On a recent trip to Barcelona I was determined to attend a football (soccer) game. Whenever I travel I like to visit sports venues if there is some action going on, and I had never been to a football game in Europe. Our trip was in October, which is near the beginning of the football season for one of the best leagues in Spain.
La Liga has 20 teams from all around the country competing amongst each other throughout the winter and into the spring. If you are in Spain during those times then chances are that you’ll be able to catch a match. Barcelona is the home to two teams in La Liga. FC Barcelona, (FCB) they are like the New York Yankees of football. Anyone who knows soccer knows who this team is, they are beloved worldwide. The other team in Barcelona is RCD Espanyol. (RCDE) This club is lesser known than FCB. I had never heard of them before I started doing some research on Spanish clubs. During our trip there were two matches, one hosted by FCB and one hosted by RCDE.
The first match of the week was at Camp Nou, the home of FCB. It is a relatively new venue in the city, and the name, Camp Nou, actually means new field. When I started looking around for tickets to the FCB match I had a difficult time finding any availability. The match that the team would be playing was against a popular English team, and tickets were in high demand. All of my searches through the FCB website returned no matches.
Another option for finding tickets to an FCB match would be through secondary ticket markets, similar to SeatGeek and StubHub in the US. Since the tickets are in such high demand, the per ticket prices, even for nosebleed seats, were very high. I did not see anything for less than €125. Going to a match was a priority of mine, but the €125 price tag was definitely out of my price range.
At one point in our stay I heard the hotel concierge mention that she could secure seats to the FCB game for €90, better than what I had found earlier, but still more than I wanted to pay.
After determining that I would probably not be going to a match at Camp Nou, I started searching for other football options during my stay. That’s when I came across RCDE. I went to their website, which has an English translation and is easy to navigate, and followed the prompts to buy tickets. The ticket prices for an RCDE match are much lower than I saw for FCB tickets. Starting at under €40, I could buy two tickets for less than the cost of one ticket to see FCB, and they were available. I didn’t hesitate to buy tickets for the upcoming match. (Note: ticket prices do adjust depending on opponent, the lowest priced ticket for when RCDE plays FCB at RCDE stadium is advertised at €90) If you were to opt for prime seats at an RCDE match, you would be able to get them significantly cheaper than at Camp Nou.
Now that I had found tickets to a game, all we needed to do was show up at the stadium will call window and claim our tickets. RCDE plays in Estadi Cornella el Prat, it was built in 2009, holds about 40,000 spectators, and is located on the west side of Barcelona, north of the airport. There is not a subway stop right at the stadium; the closest stop that we found was about a fifteen-minute walk. The stadium is very close to a major highway, and is easily accessible by car or taxi. We opted for the subway ride and walk on game day. The walk to the subway to the stadium took us down a long walking mall full of shops, restaurants, and bars. There are lots of places to stop and get food before the match.
We wanted to arrive at the stadium early to take in the pre game atmosphere. I was expecting tailgating and loads of fans lining up to get into the stadium, much like we see at football games here in the US. This was not the case. I’m not sure if the noon start kept people away from the stadium, or if what we saw was typical, but two hours before game time the area surrounding the stadium was basically a ghost town except for a few security guards. The box office was not even open, so we were unable to pick up our tickets.
RCDE stadium is attached to a mall, so we killed some time walking around the shops before the stadium finally opened up. About one hour before game time the will call office opened and we were able to pick up our tickets for the match, but the gates were still not open. As kickoff neared, we saw more and more fans gathering outside of the stadium, many draped in their RCDE blue and white getting ready to enter the stadium. Another thing that I noticed, and was a little surprised by, was the amount of security officers that were on hand. There were several groups of heavily armed security guards, some wearing riot gear, and others with police dogs at their side. The amount of security seemed excessive for the crowd that I saw; many of the fans were families with small children. I am guessing that this is standard for most football games in Barcelona; the match that we were there to see was certainly not a high profile one. If the crowd became unruly, then there was definitely enough security to dissipate a crowd quickly.
The gates finally opened thirty minutes before kickoff and we headed to our seats on the second level of the stadium. It had been raining on and off throughout the morning and we were prepared with ponchos and an umbrella, but the section that we were in was covered, so we did not have to worry about getting wet, which was nice. After we found our seats, we decided to take a lap around the stadium. I always like walking around the stadium at any sporting event I go to, sometimes there are some cool things to see away from my seats.
We exited our section and headed back down the stairs to the second level concourse. Heading in one direction we were met with a chain link fence with no open gate, we went in the opposite direction and ran into another fence. We were contained to only our section on the second level, which I thought was strange. After hitting the fence in both directions we headed back down the stairs towards level one where we came in, thinking that we could find an entry to the lower concourse to walk around. At the base of the stairs we only ran into the gate that we entered through, and there was no way to enter the main level. I am guessing that confining fans to their section is one form of crowd control, in case of a riot breaking out; it would be contained to only one section. Another reason to close off the sections may be to keep fans in the appropriate section and prevent them from sneaking into better seats. Whatever the reason, I was a little disappointed that we would not be able to walk around the whole stadium and take in the views.
