I have had many a fitba trip out with Scotland since I took up this travelling about to watch games malarkey. I think it stands at seventeen countries to date that I have been lucky to watch club fitba in. The Netherlands is a home from home in fitba terms with eighteen grounds conquered. England has welcomed me numerous times as have Germany and Northern Ireland but some have only been visited the once and Portugal falls into that bracket. It may have just been the single visit to the Iberian nation but it is up there with the best trips I have taken on, well holidays in general to be totally honest.
The idea came due to being away down near the Tropic of Capricorn for Christmas 2018. This saw me returning somewhere between Santa coming down my chimney and “Auld Lang Syne” being belted out at the bells across the land. A break with Wee Man abroad (his first ever) sounded like the perfect way to spend the latter part of the festivities. Portugal it was but destination Lisbon specifically. This was not truly a fitba decision but I noticed a league game between Sporting Club and local side Belenenses SAD on the 2nd of January. Perfect for me and a chance to break Wee Mans duck in terms of foreign grounds. Another big reason was down to the fact I read the city doesn’t really shut down over the festivities with pretty much everything open. This inclusive of the zoo on New Years day.First footing with lions and monkeys with the Wee Man. Sign me up. After telling my old boy about the plans, he informed me of my mum and his desire to go to Lisbon and how they had talked about it in the past. Two inevitably became four for a tri-generational holiday.
A late arrival in the capital meant the first night was just to be a few drinks in our excellently converted fisherman’s cottage in Belém(which my Dad told me means Bethlehem) with our neighbour being El Presidente in the Presidential residence. Anyway by drinks I mean a four Euro bottle of good rose wine for my mum and many one euro 70cl beers (Sagres) for my old boy and me. Great start to a holiday, cheap booze.
The main aim of this trip was to be in the zoo for new year but I am a big fan of squeezing in as much culture as time permits me too. This was no different and with my old boy with a similar mindset we were to try and conquer the Portuguese capital. I always try to eat local when I am away and this trip was no different. The food threw up a lot of great stuff, Pasteis de Nata (a type of custard pastry famed in Portugal), Bifana (pork dish) , there was a wild boar one night that was excellent too. Obviously there is a lot of fish dishes which included sardines frequently but unfortunatley it also included the bogging bachlau. I am an very good eater and there is very little I wont eat but fucking bachlau. Gadz. It’s salted dried cod and it’s bloody bowfing. Stay clear if you ever see it on the menu. Then there was the drink. My ma lived off rose wine (well it was invented in the country) and me and my old man smashed our way through many a Sagres, Super Bock and Coral, with the Dark Super Bock being the top of the lot. But we also attempted to drink the countries supply of Port too.
Sightseeing we got round a fair bit. The highlights included the Castle of Saint-Jorges which is a must see with its sensational 360 degree views. You can see for miles and it is stunning. There was also the Oceanaria for the Wee Man which showed us a huge array of marine life. He was in his element. Padrao do Doscbrimentos on the shore front in Belem was a tribute to explorers but also features a display on Eusebio complete with match worn shirts and boots. Adjacent this was the Belem Tower, a fortified castle from the 1500s which has stunning architecture. I got my geeky Hard Rock Cafe badge as I do in any city that has one, albeit I was only allowed one beer and a swift walk around as they were closing due to setting up for a hogmanay party. Then there was the zoo. Huge and great complete with twenty five minute cable car ride over the top which Wee Man after doing it once with my old boy and me(mother dearest doesnt like heights), wanted to do it again with just my dad. Obviously this meant beer and wine time for Mum and me. But in all honesty this was the highlight of the whole holiday. New years day looking at lemurs, tigers, rhinos, cheetahs, nyalas and a whole range of obscure animals in this conservational zoo but there was also a wee boy who you couldn’t remove the smile from his face. It was the main plan and it made the whole idea of Lisbon worth it. We did also see plenty of lions and monkeys too, mission accomplished in that sense and it was not the last lion I would see in the capital either.
But I am no Judith Chalmers so I will get to the fitba. When we left for Lisbon I had a ticket for Sporting, but in the end I got lucky and there was a second game thrown in. After visiting Belém tower we stopped in a cafe near by. The TV was on in the corner and I happened to notice and advert for Belenenses SAD v Porto at night. A quick check of the fixtures and it turned out this fixture had been moved for TV purposes and was to be played at Estadio Nacional west of the city. I wanted to go but I didnt feel right about it. But my old boy and Wee Man(who didn’t want to go) said I should do it and my folks would entertain junior then have the usual night drinks. My arm was twisted and later after we had been out for our tea I jumped a taxi in the direction of Alges for a bonus game.
