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On a warm, sunny day in the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi, the fact that the passion for FC Barcelona crosses every border has once again been made apparent. The club colours can be seen in every street, with thousands of travelling supporters mingling with just as many local people that are thrilled to welcome their favourite team to their city.
In Shota Rustaveli, just 150 metres from Barça’s hotel, UEFA has put the Champions League and Europa League trophies on show alongside the European Super Cup, with a huge mural showing the crests of Barça and Sevilla in the background.
Outside the team hotel, a 17 year old Georgian called Rasul awaits with Leo Messi’s biography in his hand – written in Mkhedruli, one of the three scripts used to write the local language. He says he’s hoping to get his picture taken with his hero and says that one of his greatest desires is to be able to go to study in Barcelona one day.
Next to them are two Israelis, who thanks to their family backgrounds are able to speak excellent Spanish. After revealing that they also travelled to Nicosia for last season’s Champions League match, they explain that they’d love Barça to win 6-2 this evening, which would be a repeat of “the best Barça game we can remember”, referring to the famous win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
On the bridge over the River Kura, beneath the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, we find Juan, who has travelled alone from Menorca. “I got here this morning after stopovers in in Madrid and Istanbul, a 14 hour trip” he says. “I missed out on a ticket for the Berlin final so I immediately started searching for a way to come here instead.”
Every fan seems to have a story to tell. We meet another who has also just arrived from Barcelona and is exploring a new city; three Azerbaijanis who have travelled for nine hours on a coach; Martin, a young Armenian, who took five hours to drive here with his parents, and plenty of others from all over Europe, especially from neighbouring Turkey, where Barça has an especially fervent following. Some 1,300 of the visitors belong to Barça supporters clubs, or ‘penyes’, having arrived from as far afield as Poland, Greece and Italy.
But wherever they are from, there’s one thing they all share and that’s a shared passion for Barça and the conviction that their beloved club will win tonight and collect the European Super Cup for the fifth time in club history!
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