned our attention to Sky’s Monday Night Football, which was broadcast from the Stadium of Light. Massive cheers all round as the visitors from Maine Road plundered all three points with a comprehensive 3-0 win.

Apart from a skirmish with a couple of pimps on the way back to the hotel, it had been a pretty uneventful evening. No, we didn’t cross the pimps because we were looking out for what they had to offer, the altercation happened in McDonalds where some of the younger Gremlins were clearly looking for more than the quarter pounder that me and my mate craved.

Next morning, after a decent breakfast and as we prepared to leave the hotel, I wondered whether my watch was playing up, because it looked like the middle of the night. As we emerged onto Carrer de Ferran, the narrow street had been turned into a raging torrent, the sky was black and it was raining cats and dogs. Oddly, the day before had been chilly, but with clear blue skies, and there had been no sense of what was to come.

As we sought refuge in the now very familiar surroundings of the Irish Pub and met the lads who’d flown in on EasyJet earlier in the day, the rain didn’t let up. By about 3pm, someone made reference to the game being off if it didn’t stop, and as the rain got heavier, with a spectacular forked lightning show and TV camera crews assembled to bring live updates to the city’s residents, that is exactly what transpired.

Our plan had been to head back to the hotel around 6pm where we would collect our bags and an organised coach would transport us to the ground, where it would await our return after the match and get us to the Airport, with our chartered flight due to leave at around midnight.

The coach crawled through the congested streets and at some point messages began pinging on Nokia phones from back home, informing everyone that the game was definitely off. We got no closer to the Nou Camp than the sight of the floodlit sky about a mile away and eventually, the coach did an about turn and headed off in the direction of the Airport.

However, not before a few Catalans had been given a slap by some of the less patient on our coach after an encounter on the Parallel, where a few of us had disembarked for a much needed comfort break but had flying bottles as well as the torrential rain to contend with.

At the airport, 200 or so rain sodden and bedraggled Geordies were corralled into a cafe and surrounded by riot police. I’m not sure anyone had the appetite for a riot, after the drink and the incessant rain and the general disappointment of not seeing to the toon in the Champions League. Talk about overkill…but the Guardia Civil weren’t taking any chances.

We left around midnight as planned and as the flight began its descent into Newcastle, I could faintly hear a splendid rendition coming from a few rows back, of the 12 days of Christmas, the one where the lyrics pay homage to the ’69 Fairs Cup team, ‘Five, McNamee’ and all that. The 25th December was only a fortnight away, after all.

As everyone knows, the Barcelona game was rescheduled for the following evening and we lost 3-1, Shola scoring for us.

I didn’t even see it on the telly. Instead, the missus dragged me to the Arena for a Madness Christmas extravaganza. Now, I really do like Madness, but having missed out on watching the match once, missing it for a second time was a bit hard to take, even if I was listening to Suggs singing about Nightboats to Cairo and the Bed and Breakfast Man.


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