Beleneses SAD 1 v 2 Porto, Estadio Nacional, Taca da Liga, 30/12/18
Estadio Nacional or Jamor to some has links with Scottish fitba for an obvious reason, The Lisbon Lions and to start, if you are going to win the European Cup, what a place to do it. A stunning venue and will forever be one of my top end favourites I have visited. It is magnificent. Even the taxi ride in was great. Heading west along the banks of the mighty river Tagus with cracking views, then left up a hill and into what seemed to be a woodland. Further and further we went into this road until masses of Porto fans came into sight as well and then from out of nowhere the grand old ground appeared. The driver dropped me maybe fifty yards from the place in a sea of Porto shirt clad fans. I noticed they were not heading to the ground though so I followed and it turned out the had a little fan zone set up with burgers cooking, ice cream vans and beer. I thought it would be rude to not partake in a beer. At this point my Aberdeen track top got me some attention and fitba chat with two guys. They were intrigued asked questions and were quite friendly despite the broken English conversations we had. They even tried to find me a ticket in their end but to no avail. After getting the two guys a beer, I really had to make a move as I had no ticket. As I headed back to the ground I was blown away by how stunning it was as I paid more attention. If you have seen Jamor it is shaped like a “C” and as I crossed the road I could partially see in where the players were warming up. But how the fuck did I get in? Across the road there were a family with blue fitba shirts on. Bingo. I followed them in to the woods (sounds dodgy) and up and around the ground. Here I will explain, it seems the ground was built in a flattened area of the woods and is maybe seventy five percent surrounded by trees. But the rest of the woodland has been left untouched. No pavements, just worn tracks in the mud. Its a bloody awesome setting. As I hiked uphill and around the ground, I was just about to turn to the opposite wing of where I started off out the taxi when some stalls and a make shift carpark came into sight. Despite seeing the beers flowing I made sure I found a brief first which I did for all of ten Euros. Result. The price of a Highland League game. Chuffed with the admission fee I bought a beer and as I did the stall owner warned its non-alcoholic beer inside and told me to sneak a couple of his Sagres in which I duly did and tipped him for his tip off. As I walked in there was absolutley no security so in essence I could have taken a crate of beer in with me instead of the three I did “smuggle”. But beer was the least of my cares. I was struck with the full on wow factor. I had never set foot in a ground like this. It looked grand, it looked fit for an emperor to sit and get his sporting fix. Old school, absolutely looks the part(built in 1939 its not really old in the grand scheme of things). To my knowledge, original on the eye as I cannot ever recall seeing a stadium like it. Steep stands is another thing ticked off. The marble look to the stand and support pillars and then the surrounds you see when in it. It’s a gem of a place. Even the toilets had a fancy marbled look to them. Words will never do it justice. I just hoped the game didnt let the place down.
I need not have worried as the game was littered with good play and chances. My only complaint being, the attendance was woeful. I was sat on my own with at least 50 seats between me and the next person in all directions. The Porto end was the busiest part of the ground and probably held eighty percent of the crowd. The game looked to be a Porto banker, but the script didn’t go to plan in the early stages as Belenenses took the lead in the second minute when Reinaldo tapped home from close range off. The man from Mozambique actually found himself on the end of a rebound from his own header that Porto keeper Vana spilled. The keeper really should have done better and this had to go down as a howler. The game was lively throughout . The visitors hit the post a couple of times but the chance of the half fell to Corona(not a topical name at the time) who volleyed wide from ten yards out. He had to score but somehow got his round the ball too much. Marega then went on to prod one just wide from inside the box. Again another that really should have found the net. The second half started with Porto almost fluking an equaliser when a wayward cross hit the bar. The equaliser came soon after when Marega made up for his earlier miss and was on hand to volley home into an almost empty net after a great team move by the vistors. It wasn’t too long before the game was turned on its head when Tiquinho Soares headed home a pin point accurate free kick from the left leaving Belenenses keeper Mika pretty much rooted. But it was Mika who kept the score down with some great saves as the second half went on, but Porto were also guilty of poor finishing too. FT 1 v 2. Decent game in an fucking amazing stadium.
Sporting Club de Portugal 2 v 1 Belenenses SAD , 2/1/19
The game that was intended. Unfortunately Wee Man decided to sit this one out too despite having a ticket. So his first foreign ground had to wait. I on the other hand headed off after tea again in a taxi. The Estadio Jose Alvelade had a hell of a lot to live up to after my Jamor adventure. Could it possibly be even near as good as an experience?
