59. The Europa Cup Final, pt.I: getting a ticket…

These are some of the stories of an incredible year of football and travel, which you can now order in Benfica to Brazil: THE BOOK!

In one of the earliest blogs on this site, I wrote about how lucky I was to choose BENFICA as my football team of choice soon after moving to Portugal. At the time, we were third in the league, out of the Champions League, playing horrible football, and with tiny crowds disappointed after the horrific end to the previous season.

I had no idea what a wild ride I was in for…

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Firstly, the team went on an unbelievable unbeaten run in the league which led us (it was very quickly ‘us‘) to win the league with a few games to spare, sealing the deal with a 2-0 home win which I was lucky enough to be at, along with two friends, (one of whom had brought two youngsters to their first ever football match).

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I had to explain to them that not every match you go to has a crowd of 64,000 in the most beautiful stadium in Europe where you see your team win their 33rd league title. But it’s not a bad start.

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We ended the domestic season beating Rio Ave in the Portuguese Cup, an unbelievably tense match settled by a Nico Gaitan wonder-goal which, being held in a small stadium just west of Lisbon city centre, was packed to its 37,000 seater capacity.

At the risk of taking some of the suspense out of the blogs to come, (and, indeed, the book), this was the only major Benfica game of the season which I didn’t manage to find a ticket for.

Still, in between the league win and the cup victory, I had managed to get into an even smaller stadium in a town around 150km north of the capital to see us face the same opponents in the country’s second cup, the Taça da Liga, or League Cup.

I made no plans, as ever, and merely announced to some co-workers at the end of a morning tour that I was thinking of going there, and would probably take the train. One of them checked his phone and told me that the train took five hours, for some reason.

Nothing is five hours away in Portugal.

Except Spain.

So I showed up at the bus station, and was told that the last bus back left twelve minutes after the final whistle.

If there was no extra time.

I had little choice, and booked my tickets, enjoying a stroll around the beautiful city, sprawled under the watchful eye of its famous medieval castle.

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I had no ticket, of course, Benfica fans being so passionate  (and so prevalent) that it had sold out long before, so I stopped a friendly-looking policeman to ask where the ticket office was, hoping to try my sad-eyed look and hope that they found one lying around. The policeman practically laughed at my request (or possibly my terrible Portuguese), but a passing middle-aged gentleman heard us talking, and offered to sell me one he happened to have spare.

For €30.

€10 more than the face value, and the happiest I have ever been to be ‘ripped off.’

This is how my life works.

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I wasn’t 100% sure the ticket would be real, so I decided to try to take my seat two hours early, (bizarrely, entering the stadium through a giant fun-fair which was operating from a parking lot in front of the main entrance, full of kids eating candy floss and riding roller-coasters, and hawkers selling all manner of Benfica merchandise, from scarves and shirts to whistles!)

The ticket, of course, worked, and I was soon joined by João, a friendly Lisboeta who spends half of his life in Brasil, the other half running a popular sushi restaurant in my new adopted city.

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He also brought his parents, which was the cutest thing: a lifelong Benfica family.

We soon got chatting, and João offered me a ride straight back to Lisbon, meaning I didn’t have to miss the trophy ceremony.

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(Long story short: we rode some early luck and scored two cracking goals to win 2-0. It was less of a formality than the statistics made out, considering we hadn’t lost to our opponents since…2005! You can see the goals below, one from my favourite striker of the season, Rodrigo, the other from our veteran captain and defender, Luisão, Brasilian both.)

João changed my life in more ways than just a ride home that night: he told me that he had (somehow) managed to acquire tickets for the Champions League Final to be held later in Lisbon, which I was desperately trying to find a ticket for.

(And if you haven’t read about that adventure yet, you can do so in my earlier blog here).

We exchanged details and stayed in touch, but whilst that elusive Champions League ticket never materialised, he put me on the path to another golden ticket:

Benfica vs Sevilla in the Europa Cup Final in Torino, Italy.

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This blog is already too long, so the story of how the team got to Torino will have to wait until the next entry, but the story of how I got my ticket is simple.

João sent me a midnight Facebook message on Friday, four days before the game, to tell me that a friend of his who ran a tourism company had a spare ticket. Since it was already bought, there was no haggling on the price: €250. I asked him to hold on to it for me whislt I thought about it.

The next day at work, I made exactly €250 from my guided your job.

This is how my life works.

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Busy at work…

Benfica having some of the most rabid and loyal fans in the world, tickets for just about every means of public transport for getting to the final in Italy had already been booked, or the few remaining places were at obscene prices.

So Saturday morning I found myself a ride to Sevilla with the incredible Blablacar, (connecting drivers with spare seats, and tourists with a destination and not enough money for trains and buses), and within ninety minutes of making my decision, I had the ticket in my hand, (home delivered by João’s friend), and a ride to the home of our opponents.

Why was I getting a ride to Sevilla, not only the wrong city for the match, but the wrong country?

Read on next week for the story of the journey…

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These are some of the stories of an incredible year of football and travel, which you can now order in Benfica to Brazil: THE BOOK!

 

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