Saturday, 24th May 2014: I slept until I woke up, and then strolled down the classy main boulevard of Lisbon, Avenida de Liberdade, to join the madness of the FIFA fan zone in the capital’s main square, the river-side Praça Comercio.
Normally a giant, empty meeting point overlooked by a statue of the fairly useless 18th century King Joseph I, for the past week the square had been taken over by FIFA, Ford, Adidas and all of the other sponsors which make football what it is today.
(Note: this is to be read either sarcastically, or with the understanding that ‘what football is today’ isn’t necessarily a good thing).
I hung around listening to a dozen northern English ticket touts try to buy tickets for small change and sell them for €1,500, (what is the collective noun for ticket tours, I wonder. A scam of touts?), then spent ten minutes standing in a queue to get my photo taken with the actual Champions League trophy, before realising that it would take about three hours and I didn’t really care that much.
A friend wanted to go to the incredible weekly flea market after lunch, and I can never say no to either friends or flea markets, never mind both of them together. Slowly, my time to find a ticket was ticking away, so I decided to give up on the fanzone and head straight to the stadium to try my luck there.
The train two hours before kickoff was already insane as fans from both Atletico and Real Madrid made their way from their designated areas to the gorgeous Estadio da Luz. Somehow a Spanish TV crew crammed into the carriage with us, and there was much singing and banging of the train.
When all of the Real fans got off at the first of the two stations between which the stadium is situated, I stayed on with the Atléti fans, knowing I could never sit with a crowd cheering for Cristiano Ronaldo.
I mingled with a few dozen international fans all looking for tickets, and told various Madrileños that I wouldn’t pay the thousands they wanted in order to give up their own ticket and go to a bar, several of them laughing when I told them I was ‘only’ willing to spend a few hundred euros.
There were several of the touts still around, but nobody seemed to be doing much business, the touts asking too much, the punters not having enough, and very few tickets actually being up for grabs.
At least there were a few moments of light relief…
A Russian friend had joined me, ready to go and watch the match in a bar if the worst came to the worst, and despite some Spanish fans falling in love with her very briefly, this only landed us Atléti bracelets and not the desired tickets.
The whistle blew for kickoff, the streets all but emptied, and we were about to leave when a middle-aged couple approached me. I asked if they had a spare ticket in Spanish; they replied that they did, in French. I asked them where they were from and it turned out they were local, so we finished our negotiations in Portuguese.
From what I could gather, they were selling their ticket because she didn’t want to go, and he had been offered €800 for it just a few days before. By now I was resigned to saving my money and going to a bar, so I had no problem telling him that I didn’t even have €400 with me, (I know myself, and hadn’t taken too much with me). I was offering €300, and if not there were some sketchy Polish guys hanging around nearby they could try selling to.
They walked off, and I turned away to face the train station, asking my friend to let me know if they came back.
They came back.
“How much do you have?” he asked.
“€320,” I lied, counting out everything I had in my wallet, but not the emergency cash I had in my back pocket.
He decided this wasn’t enough, and up came the Poles, asking him to wait five minutes whilst they tried to find three more tickets for the rest of them. With nether buyers nor sellers speaking particularly good English, Eduardo eventually decided it was better the (barely Portuguese speaking) devil you know, and accompanied me to the gate to prove the ticket was real.
(In the olden days, the fear of buying a ticket outside a stadium was that it was fake. This seems to have gone the way of fake market products labelled ‘Nyke’ and ‘Calvin Klean,’ and nowadays the only danger is whether the security will let you in with a ticket with someone else’s name on it. But that is another matter for another blog).
With 10 minutes already on the clock,and the score at 0-0, I was in to my first ever Champions League Final…