After a political protest on friday night, the whole of Barcelona came together last night to celebrate the victory over Manchester United...
A brutal, one-sided attack by heavily-armed opponents on a group of people helpless to defend themselves.
It's a description of the assault by baton-wielding police on non-violent protesters in Barcelona city centre on Friday -- an act which caused massive public outcry in Spain but was either ignored or misreported in the UK media -- but it serves just as well as a summary of Saturday's Champions League final against Manchester United.
Just as judges in Spain are demanding an official review of the police's actions but have little hope of seeing justice done, Sir Alex Ferguson will now review the tapes of the game in a vain attempt to see what he could have done to change the outcome. As even Manchester fans were forced to concede, it hadn't been a contest as much as a battering. The 3-1 score line flattered ManchesterUnited : Barcelona had thirteen shots on target to their one, six corners to their one, 69% possession and gave an overall impression of vast superiority. It was an exhibition, and the Barcelona fans loved it.
Two days, two sides of life in Barcelona, two very different public moods. On Friday night the indignant Catalans were out on their balconies in a 'cassolada' -- a popular way to express discontent that involves standing outside, banging a pan with a spoon. When hundreds of thousands of people are involved it transforms from a silly token gesture into something deafening and quite impressive. Perhaps Ferguson should have his bench try it the next time they play Barça -- it would work as well as anything he tried on Saturday.
As kick off time approached, the atmosphere in the city had transformed completely. Barcelona fans hadn't allowed themselves to really let rip after winning La Liga: there may have been a contented glow on their faces but they were saving the full, head-thrown-back orgasm of triumphalism for the big one, the Champions League. The tension in the air of the night before had been replaced with the anticipation of a massive, glorious party.
They may still have some political questions to sleep on but a footballing one, at last, has been put to rest: Who's the best in Europe? It's Barça. It was never really in doubt.
Ten minutes after kick off, the mood had changed yet again, this time to one of fear. Manchester United came out of the blocks much stronger than anyone had expected and looked like they had the upper hand. Perhaps that's why, when Barça finally found their feet and scored the first goal, the fans reacted like they'd already won the match: fireworks lit the sky, bangers rattled and cava corks popped. It was dangerously early to be celebrating and Rooney's equaliser threatened to make them regret it, but it soon became obvious that it was indeed going to be a night for going nuts in the Catalan capital.
When the match finished the madness began. Every young Barcelona fan worth their mullet was out and into their car, friends hanging out of the windows and scarves streaming in the wind as they honked their horns with the wrist stamina that only teenagers can muster. Swarms of scooters, stacked high with multiple passengers, charged suicidally between traffic lights, their occupants high-fiving pedestrians and waving flags as big as galleon sails in delirious defiance of all known laws of aerodynamics.
Plaça Catalunya, the square occupied by the political protests, is typically fitted with a giant screen for big matches. This time the screen had been relocated to the appropriately named Arc de Triomf but it was still expected that fans would celebrate at their traditional spot at the top of Las Ramblas, right next to the protest camp. Presumably to try to calm everyone down, the crowd was first serenaded by the most soporific version of the Barça anthem ever aired, a mournful plod through a supposedly uplifting song by a lone vocalist. The public would have to wait for Pique's girlfriend Shakira and her waka-wakas until the victory parade.
Musically tranquilised or not, the fans did indeed head to the city centre but the thrill provided by dodging the manslaughtering mopeds and incoming rains of grenade-like bangers was presumably enough to slake their thirst for danger. Fans and protesters managed to largely avoid the unwanted attentions of the local constabulary apart from a handful of arrests and casual beatings that took place in the very small hours. The police were obviously too tired by then to put any real enthusiasm into it.
As the street cleaners moved in on Sunday morning to sweep up the streamers, glass and banger-liberated fingertips that comprised the debris of the party of the year, the locals finally started to go home to bed. They may still have some political questions to sleep on but a footballing one, at last, has been put to rest: Who's the best in Europe? It's Barça. It was never really in doubt.
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