Am few weeks away from embarking on a football pilgrimage, a major tick off my bucket list, to watch my favourite football club (FC Barcelona), the biggest club football game on earth (El Clasico) and some top class European Champions League knock out games live. My last blog focused on Barcelona beyond Nou Camp, this one lists my potential Champions League viewing destinations and how much the clubs from English Premier League are missing in action!
WOULD I BE GOING LISBON, MADRID, PARIS OR MUNICH?
Champions league nights for Asians is a tough proposition – extreme test of passion levels as midweek midnight sleep is sure to be compromised. For corporate executives like me, residing at Singapore, it’s the worst possible timing. So i need to sleep early (11pm), set an alarm for 3:45am and then hope the match doesn’t go into extra time, so that i attempt to re-catch more sleep at 5:30am.
Thankfully this week’s games did not go extra time. But personally I watched them with more eagerness than usual. After my upcoming El Clasico (April 2) game visit to Barcelona, I would need to fly to some destination for the Champions league Quarter Final games, cause defending champions Barcelona won’t play the Quarters first leg, on April 5/6, at home – being a superior seeded team than most. Higher seeded teams mostly play the first legs away and have advantage of playing the return legs infront of home support.
So for sure I would need to fly out somewhere after the El Clasico. And was hoping it is close by so that we (me and my family with two kids) don’t get stretched much. So I rooted, successfully, for Benfica (Lisbon) and PSG (Paris) this week. Madrid were expected to sail through anyways!
The above now means I can follow the Barcelona team to either Lisbon (which also means a relatively easier opponent – Benfica), or Madrid (to face one of the giants), or Paris (a mouth watering clash with an ever improving opponent) or Munich (unfortunate if two big favourites need to meet so early).
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Watching football in enemy territory is a unique experience in Europe, where passion runs deep. Last year, 2015, I was at Rome, watching the Champions league final (on big screen) amidst all Italians! Wearing Barcelona jersey amidst the shouting Juventus was, must say, a mixed experience – some fans are nice, some sporting and some not so nice. The ‘not so nice’, specially, fall in category who have betted on their team – Juventus is this case – and losing money isn’t always a great feeling. So an odd abuse flies.
However on match day and the following day, I strutted around Rome proudly wearing the Barcelona jersey. And that gave me a special kick! You do like, as a tourist, when locals come up for light banter. More so when pretty girls come over to say something about football – so much better than just ogling at them as dumb!
Two years prior, in June 2013, I landed at Munich airport wearing the Catalan jersey amidst catcalls of 7-0. It was awkward but I wore that jersey to experience that awkwardness only. That ‘behind enemy lines experience’ am likely to gain again if Barcelona play Benfica, PSG, Munich or one of the Madrid twins next month.
In case Barcelona are drawn against the other teams, likely to progress – Manchester City or Wolfsburg – I will then look for the best clashes amongst Madrid, Lisbon and Paris and pick two of them. Madrid will guaranteed get one game on April 5/6 – assuming Atletico go past PSV next week. This is because Wolfsburg isn’t well connected by flight and for Manchester i will need a UK Visa, which i won’t possess.
NO ENGLISH SPRING?
It’s strange that while my favourite English Premier League team is progressing, am not too hopeful of Manchester City. The gradual decline of EPL teams competitiveness amongst the best of Europe saddens me no end. Till 2011, there would be a minimum of two EPL teams featuring in Champions League Quarters. But Arsenal hasn’t reached the round of eight since then, and in 2013 and 2015, no English club was there. This year Manuel Pellegrini’s sky blues are going to be the only representatives in Europe elite last eight stage.
The story in Europa league doesn’t make great reading either. This year only Liverpool seems likely to reach the Quarters stage. There were no representations from England in 2015 quarters, 2014 quarters or 2012 quarters. Chelsea won the Europa cup in 2013, before that the last English team to win was Liverpool in 2001, and prior to that you need to go way back to 1984 when Tottenham Hotspur lifted the then UEFA Cup. Comparatively, over the last ten completed seasons, La Liga clubs have won seven Europa cups, and three teams from Spain are likely to feature in quarters this time!
(Coming up Part 5: My Champions League itinerary)