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Barcelona forward Lionel Messi kisses his jersey after brandishing it to celebrate his goal against Real Madrid


‘It won’t be the same’ – silent Clasico leaves fans feeling empty

BARCELONA, Spain, Oct 23 For some it has been decades since they last missed a Clasico at the Camp Nou but this weekend they have no choice but to stay away.

One of the biggest matches in the global football calendar, Barcelona’s home clash with Real Madrid is usually played in front of over 90,000 fans but on Saturday will unfold in a kind of void, as not only the stands but even the streets outside will be empty.

“It’s not just a football match,” says Joan Bertran, the president of Pena Anguera, one of Barcelona’s most historic supporter associations, who has attended every Clasico at the Camp Nou for the last 48 years.

“It’s everything around the game: the routines, the pre-match beers, the atmosphere, the passion. Saturday will be very sad. It won’t be a real Clasico.”

Like so many, Bertran has not set foot inside a ground since March, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of all competitions. When they resumed in June, they did so with the supporters left at home.

And while other European countries have allowed limited numbers of fans to return, in Spain professional fixtures remain behind closed doors, with no return in sight. Javier Tebas, La Liga’s president, thinks there will be no fans back until there is a vaccine.

“Concerts and plays are held indoors but I can’t go to a stadium outdoors with a capacity of 100,000 people. It doesn’t make sense. Football is being criminalised,” says Bertran.

To rub salt into the wounds, those prevented from entering the Camp Nou this weekend will not even get the second best thing: meeting up to watch the game with friends and fellow supporters.

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The Pena Anguera had planned to organise a match between themselves on Saturday and gather afterwards in their usual bar to watch La Liga’s most famous match on television.

But, faced with a rapid increase in infections, the regional government of Catalonia last week imposed the closure of bars and restaurants, which were once bursting with fans ready to watch the Clasico, but which now will all be deserted.

– Shutdown ‘very hard’ –

“We’ll go from having 600 people for the Clasico to no people and not a single euro,” says Albert Devesa, manager of the Overlla Negra, whose frustration at the timing of the recent measures is clear.

Although a 1400 GMT kick-off, picked to allow fans in Asia to watch, was not ideal, Devesa was confident he would fill his huge tavern, an old industrial building in Barcelona, where many fans come to watch games.

Instead, there will be nobody. “We had already imagined that in a month we would be closed or they might make us pull down the shutters at 10pm. But I thought that at least we would get to Barca-Madrid. In the end, not even that. The shutdown is very hard,” Devesa says.

“We used to watch the games on a giant screen and there wasn’t room for a needle,” says Bertran. “With 70 or 80 people shouting and cheering. This time we can’t even do that.”

The bars and restaurants near Barcelona’s stadium, situated in a remote area of the city, have their shutters down, with the exception of one that serves drinks and takeaway food.

And many of the souvenir shops dotted around the ground have also disappeared, faced with a drought of tourists, usually desperate to take home anything with Lionel Messi’s name on it.

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“If we carry on like this, the shirts are going to lose their colour,” jokes one of the few shopkeepers still working.

Roger Banal, a member of the Catalan club since the early 1970s, used to live in this area. He describes himself as a “Cule to the core” and would leave matches as quickly as possible to get home to catch the replays on television.

But this weekend he will watch Barcelona against Real Madrid on the screen, with his family on the sofa at his home in Sabadell, some 30 kilometres from the stadium.

“I’ll still wear my scarf and Barca shirt,” he says. “But it won’t be the same. The noise and that feeling when you first walk up the steps and see the stands. The smell of the grass.

“In fact when I walk through a park now and the grass has just been cut, it reminds me of Camp Nou. You really miss it.”

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