Barcelona is a busy, noisy city. On a normal day, thousands of people walk in Las Ramblas (or Les Rambles in Catalan), while hundreds of black and yellow taxis drive up from the Tibidabo down to the sea.
The centre of the Catalan capital becomes even more vibrant on an FC Barcelona match day, but when Barça are facing Real Madrid, stress and nervousness also hang in the air.
Barça is a national symbol for Catalans, so there is huge pressure and expectation when they play against bitter rivals Real.
El Clásico brings the whole city to fever pitch. It is impossible to sleep the night before – anxiety takes over your body and brain.
With itchy and tired eyes, fans wake up on the morning of the match already stressed. There is a feeling you don’t know how to deal with that walks with you as the hours building up to the game drag by really slowly.
As kick-off approaches, your heartbeat rises. Everybody talks about what is going to happen that night, planning where to watch it, with whom, and even betting on the result.
When Barça are playing away at the Bernabéu, that feeling of nervousness goes up another notch.
In the past, they have returned from one of the most intimidating stadia in the world with notable victories. Just thinking about their famous 6-2 win at Real in 2009 makes every Barça fan smile.
However, two different – and almost opposite – sensations take over culés’ brains. Confidence and excitement when thinking about the possibility of a ‘manita’ (or ‘little hand’ – which refers to scoring five goals) – because nothing beat smashing Madrid on their home turf.
On the other hand, a fear stalks every Blaugrana supporter that the opposite might happen. Many prefer to fear the worst and be pleasantly surprised if Barça win at Real, as opposed to being too confident and then feeling shattered by a bad defeat.
So, it’s either we are going to win 5-0 away, or they are going to smash us. There is nothing in between. That’s how intense El Clásico day is.
Celebrate or commiserate
Of course, just a few thousand travelling Barcelona fans will be at the Bernabéu for the game. For the rest, it is a case of watching it on TV – although the Camp Nou is still busy.
The club board gives fans the option to watch this most magical of matches on the big screens at their home stadium, and the atmosphere is still special even though the match is being played more than 600km away.
Many supporters will also make their way to the famous fountain or canaletes in Las Ramblas, where all of Barcelona’s most famous triumphs are celebrated, to voice their warm and unconditional support for their beloved team.
The most recent fixtures in El Clásico series came in quick succession, with Barça beating Real 3-0 at the Bernabéu after a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp in the Copa de Rey semi-finals.
The two sides were then due to meet again just a few days later at the Bernabéu in La Liga. Did that fantastic win at the same stadium in the Spanish Cup less than a week ago fill me with a calm confidence? In truth, it made me feel anything but serene.
Now my sweaty hands must stop writing as I get ready to turn on the TV – just six hours of build-up to go before the latest encounter. This is getting serious again…