116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There I was 4,580 miles from home, surrounded by derisive whistles and joyful chants, cheering for goals scored by athletes I didn’t know.
OK, this isn’t a what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation thing. No one cares and no one should. Tell me about your fishing trip to Ontario and my eyes get more glazed than anything for sale at Donutland.
Secondly, yeah, I know it’s the first real week of college football and some think every inch of copy in this week’s sports section should be football, football, football. We’ll get there in this piece. Sort of.
Anyway, I’m almost always on the outside looking inward. Which is great if it’s a zoo or a smoking lounge or someone else’s family. At sporting events, though, you who are in the crowd are having a far better time than we media mopes who observe you.
Last Wednesday, I got to be a full-blown fan at Camp Nou, a 99,354-seat stadium in Barcelona. FC Barcelona played a friendly against Manchester City.
A friendly, for the uninitiated like I was not long ago, basically means an exhibition game. This one was a benefit for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Since Man City and Barcelona are fabled franchises, the event drew over 91,000 people for a 9:30 p.m. start on a weeknight.
Now here’s where I lamely try to make this local and drop in the name “Kinnick Stadium,” where the thought of a 9:30 p.m. kickoff would make university and local law-enforcement officials tremble in terror.
Like 93-year-old Kinnick, 65-year-old Camp Nou is on the edge of a residential area. It’s a short walk from a lot of neighborhood places to eat and drink. Kinnick is a short walk from Stella restaurant, which surely will want to offer me a cheeseburger in exchange for this great plug.
No one outside Camp Nou plays cornhole or whatever you want to call that beanbag activity that has become a college football tailgating fixture. Why would they consider a game that requires using your hands rather than your feet?
The seating at Camp Nou is better and roomier than Kinnick’s (who’s isn’t?), but Kinnick’s video boards in its two end zones are larger and clearer.
Both stadiums favor American rock, pop and hip-hop music over Spanish hits. The official name of Barcelona’s stadium, after all, is Spotify Camp Nou.
When night games are held at both venues, fans use the flashlights or special apps on their phones’ flashlights to make it look like fireflies are populating the stands. It’s a small world after all.
Kinnick is the only one of the two stadiums that sells alcohol. That probably contributed to the fact I saw no one behave badly among the 91,000 at Camp Nou before, during, or after the game.
In fact, it was a family atmosphere. A woman and her two young daughters sat immediately to our right. The girls were very interested in the game.
A row in front of us, a middle-aged woman wearing a Barcelona jersey seemed to live and die with each movement of the ball, covering her mouth in nervousness when Man City threatened to score.
Most travel guides to Barcelona mention the Camp Nou stadium tour. It’s a good moneymaker for the team. Which it needs, since it is hemorrhaging cash. It spent at least 153 million Euros in the summer transfer window, international soccer’s version of player free agency.
FC Barcelona has stars from Poland, France and Brazil. Yet, its fans identify with them. Which shouldn’t seem strange, since key Iowa players are from Illinois, California and Australia.
I’ve come to like soccer more than football. The games are just two hours long and they don’t interrupt play for commercials a dozen times. More importantly, if I’m at a soccer game it probably means I’m on vacation.
However, holiday is over and football season is here. If you see me in the Kinnick parking lots Saturday, feel free to offer me some of Spain’s incredible Iberico ham. But I wouldn’t turn down a cheeseburger.
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