One of my Philly.com colleagues, Colin Kerrigan, recently took a vacation to Barcelona to soak in the soccer vibe.
Colin is one of our office's resident soccer fans - yes, I'm not the only one. He's a Chelsea fan first, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would pass up a trip to see one of the world's great soccer teams in one of the world's great cities.
Colin is a photographer first, and you've seen his work in some of our great photo galleries across Philly.com. He's also a very good writer, as you'll see below.
With FC Barcelona meeting eternal rival Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey today (2:30 p.m., beIN Sport), I thought this piece would be a nice appetizer to get you set for the big game.
Enjoy it – and give Colin a follow on Twitter at @colinkerrigan.
When I knew I was going to be heading to Europe last November for a two-week adventure, I set several goals for myself of things to do, places to see, and people to meet. One of the goals in the "things to do" section included going to see a football... er, I mean, soccer match.
My first choice would have been to see my favorite club, Chelsea - the current champions of Europe - at their home, Stamford Bridge in west London. But unfortunately, the only time I spent in London on the trip was a quick layover on my way home to Philadelphia.
I had to settle for a FC Barcelona match, and by no means did I have any complaints.
The team from Catalonia is arguably the best squad to have ever graced this planet. To give you an idea, six Barcelona players – Gerad Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas - were in the starting lineup for Spain's in the championship game of Euro 2012.
It would have been more, except a few players were out injured and another, forward/winger Pedro, was used as a substitute.
In the past five years, the Blaugrana have won literally every competition possible, and most of them more than once. There have been 14 trophies lifted in total. When the 2012-2013 La Liga season kicked off, it took five months until Barcelona first lost a game.
Let that sit for a minute. Five months. On top of that, they have the best player in the world, the little Argentine Lionel Messi. At the age of 25, he is already the all time goal scorer for the club, with 298 goals in 363 games played. That's almost an average of one goal scored per game.
Messi made his senior team debut at the age of 16, an age when most of us normal people were just learning out to drive. In 2012 alone, Messi scored 91 goals in 69 matches for club and country – a mark unmatched in Europe for 40 years.
Did I mention he's only 25?
In short, Barcelona is the perfect example of why soccer is called the most beautiful sport in the world. The way the team dominant their opponents is a true spectacle to watch. Barcelona possesses the ball, passing back and forth, until there's even the smallest opening in a packed opponent's defense.
That's when Messi and company strike. It's a very well thought out process that virtually no team in the world can match - except of course, the Spanish national team.
The Barcelona game I attended, against a much-inferior opponent in Celta Vigo, wasn't Barcelona in its best form. But the team still produced moments of magic and won comfortably by a score of 3-1.
Messi, surprisingly - and I admit, disappointingly - did not score. I put the blame on his new son, Thiago, who was born the day before.
I joked to my friend who attended the match with me that Barcelona season ticket holders probably live longer because they get to watch such a fantastic team play every week. That's something us Philadelphians are not used to (the Eagles, for example… just saying). The atmosphere around Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium, which holds close to 100,000 people, was festive and joyous.
It was a diverse crowd, too, with young and old fans, and many families. Although I was an outsider, I felt right at home.
There were people from all over the world amongst the regulars, enjoying the finest example of the world's game. It's something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime - truly a magical experience.