Camp Nou

Camp Nou, one of the world's largest stadiums, the center of Barcelona soccer.

Courtesy of Scott Norgaard

"Més que un club," meaning "More than a club," is the slogan of Futbol Club de Barcelona, the city's famous soccer team. And it certainly is. It's almost like a cult, complete with hero worship and everything, as I experienced first-hand when I went to a Barça game a few weeks ago.

Going to a Barça game has been on my original list of things to see in Spain. I had heard about the legendary dominance of the team's players and the intensity of the fans.

The team's record is unparalleled. It is the only team to have played in every season in Europe since the club's inception, which was in 1955. It has the most points in the history of European soccer leagues. And it is the team with the most official Spanish titles.

It's understandable that I was excited to go to a game. I'd been searching for tickets on the Internet for weeks before I was hit with a stroke of luck. A friend of my host mother's had season tickets. He wasn't going to the game against Mallorca and offered to lend me two season tickets, which to some fans, are probably about as valuable as their first born child.

"Don't loose them," he told me in Spanish after telling me how to get to Camp Nou, Barça's stadium that is one of the largest stadiums in the world.

"I won't," I assured him, trying not to think about how much it would cost to replace the tickets if I did.

It wasn't hard to find a companion. Many of the people in our program have been looking for an opportunity to go to a game. My friend, John, readily accepted my request. We met at a metro stop early to give us plenty of time to get to the soccer temple and soak up the atmosphere (luckily, no one noticed the discrepancy between my appearance and that of a middle-aged and graying man on my pass).

Before the game started Barça's team song was played instead of a national anthem. It was in Catalan, so I didn't understand a word of it, but I looked up the lyrics later, which (translated), contain phrases like "many goals we have screamed," and "it's proven no one will ever beat us."

The game was a fantastic display of athleticism and coordination. The Barça team worked together like the parts of a watch. It seemed like the whole one-and-a-half-hour game was a giant game of keep-away. Barça probably had the ball 85 percent of the time.

One thing that's curious to note about soccer is that the success of the team as a whole is very dependent on how the players work together. The whole is worth more than the sum of the individual parts. Unlike some sports in which a superstar can singlehandedly carry the team, soccer is very team-oriented.

But that's not to say that Barça doesn't have any stand-out players. Lionel Messi is a soccer god. Barça beat Mallorca, 5-0, which is a blow-out in soccer terms. Messi scored three goals. After each goal, the crowd would scream and bow to pay their respects.

The entire experience was very different than an American football, basketball, or baseball game. Most American sporting events are characterized by distractions - commentators, commercials, cheerleaders, enormous jumbotrons, and cheesy halftime shows.

Not so with soccer. There was no glitz and glamor. Just two 45-minute periods of blissfully continuous playing time.

There was less focus on the packaging, and more on the substance of the sport. A single man with a large drum was more effective at actually starting cheers than any squad of cheerleaders in the U.S.

However, there were some similarities with American sports. It's surprising how international some cheers are. There was the standard two syllable cheer (used for "score-board, score-board") for Messi: "Mes-si! Mes-si!" Also, the wave went around the stadium a couple of times.

For some reason, soccer hasn't caught on in the U.S. as much as it has in Europe. But it should.

• Scott Norgaard is a junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, pursing a degree in mathematical economic analysis. He is an alumni of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee. This column is part of a series chronicling his adventures studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

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