INDEPENDENCE DAY

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Two years ago I was in Barcelona on Catalonia Day and found myself in the middle of Europe's biggest-ever political rally. Thankfully, I was wearing the right colours.

September 11, 2014, marked 300 years since the city surrendered in the War of Spanish Succession. Every year the red and yellow flags are hung out while cultural events and rallies are held, championing the cause of a new vote for Catalonia's independence from Spain.

But 2014 was 300 years since the end of a 14 months siege of the city, which ended in Spanish rule, and the locals went big.

Thankfully, the day before I'd taken a tour of the Camp Nou and picked up a Barca shirt as a souvenir. Knowing it was the anniversary the next day, I'd chosen the away kit - in the bold red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag. I'd even chosen to have the club captain's name and number on the back instead of Lionel Messi's. Xavi was a club legend and a proud Catalan, from the city of Terrassa.

I am a big football fan but FC Barcelona is a long way from Wolverhampton Wanderers. The pomp of the stadium tour and bling of the museum is both impressive and preposterous at the same time. 

This club is set up like a religion, where worshipping its gods is encouraged and facilitated at every opportunity. You don't get much of that on a rainy night in the West Midlands. 

For the type of football fan who gets their club's Latin motto tattooed on their back and names their firstborn after its legendary No9, it must be heaven leaving the sunshine outside and spending time in a darkened room dedicated to Messi's five Ballon's d'Or awards, or wearing headphones that simulate the noise in the stadium on match day.

For me, I love the game rather than the circus that surrounds it. So I bagged my shirt and booked tickets to that night's game, which turned out to be a 3-2 thriller against Seville, complete with last-gasp winner for Barca.    

My only gripe was getting to the front of a packed bar and asking for a cerveja. Sorry signor, the barman said, we don't sell beer here. No problem, I said, where is the bar for alcohol? No, he replied, there is no alcohol on sale in the Camp Nou. Nada. See what I mean: preposterous.

I'd heard in bars that night that the plan for the next day was to form a human chain around the whole of the city. That would take some numbers, I thought. And I was right.

By the following afternoon more than two million Catalans, all dressed in red and yellow, took to the streets and linked hands. Hundreds of thousands of them formed a huge human V, for vote, on one of the main roads into the city. Transport chaos ensued.

But I was loving it. Proudly wearing my Xavi shirt, I was welcomed into the human chain near Las Rambla and was filmed for the TV news passing the flag along the line. 

There were parades and traditional folk dancing but I missed most of that. Instead I was wandering around the city as far as I could to try to get a sense of the scale of what was happening. It was huge but also peaceful and casual. I got the sense that the majority of Catalans were proud, rather than angry.

By the evening, it was like any other day in Barcelona - bustling with people eating and drinking al fresco, and generally enjoying living in one of the best cities on earth, even if it is ruled by people outside it.