It is every football fan’s dream to watch the match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, popularly known as the El Clasico. It is perhaps the biggest club rivalry in football between the two biggest teams in the world.
So, when I won the chance to travel to Barcelona for the game, courtesy of Nile Breweries, I knew this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was joined on the trip by the victorious Ugandan five-aside ladies football team, who won the 2019 Africa Fives Football Finals. They were led by skipper Memory Nampijja, Vanessa Karungi, Sarah Namulindwa, Wilmer Nantumbwe, Bridget Nabisalu and Brenda Makanga.
We arrived in Barcelona on December 17 at about 7 am and Charles de Gaulle, our tour guide, was already waiting for us. At the magnificent Hotel Duquesa de Cardona where we were booked, we were joined by a team from South Africa led by former Banyana Banyana skipper, Amanda Dlamini, to kick-start what turned out to be a memorable three days of touring, partying and enjoying the spectacle of the El Clasico at the Camp Nou.
All throughout, legendary Cameroon and Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o was our host and he did his best to keep us as excited as possible. Our first tour was the Camp Nou, a 100,000-seater stadium that is a freak of infrastructure. It was in the morning rush hour but we sailed through the busy city without encountering any traffic jam, apart from the numerous traffic lights.
The turf at the stadium is so neat like a golfing putting area but we were warned not to step on it. Meanwhile, the stands are so wide it takes almost 10 minutes to move around. This is more than a stadium because inside is a museum, several shopping malls, play centres for children and a concert area.
There is even a Messi corner where five of his six Ballon d’Ors are kept, then a trophy cabinet room where trophies are kept. The tour highlight was the chance to hold the prestigious Uefa Champions League trophy.
There is even a chapel in the stadium. Eto’o told us staunch Christian players like Messi go there to pray before the match. Lunchtime found us at La Botiga Pedralbes, a high-end restaurant that serves mainly seafood. Many of us opted for the fish fingers at the expense of the exotic dishes.
On the second day, which was also the match day, we spent the early morning touring the city. We went to the brilliant Sagrada Família, a yet-to-be-finished architectural marvel designed by Antoni Gaudi. Interestingly, one of the coloured windows of this cathedral had the inscription of our Namugongo Martyrs shrine as one of the recognized sites.
In the city centre, I was surprised to find several groups of West African youths vending Chinese products like bags, belts and shoes. Later in the evening, the whole city was buzzing in anticipation of the game. With our VIP tickets worth 1,250 euros, Eto’o helped us find our way to the Camp Nou VIP area where a band entertained us prior to the game. Barcelona adores Messi because everywhere you turn, there is an image of him, whether an effigy, sculpture or poster.
From our point of view at the top, we could follow proceedings on the pitch very well but unfortunately, the action wasn’t impressive and it ended goalless.
Our next stop was Shoko nightclub and surprisingly it was playing mainly American music that had everyone go crazy. By the next morning when Taren Welthagen, the trip coordinator, woke us up for shopping, many had tired legs.
Still, we were able to tour the 1992 Olympic stadium, the Barcelona president’s residence before winding up at the Piscolabis hotel. The Barcelona aquarium, a glass walk-through with sharks hovering above, was an amazing experience and by the time Charles saw us off at the airport back home, everyone was in agreement this was a trip of a lifetime.