How Barcelona fans turned Bilbao into Camp Nou in UWCL final

How Barcelona made it past 'bogey' team Lyon to lift UWCL trophy (1:39)

Sophie Lawson reacts to Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Lyon to win the women's Champions League. (1:39)

BILBAO, Spain -- A city usually decorated in the classic red and white of Athletic Club was, for a day or two, engulfed by a sea of Blaugrana. Every shop, bar and market stall displays the Athletic crest -- you can even buy Athletic-themed crisps -- so seeing the usually prominent blue-and-white badge outnumbered by another was a sight to behold as over 40,000 Barcelona fans descended on the Basque Country for the 2024 UEFA Women's Champions League final against Lyon and turned the San Mamés stadium into Camp Nou.

It was eerily quiet in Bilbao on Friday afternoon; an air of anticipation engulfed the city as the buildup to the big game began. Signs promoting the final covered the walk along the Nervión riverway, while nearby streets were decorated in UEFA's emblem with "Bilbao 2024" across them. A few Barcelona fans began venturing to the city on Friday evening, but it was the calm before the storm.

That all changed on Saturday. An influx of supporters donning the iconic Catalan crest entered the northern Spanish city in the morning, and you could be forgiven for thinking you had been transported 290 miles across Spain and woken up in Barçelona.

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Droves of Barcelona coaches lined the streets surrounding the San Mamés stadium as fans of all ages flocked west to support their team. Walking the 30 minutes from the edge of the Old Town to the stadium six hours before kickoff, the buzz was already electric. Locals stopped some Barcelona fans to wish the team well -- something of a surprise given how deeply rooted Bilbao's love for their local club is.

As you meandered down the colourful streets of Biscay, venturing further towards the ground, it was a sea of iconic Catalan colours. Cars waved Barça flags out of their window; cafes were full to the brim, the smell of fresh Spanish Lattes filled the air.

A family with two young kids in Alexia Putellas shirts were out bright and early at 11.30 a.m. to explore the city, having driven up from Barcelona the night before the final. Another family of eight, in an array of "Aitana" shirts, had rented a minivan to make the five-hour trip. On a busy tram, an older couple who had travelled from California to see the game told me how excited they were to experience their first Champions League final between two European giants. But they were not Barcelona fans, or even Lyon fans; they were Chelsea fans who booked the trip in the hope Emma Hayes' Blues made the final.

Crammed into the small tram carriages heading north, Barcelona fans sang and chanted the club anthem at the top of their lungs. In the past three Champions League finals, the Blaugrana supporters have far outweighed the opposition's support. But it hasn't always been like that.

In previous years, despite the chance to watch some of the biggest games of the season, Barça fans had rarely made the journey to support their women's team on the road. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic the club saw a boost in their travelling support and, ever since then, many have paraded to stadiums to support their team in four consecutive finals.

In 2021 and 2023, Barcelona won against Chelsea and Wolfsburg. But in the finals of 2019 and 2022, the fans had to watch Lyon emerge the better side. No team have won the competition as many times (8); they have featured in 11 Champions League finals since 2010. Barcelona have never beaten them and, on both occasions in the final, Lyon destroyed their opponents with an early blitz of goals. Their incredibly talented squad are vastly experienced in winning; it is what drives them, as veteran defender Wendie Renard told a news conference the day before the game.

But on the way to San Mamés, Sofia, adorned in a Patri Guijarro shirt, tells me that winning the Champions League this season would prove that Barcelona are now the best team in the world, regardless of Lyon's rich history.

Only once inside the 53,000-capacity stadium is the scale of the travelling Barcelona contingent apparent. A small section of Lyon fans (the OL Angelles) gather behind one goal and, to the left, another section of white shirts appear. The rest is a sea of Blaugrana.

Despite Lyon having such success in recent years, and the France women's national team ranked as second best in the world, the club's fan base has yet to boom. After France hosted the 2019 Women's World Cup, the profile of the game grew, but nothing compared to how England was gripped after the 2022 Euros.

For Lyon manager Sonia Bompastor, the growth of Barça's fan base is something to be inspired by. "They have many supporters in stadiums," she told a news conference before the game. "In this time of dynamics, it's very positive, and you have to see it for the other clubs, not only for Lyon. We need to be inspired by that."

But it would have been hard for Lyon's players to take inspiration when they came out on to the pitch to warm up. The roars of a half-filled stadium for the Barcelona players gave you goosebumps; the boos for those from Lyon drowned out any cheers. Flags were waving, drums were beating out the Barcelona song, and it felt as if you were at a mini-Camp Nou.

When the whistle for kickoff blew, the cheers went up a notch. And they did not stop all the evening. When Barça's fans thought Mariona Caldentey had been fouled in the 59th minute, cries of dismay ricocheted around the stadium. Then when Aitana Bonmatí, Barça's golden girl, found the back of the net with a deflected shot in the 53rd minute, the stadium erupted. There were tears, ecstatic celebrations, roars of elation.

Lyon tried, but they could not find a way back against the wall of noise. When the official attendance was announced, it was a record for the Women's Champions League final (50,827), and the majority was Barcelona fans.

When Putellas, coined the "Queen of Barcelona" by teammate Lucy Bronze, netted just three minutes after she was substituted on in the 93rd minute to seal the 2-0 win, the goal was greeted by thunderous cheers. Copying USWNT international Brandi Chastain's iconic celebration from the 1999 World Cup, Putellas stripped off her shirt before waving it over her head and absorbing the adulation from her subjects.

Then the party could really begin. With their Lyon demons banished and the Champions League trophy hoisted high into the air, confetti fell. The fans did not stop celebrating until the early hours.

For years, Lyon lorded over Barcelona. Now we enter a new era. With such a dedicated fan base hungry for success, it will be a mammoth task for any team to compete with that. Roll on Lisbon 2025.