Football: Fan's Eye View No 236 Barcelona - A blessed relief to the City pain in Spain

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As a child in Manchester, I knew a boy who owned a rather interesting football shirt. Its colours were neither sky blue or red, and he was a Liverpool supporter anyway, so I had no idea what this partly wine-coloured jersey wrapped round his ribs was. When he said it was from Barcelona, I thought nothing of it because, like most eight-year-old Mancunians, I had no idea where Barcelona was.

My first exposure to Barca as a playing side was after my football-supporting nemesis had waltzed into school after he had seen Manchester United trounce Barca.

One of the Barca team my 10-year-old self hadn't heard of. His name? Diego Maradona. This appeared to mean something to my red-nosed colleague. As a bluenose who saw United win the cup 10 days after City's 1983 relegation, my instinct was to feel affinity to the underdogs. How little I understood.

Years later, I opted to learn Spanish at school. After the nightmare of Latin, I wasn't going for any more of that nominative, accusative, genitive nonsense essential to German. In fourth year, I was offered an exchange visit with a lad in... Barcelona. Once I had seen a postcard of the Nou Camp, I knew why I wanted to stay with a stranger called David. His family was keen to show me the Gaudi architecture, the Ramblas, the site of what was to become the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, the Ciutadella Park etc, but I was waiting for the big one: Nou Camp. We witnessed a 2-0 win over Racing Santander from the uppermost echelons, deriving as much fun from my paper darts as from the football. Come on, I was only 14! One Gary Winston Lineker was in Venables' side, and he scored both goals. Marvellous.

Fast forward five years. I was there to improve my Spanish, and I was lucky enough to witness a Barca-Madrid game. That season, Barcelona won the title and the European Cup, which provided me with two of my best ever nights out. I returned several times, seeing Barca v Espanyol at Sarria in 1994 and one of Ronaldo's performances two years later in which he scored twice.

Nevertheless, I have been asked why Barca appeals to me. After all, aren't they the Manchester United of Spain? Both sets of fans think the right to win is theirs, they become indignant when this right is challenged by anyone, yet they don't like being reminded that, despite claims of being the biggest, most successful clubs in the world, their deadliest rivals, Liverpool and Real Madrid respectively, have won at least three more European Cups than their own team, surely the most effective yardstick for greatness.

By rights, then, I should hate Barca. But it is my bit of luxury, my compensation for following my team to drubbings in places such as (and others even bleaker than) Barnsley. Like an office girl who stares longingly at pictures of Keanu Reeves, but who still wouldn't swap him for her Sunday League-playing brickie husband, I might like to wish that Hristo Stoichkov and Giovanni could join Georgi Kinkladze and Kevin Horlock, but I still stood there in 1992 with a million wild-eyed Catalans with the distinct feeling that I'd still rather have been on the Kippax a month earlier watching City stuff Leeds, eventual champions that year, by four goals to nada. Wouldn't you?