The History of Barcelona's Camp Nou: The Games, the Players, the Fans
As fireworks fill the Barcelona skyline on Tuesday night to celebrate La Merce—a city-wide festival featuring live music and fire runs among other things—the curtains will come down on another birthday for Camp Nou.
September 24 is always a holiday in the city, but it is also the date that Barcelona officially opened their Camp Nou stadium 56 years ago during the club presidency of Francesc Miro-Sans.
The inaugural match was played in 1957 against a selection of different players from Warsaw. Of course Barca had to win their first match at their new home, running out 4-2 winners with Eulogio Martinez scoring the ground's first ever goal, reports Barcelona's official website.
Boasting a capacity just short of 100,000, it remains the largest stadium in Europe and what the ground hasn't seen probably isn't worth seeing.
As you dismount the Metro at Les Corts, Maria Cristina or any other stop and approach the ground, you won't be dazzled like you would possibly be at the new builds in Munich or Bilbao.
But once inside you unlock the history of the famous stadium, the stories, the wonder.
In his book Morbo, Phil Ball mentions the aura which reveals itself once you enter Camp Nou:
Barcelona fans are under the innocent belief that everyone in the world, except Real Madrid and Espanyol fans, accept them as the biggest club on earth. When you first step into Camp Nou, the pretension looks justified for it is an astonishing sight.
Events inside the ground have been astonishing too. Within the first three years of moving into their new home, Barca had won La Liga twice—unfortunately they would have to wait 14 years to return to the top of the tree.
When glory did return to Camp Nou, Johan Cruyff was the catalyst for the Catalans. Ball describes the Dutchman's arrival as helping "the club grow in self importance, aided by the imposing Camp Nou."
It didn't signify a flurry of championships though; that didn't happen until the 90s and Cruyff's spell in charge of the dream team. Josep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov would light up Camp Nou every other week as they won four consecutive La Liga Liga titles—the stand out moment being Romario's treble in a 5-0 win over Real Madrid at Camp Nou in the 1993/94 campaign.
Luis Figo's return to Camp Nou as a Madrid player always felt significant too, and it is now confined to the history books. The Portuguese had mobile phones, a bike chain and coins launched at him amid a hostile reception on his first return in 2000, before the famed suckling pig incident in the Derbi de la Verguenza in 2002.
Away from La Blaugrana, Camp Nou has also played host to two European Cup finals—in '89 and '99—the World Cup in '82 and the Olympic football tournament in '92.
As for players, the heroes of Camp Nou read as a who's who of football royalty.
From Laszlo Kubala and Luis Suarez in the late 50s through to Cruyff in the 70s, the Dream Team in the 90s, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi more recently, and everyone from Ronaldo to Diego Maradona in between.
No stadium would be complete without supporters though, and Barcelona's have combined to make Camp Nou the historic ground it is renowned as today.
Barcelona is a unique city in that everyone, from young children to old women, talks about and follows the football club—"Mes que un club" as the seats spell out in in Camp Nou.
For the Catalan people it is more than just a ground, it is their national church. At 17 minutes and 14 seconds into every game at Camp Nou, cries of "independencia" echo around the ground in reference to the region's independence movement from Spain—1714 was the year that Catalan troops were eventually defeated by the Spanish army.
It's now as prevalent as the club's hymn which rings out dramatically before and after each game.
So when Real Sociedad visit on Tuesday night to celebrate the ground's 56th birthday, it will be nice to think of all the history that has proceeded the game in Camp Nou.
There's certainly plenty to think about.
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