With Barcelona's LaLiga visit to Girona sold out, the club sent fans hunting for their 'golden ticket'

Nurses, cleaners and students have been racing to the parks, lakes and historical monuments of Catalonia this week in search of tickets for Saturday's big event in the region: Girona hosting Barcelona in LaLiga (stream LIVE at 10:15 a.m. ET in the U.S.).

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With demand outstripping supply for the fixture at the 13,500-capacity Estadi Montilivi, Girona came up with a novel idea to give away 12 passes to their first match against Barca since 2019 -- which is just the fifth top-flight meeting ever between the teams.

While Willy Wonka used candy bars to hide the golden tickets, which gave the bearers a tour of his magical workshop in Roald Dahl's children's classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Girona opted for a modern twist. A series of small treasure chests were placed at notable sites in various cities and towns around Catalonia, with clues to their whereabouts appearing on the club's Instagram throughout the week.

"The idea came up spontaneously at a meeting a few years ago," Girona brand manager Adam Diaz told ESPN. "It's a bit like ["Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"] but we did not take it from anywhere else really. It is a bit like the escape room idea, or something similar.

"This year we hid the tickets in Barcelona, Banyoles, Palamos, Salt and Girona. We then gave out clues through our Instagram stories and our followers started looking for the tickets. Every five minutes we provided more clues until the tickets were found."

The clues include aerial shots and drone footage to help participants centre in on the prize. The hints this week led fans, who are encouraged to wear club colours, to the cathedral and Parc Ciutadella in Barcelona; to the lake in Banyoles; to the beach in Palamos and then back to Girona, where Saturday's game will be played. Hidden cameras recorded the fans as they hunted for their prize.

This is the second year that Girona have run "La Gran Recerca" ("The Big Search"), after its debut in 2019. Relegation to the second division and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the competition's return but its initial success -- it won marketing awards in Spain -- meant it was always going to return eventually.

The pull of Barca made this weekend the perfect time for it. Just 60 miles separates the two cities and, while the rivalry between the two clubs is more amicable than animus, Girona fans want to see their local heroes turn over Ousmane Dembele, Pedri & Co. on home turf (star striker Robert Lewandowski is serving the final match of a three-game suspension).

"Quite a few of the participants slip away from their jobs, still in their work uniforms, to look for the chests," Diaz said. "For example, this week, we had nurses and cleaners travelling from Girona to Salt to find the tickets."

Diaz says there have not yet been angry confrontations between supporters finding the chests at the same time, although the number of people looking for the tickets posed problems.

"We have had people recognise us and follow us while we try to hide the chest," he said. "We are already having to think about how to increase the difficulty when it comes to hiding the chests because, with so many people following it now, the tickets are often being found just over 10 minutes after we launch the first clue."

Barcelona's last two visits have ended in 2-0 and 3-0 wins. Girona, though, will be hopeful of an upset this time around. The club, who are part-owned by the City Football Group -- owners of clubs across the world including Premier League champions Manchester City -- sit 11th in LaLiga and can already boast of a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu this season.

But they will need to do more than solve a few clues to find their way through Barca's defence; Xavi Hernandez's side have conceded just six times in 17 league games this season, keeping 13 clean sheets, so scoring a first-ever league win over Barca would be a result for all Girona fans to treasure.