Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Nou Camp hits golden milestone

Down memory lane

When the luxury liners dock in Barcelona, Mediterranean cruise passengers are offered a series of excursions to many sites, places of historic interest and the giant Nou Camp stadium, home of Barcelona FC one of the world's richest clubs.

It has proved a tourist winner, a must for all football fans and especially so this week as Nou Camp celebrates its 50th anniversary with a gigantic party. Everything about Nou Camp is big - really big. Call in at its museum with its array of trophies and memorabilia and you'll find something to behold. Indeed, breathtaking is the only way to describe the stadium with its tiered stands almost reaching to the sky.

It unquestionably ranks among the finest stadia in the world and is shortly to be completely refurbished with the capacity increased from 98,770 to 115,000. Currently 78 architects have submitted improvement plans which include 50% of the stands being covered protecting spectators from the blazing sun or the winter downpours.

Barcelona are light years ahead of their rivals. For instance, they have a free creche for members which opens before kick off, restaurants, bars, rest rooms and of course every conceivable facility for players not only in football but the multifarious other sports associated with it - basketball, roller skating, netball, athletics, rugby, volleyball and even ice hockey.

However, it is the football which has been predominant among the supporters who originally raised funds for its construction through bonds.

Virtually every superstar has graced its turf - Pele, Maradona, di Stefano, Bobby Moore, Ladislav Kubala, Luis Suarez, Johan Cruyff, Romario, Puskas, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho to list but a few.

Barcelona is a football orientated city. A plaque in its foyer marks the opening ceremony for the 1982 World Cup in which Northern Ireland reached the semi finals: they had the largest attendance of 85,000 when Belgium defeated holders Argentina 1-0.

And when the Pope visited the stadium shortly after the World Cup he was enrolled as member 108,000. Today membership totals 120,000 with many of them belonging to the 391 supporters clubs including one in Russia.

Barcelona, founded in 1899, has had many previous headquarters while one of their managers in the twenties was Patrick O'Connell, centre back with Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City who collected five Irish caps between 1912 and 1914 and who later went on to reside in Spain. Today there is a bust of him at Nou Camp.

And Gerry Armstrong reckons it was the best stadium on which he had played during his years with Real Mallorca.

He recalled: "We met them in the Spanish Cup semi-final, drew 3-3 on aggregate, lost 6-5 on penalties. I took the first one - walking up there with the roar of 100,000 was quite an ordeal. The hair stood on the back of your neck.

" Fortunately I scored. As soon as you walk onto the pitch the crescendo hits you - it's awe -inspiring."

Manchester United fans have wonderful memories.

It was there that United came from a goal down in injury time to triumph 2-1 over Bayern Munich - and complete the treble.

Is there a greater chant in football than 100,000 fans chanting Barca, Barca, Barca in Nou Camp, that cauldron of Catalan fervour and fanaticism?

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