Femeni at the Camp Nou, aka “Excellence right where it belonged”

It was weird watching that Femeni match in the Camp Nou, weird wrestling with a feeling that was difficult to describe, but one that you didn’t want to let go. And then it hit you.

That lump in your throat that usually presages tears, but of joy and wonder and justice at looking at something right and beautiful and wondering why the world can’t always be like this.

Almost 92,000 spectators turned out to watch one of the best football teams in the game ply their brand of elegant damage in the Camp Nou, the legendary cathedral of football that is set to be replaced by a mall. The match sold out in four days, and no, the ticket prices weren’t the same as for the men’s first team but that shouldn’t matter.

It was a Classic, a Champions League quarterfinal matchup against Real Madrid, the eternal rival even as their women’s team isn’t old enough to have earned the enmity displayed in the avalanche of whistles that cascaded from the stands. It’s Real Madrid, and culers know what to do.

The match was tied at the half, and Real Madrid took an early second half lead before Femeni put things right, and the match became something akin to one of those nature documentaries where they put a black bar across the screen when a once-proud creature is about to get gutted by an apex predator. That is Femeni. And for 90 lustrous minutes, as they ripped and slashed at their opponents, playing the kind of beautiful football we have come to expect from teams clad in blaugrana, them playing in the Camp Nou wasn’t a special occasion, something certified as a record by the Guinness Book folks.

It just seemed right. That beautiful pitch, that beautiful football, the fusillade of goals. There are those who assert that football doesn’t care about the women’s game, that it’s just a novelty. 91,553 screaming people will argue with you. Mothers, daughters whose sparkling eyes took in something wonderful as hero worship built, golazos no less astonishing because they came from a woman’s foot. This was perfect, amazing, high-drama football at the Camp Nou, and something that should be normalized.

Usually, Femeni plays at the Cruijff stadium, capacity 6,000. Barça Femeni are treble holders, and the best team in their game. They deserve better, and more than lived up to the billing when they got better. No, they won’t always draw more than 91,000 screaming supporters, but with marketing and ticket prices aforethought, there is absolutely no reason to imagine that giving Femeni a regular home in the Camp Nou wouldn’t pay off for the club, in addtion to being the right thing to do.

It would pay off, even if only two people showed up, because a club needs to show off its crown jewel to the biggest possible audience. And only the most staunch chauvanist wouldn’t insist that Femeni is one of the club’s crown jewels. When the men’s team was a miasma of crap, insults and a square-jawed club legend who was filling his pants, Femeni was winning everything in front of it, wrecking the second-best team in football just like the men’s team did when it won its last treble, about a thousand years ago now.

Claudia Pina wrecked stuff in defense just like Ronald Araujo does, strolling up to a hard-working opponent and taking the ball as though righting a wrong. Alexia Putellas pulled strings, the captain’s armband almost luminous on her arm, just like Sergi Busquets. Femeni is a thrilling team to watch, just like the men’s side. And for a match duration, an outing that turned into a beatdown that wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated, again just like the men’s team in their last Classic, only one thing is left to wonder: Why don’t we see Femeni in their rightful home every week?

The semifinal is close to a match for the men, and already we’re hearing the excuses. Why? Let them play. The only evidence you need is what we all watched for 90 minutes. But even absent that, if football is feeling, the joy and beauty of execution at the highest possible level, and if your club values that, cherishes that, if every one of those minutes was stuffed with a rightness that was moving, then what the hell are you doing, FC Barcelona? Normalize putting excellence on your biggest stage. It ain’t like they don’t deserve it.