Another thing that I was disappointed in was the limited concession options available, at least in our section. There was only one concession stand available and it had fairly limited options. I was expecting to see lots of concession options in the stadium with lost of different Spanish offerings; I was looking forward to enjoying some unique stadium food. Instead I saw pretty basic concessions available. Hot dogs, popcorn, sandwiches, candy, and soda were basically all they were offered. There wasn’t even regular beer for sale; the only beer that I saw was non-alcoholic! I’m not sure if this is typical of most stadiums in Spain, but I was definitely surprised at the limited food and drink options, but that wouldn’t ruin the day. After all, we were there for a football match, and we would definitely get to enjoy the game that was about to be played.
Shortly before kickoff both teams entered the field and began warming up on the beautifully manicured pitch. The field was immaculate and a brilliant healthy green. As the start time neared, both teams were introduced and formed a line along one of the sidelines, the Spanish national anthem was played, and the match was underway.
By the time that kickoff rolled around the stadium was about half full, and it would remain at that capacity for the entirety of the game. There were many seats around us that were unoccupied. Even though the stadium was not full, the crowd was lively and followed the match intently.
As the match went on we heard several different chants and cheers from the crowd. Whenever the fans were displeased with a call they would whistle at the referees on the field. There was one section of fans right behind the goal nearest to us, on the lower level, that appeared to be particularly rambunctious. The section was partitioned off by plexi glass, and the whole section was full of fans that were definitely the loudest and most enthusiastic about the home squad. It was a wild section, flanked by many security guards, but they did not get out of control during the game. I came to find out later that many football stadiums have a section reserved for the most passionate fans, everyone down there appeared to be good sports while supporting their team.
The pace of play for the entirety of the match impressed me. Nonstop action for more than 45 minutes as the athletes on the field made their way up and down chasing the ball. Anytime RCDE would close in on the opposing net and get a shot the entire crow would get excited and the cheers would grow louder. The most exciting parts of the game were when RCDE would get a corner kick, and all of the players would stack up near the net waiting for a chance to score. The whole game was exciting to watch, with very little down time.
The match did not start out well for RCDE, as they allowed an own goal and two other scores to the visitors, Eibar. By the end of the first half the score was 3-0 in favor of the visitors. A relatively dejected crowd went nowhere, even in the face of a three-goal deficit; they were sticking it out for the second half.
The one positive thing about the outcome of first half was our view of the field. All of the scoring had occurred on our side, and with the teams changing sides for the second half, if RCDE mounted a comeback, we would have a clear view of any of their goals.
After a very quiet halftime the second period began. I was really hoping to see the home team score at least once, if nothing else to hear the crowd explode with cheers. The fans really make the viewing experience fun with various chants, cheers and songs they would sing.
About 20 minutes into the second, the scoreless streak was finally broken and RCDE got on the board. As the ball passed the goal line the stadium erupted, and broke into song. The home team would not be shut out that day. Finally RCDE had some momentum and carried that with them through the rest of the match. With around 5 minutes to play, Espanyol scored again, and all of a sudden it was only a one-goal game, and the crowd was louder than they had been all day. Things were getting exciting!
A red card on an Espanyol player near the end of the game left the home team a man short for the rest of the game, making the comeback seem even more unlikely. This did not hurt their swagger, and they continued to pepper the opposing net with shots. As the 90th minute passed, the extra time began and time was running out on RCDE. Two minutes into the extra time, Espanyol had a breakaway just past midfield. The striker cruised passed the defense and scored on a one on one play versus the goalie. Unbelievable! A seemingly insurmountable three-goal lead had been overcome and the score was tied.
A couple of minutes later the final whistle blew and the game ended in a tie, but it felt like a victory for the home squad. The fans sang and cheered their team as if they had won, as the players clapped their hands to thank the fans for sticking with them. A tie salvaged a point for Espanyol, and the game could not have been more exciting. 3 goals in each half is a big number in a football game.
We exited the stadium with the happy fans and ventured back into the connected mall searching for food. We had opted not to purchase any of the concessions offered at the game, so we were hungry. We were not the only fans that who had the same idea. The mall was packed with people, and there were long lines at every restaurant. After seeing that we opted to start heading back to the subway station through the walking mall that we had passed on our way to the stadium. The walking mall was virtually empty. There were several food options there, and we stopped at a Doner Kebab restaurant for lunch.
Aside from the limited options for concessions, the game was a great time. Not being an avid soccer fan, I was not sure how much I would enjoy the actual game, but it was a great time. I really liked how there were not constant play stoppages like we see in football or baseball here in the states. I would definitely attend more European football games in the future if I was given the chance, and I would recommend it for anyone. (Just stay out of the rowdy section, unless you’re ready to get a little crazy)
If you are ok with seeing a team that is not so well known as FC Barcelona, and want to see some great football for a good price, then seeing an Espanyol game is probably right for you.
What are some of your favorite European football experiences? I’d like to hear about some of the other stadiums in Spain and around the continent. I know that there are lots of great teams and places to see them all over Europe. Feel free to comment in the section below!