I left for the game with taking in the pre game atmosphere in mind, this meaning it was still light as I headed across the taxi took me along Avenue General Norton de Martos and almost immediately Benfica’s Estadio de Luz was in sight with the huge golden bust of an eagle outside the main entrance. Quite the structure from the outside. The taxi driver informed me “my club”, this making me think I was heading to be ripped off as he was to drop me off at his arch rivals. What struck me was how quick we got from Benfica to Sporting. It could only have been a couple of miles tops and on a motorway thats a minute or so. I got out the Benfica mans cab and saw an old guy with an immense collection of badges for sale out of maybe fifteen wooden cases along with scarves and the usual tat a badge man sells. As I always get a badge for my brother I thought this geezer was the perfect place. On closer inspection this collection was brilliant. Some of these badges were relics. He must have collected them for years and years. This made me wonder if he had been at this for years and sold them outside the original Alvelade. There was a Portuguese section and a foreign one complete with an Aberdeen badge. He was a busy man and clearly making good money from it. I grabbed a Sporting crest and spied a Belenenses emblem too so took that also. Unfortunatley all his scarves were a bit shite so I would get mine in the club shop. However there was an amusing “Benfica are shit” scarf. Once I had visited the club shop I was on the prowl for a beer. Google maps didnt throw up any boozers close by so I thought “carryout” as others seemed to be doing. Under the stadium there was a shopping centre with a Lidl. This looked like my best bet. As I walked it seemed like I had walked in the old Aberdeen Market, very similar and full of small units with shitey shops, one selling party goods, one full of well unofficial Sporting garb, another phone fixers. I was hoping I was to end up seeing Shaggies in the next one up. I stumbled across a food court bit, like one you would see in an American film, was this was where to get your pints pre match, it appeared so and the place was pretty rammed, all eateries and the forecourt were bustling. I picked what looked to be the least busy and grabbed a couple of pints. My Aberdeen polo shirt worked its magic and a couple of guys with their kids came over to speak. Again really friendly folk and loved the stories of my fitba travels and the great trip we had had in Lisbon so far. I mentioned I had a kids ticket up for grabs if either knew of a home for it. Something was mentioned about a niece and it was taken. I refused to take any payment for it as it would have been binned anyway. This earned me a beer and a paprika sausage thing, which I didnt need as i was stuffed after my tea with my family but I forced it down and it was lovely. A good exchange for the ticket. I bid farewell and made my way in.
Estadio Jose Alvelade was built for Euro 2004 and I remember reading a thing in a magazine about why the seats were multicoloured, it was to simulate a crowd if the crowd was sparse. I always found that funny. But I tell you, it works. This was nowhere near a sell out but it looked really busy. It’s a tidy ground and it seems to give a great view from wherever you are, this I found out by doing some research while walking about pre-game. My seat had a really good view from in the corner too.
The game was not as good as the previous but it didn’t go without incident. The first half was as dour as it gets. The best thing was the racket made by the Torcida to my right. Now there’s a group that gets right behind their team. Non stop noise. Also a large display about how modern football is shite and teams are disgustingly rich while others struggle. But that was about it for the half. As poor as I had seen to date on my travels. As I popped down for a beer at the break I bumped into Leon the club mascot. Of course me as a 34 year old man got his minder to take a photo of me with him. I am a child at heart.
The second half was a lot better and it was end to end. Spotting took the lead through Angolan Bruno Gaspar. Given I work in Angola it got me thinking I cant have seen many Angolan players in the flesh in my time, Jose Quitongo in Scotland and Bastos for Lazio but I was struggling apart from them. Belenenses were still in it and had their chances but could not beat Ribiero in the Sporting goal. With ten minutes to go the lead was doubled by Miguel Luis who scored what looked to be the killer goal. The home side made defensive changes to hold on to the lead including the removal of Nani (aye that diving wee prick).But Belenenese turned into the better team for the final ten and speaking of Angolans Fredy Ribiero popped up to half the lead in the last minute. Surely only a consolation. Sporting took centre and were closed down immediately, surrendered the ball when goal scorer Luis lost the ball cheaply, Belenenses and that man Fredy again had the ball in the net for an unlikely equaliser. Incredibly the referee ruled it out for offside, this with no linesman’s flag. A truly awful decision. From where I was sitting I could see the line and there was categorically no infringement, Fredy ran from onside using his pace to finish off the through ball. Baffling stuff. The ref had Sporting on his coupon? Thats my only guess. As soon as this disgraceful decision was made the match was ended with the three points staying at the Alvelade. A much better second half and a decent enough way to finish off a magic trip to Lisbon as we were flying the following day.
On the drive back to the ‘shire from Manchester airport with Wee Man and my ma sparked out in the back, I told my Dad I fancy a Porto and Braga double header next and he was all for it. My ma would definitely been in too as that’s the neck of the woods where rose wine is like water (Braga-ish). Obviously things have got in the way since, but one day it will happen. Hopefully Wee Man doesnt shun the fitba next time which now that he has grown a bit will not. There is one thing for sure when the time comes, I will stay clear of the bachalau thats a fact.