It has been a theatre of dreams for some or a cauldron of nightmares for others. Now, after more than more than six decades, football drama finally ended at Barcelona's legendary Camp Nou with the stadium shutting for a major refit.
Last Sunday, FC Barcelona played its last game at the Camp Nou, one of the most iconic football stadiums in the world.
Barça beat La Liga rivals Mallorca 3-0 before celebrating the stadium where the club rose to world prominence.
FC Barcelona will reform the 99,000-seater stadium so it can house 105,000 fans in a project which should be completed for the 2025-2026 season at the latest.
Barça will spend next season away from the Camp Nou and will play home games at Estadio Olimpico, which played host to the 1992 Olympic Games and now is a regular stage for travelling world performers like Beyoncé.
The Espai Barca project, which was approved by the club’s board in March, will see the stadium and its surrounding facilities improved in a €1.5 billion renovation project. The plans are backed by US investment firms Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
Bricks and mortar and big money deals aside, the Camp Nou is a place where footballing history was made. This is where Lionel Messi, who some believe is the best player ever, took the world by storm.
La Pulga, as Messi is known, was only one in a long list of illustrious players to shine in this footballing temple over the past 66 years. Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Romario, Ronaldinho and many more all dazzled on this pitch.
Graham Hunter, a British journalist who covers Spanish football and who wrote 'Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World', said that the last day of the old Camp Nou was the end of an era for football.
“Goodbye to the stadium where once you had seen Cruyff, Romario, Ronaldinho and Maradona it was impossible to believe that would all be made to look like they had feet of clay compared to watching Leo Messi dazzle the Camp Nou for 14 or 15 years on this pitch in front of this audience of 99,000 people,” he told Euronews Culture.
FC Barcelona, one of the most widely supported clubs in the world, rolled out the razzmatazz to celebrate famous players and victories from its history.
Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, both Barça legends who retired from the club this year, told the fans what playing for the club had meant to them.
“Since I was a child I dreamt of playing here. I am leaving happy and satisfied,” Busquets told the packed stadium. “We will return with a better stadium, a place which this club deserves.”
FC Barcelona sees the new stadium as a step into the future as it will have 18,000m2 of solar panels and be part of the “digital transformation” of the club.
“The stadium must go from being a passive subject during matches to an actor with a much more active role with a value proposition and digitalization that enriches the pre, during and after match experience,” a club spokesman said.
The club won La Liga title this season but off the pitch it has been plagued by financial problems.
A series of signings of players on multi-million-pound deals which the club could not afford finally led to Barça being forced to offload its best player – Messi. In 2021, the Argentina star left for Paris Saint Germain on a free transfer.
The same year, Barça president Joan Laporta said the club’s debt was €1.35bn.
Step forward to 2023 and the difficulties persist. The wage bill is the biggest problem. It is currently thought to stand at about €650 million.
La Liga is expected to tell Barça this wage bill will exceed the maximum figure allowed under league rules.
FC Barcelona declined to comment on financial affairs when asked by Euronews Culture.
The club has sought to solve its financial woes with a major sponsorship deal to rename the stadium the Spotify Camp Nou. Last week, it also announced a deal with Ambilight TV, a television company, whose name will grace the arms of famous Barça shirt. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
It's a family affair
But away from finances, Barça is all about history.
Michael Witty, 85, is a British retired businessman, whose grandfather Arthur and great uncle Ernest were early presidents of FC Barcelona.
“My family was involved from an early stage because we lived in Barcelona and both my father and my uncle played football,” he told Euronews Culture.
“They helped choose the colours of the club – blaugrana – Catalan for blue and purple – because they were the colours of a rugby team at their old school, the Merchant Taylors in Crosby, Liverpool.”
The club says while “there is no certainty” about the origin of the colours, it is believed that the Merchant Taylors blue and purple which the Witty brothers attended inspired the current kit.