Something to read during the off-season…?

Many of you will be aware that this used to be a weekly, if not daily blog.

That was until I decided to take three months off to write a book.

A year and a half later, it is finally finished, and I can get back to my blogging ways.


I don’t think I’ve missed too much in the meantime: just the downfall of Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and FIFA, (almost); Spanish football dominating European competitions, with 3 out of 4 finalists in the two biggest competitions on the continent, and 2 of the 2 winners, (whoever wins the upcoming repeat of the 2014 Champions League Final between the two Madrid teams, after Sevilla won a ridiculous third straight Europa Cup, and their fifth in ten years!); and my beloved Benfica winning their third straight league title, and 35th ever, a point ahead of city rivals Sporting.

Oh, and the greatest shock in British footballing history, with Leicester City defying the odds to win the Premier League.


Looks like I have some catching up to do.

But in the meantime, you can pick up a copy of my book, ‘Benfica to Brazil’, detailing my travels following the World Cup across the globe for the past 19 years. It’s full of history, culture, comedy and tragedy, and a fair bit of footie too.

You can order it now from any major book seller, (from AMAZON to BARNES&NOBLE to THE BOOK DEPOSITORY, and even on KINDLE), and if you would like a PDF or a version for another eReader, just let me know.

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Also, I can arrange for discounted copies to be delivered anywhere in the US of A (where I find myself now living; yet another minor change over the past 18months), and these copies will come signed, dedicated, and possibly even featuring a special gift.

It’s good to be back: I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour! 

Portugal Soccer


66. The Curse of Béla Guttmann…

I am just back from a visit to the disappointingly half-empty Stadium of Light last night with a group of wonderful tourists. We were behind the goal to see Benfica, currently struggling in the league, dominate and achieve a well-deserved (if unbelievably stressful) 2-1 Champions League victory of Galatasaray. This puts us on the edge of qualification for the knockout rounds of this years tournament, and seems like a good time to discuss The Curse which has been on the club for over half a century.


In 1962, Benfica won their second consecutive European Cup, and may well have been the best team in the world. So, naturally, they refused to give their Hungarian manager, Béla Guttmann, a bonus. He quit in fury, allegedly leaving a curse that the team wouldn’t win another European Cup for 100 years. Luckily I don’t believe in curses…

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…but if I did, Benfica could be the reason. The penalty shootout against Sevilla in 2014 which I was (un)lucky enough to be present at was our 8th successive European Cup Final loss since then, and second in a row after an injury-time defeat to a Chelsea team we had outplayed even more than we had Sevilla.

Will we get a chance to cast the curse aside this year?

Either way, luckily for me I will still be a Benfica fan in 2052, when the curse officially runs out…



Writing has finished on ‘Benfica to Brazil‘ and I am currently editing the book. If you guys have half as much fun reading it as I am having re-reading it, (and remember, I already know what’s in it!), it should be worth the wait.

A month of editing, a few weeks of proof-reading, and then the logistics of turning the digital word into the physical form, and I hope to have the book flying around the world to you within a few months.

If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, contact me through this blog to reserve your book now!

65. Benfica to Brazil the Book: UPDATE!

Over a year has passed since the glory days of Brazil 2014, and with FIFA falling apart around our ears, (although not quite enough yet); Benfica falling apart around the League, (although not in the Champions League); and José Mourinho and Chelsea falling apart in pretty much everything, I have been keeping busy turning my experiences in Brazil, and across the world and through the years, into a book.


This week, I finished the first draft of ‘Benfica to Brazil,’ and for the next few weeks I will be editing, polishing, cutting and extending it to make it the best book you have ever read about football, travel, sports, Benfica, and life.

Check out the update here, and if you haven’t signed up for a copy in advance, there will be copies available when it is published, in physical and e-book form, in a few months: just drop me an email to reserve yours!


64. Champions of Bi…

I know what you’re thinking:

“Where did I leave my car keys?”

I can’t help you with that right now.

You are also probably thinking that this, my first football blog in months, will be about the seismic events which have taken place in FIFA over the past week or so.


But that blog will be coming soon.

For now, I want to tell you about what happened on Sunday, May 10th 2015.

“You’re going out to celebrate a 0-0 tie?!” my Canadian friend asked me in disbelief after Benfica struggled to a dire 0-0 draw away to Guimarães.


I know that draws, and scoreless ones even more so, are the bane of most of my North American sports-loving friends, but there was a special reason for celebrating this particular one.

Because when you draw, but your closest rival also draws, giving you the league title, for the second year in a row, with millions of fans across the country and the world biting their nails as the minutes tick by until the edges of their fingers bleed the same colour as their team’s shirt, then yes.

Yes, you celebrate that.


And she joined me and two other friends to celebrate with around 499,996 other Benfica fans as the traditional evening gathering took place around the Marquês de Pombal roundabout, closing the main dual carriageway of downtown Lisbon for the evening.


Benfica have now won their 34th league title, (and, almost as importantly, rivals Porto didn’t win, thanks to a late equaliser from Benfica’s neighbours Belenenses against them in that penultimate round of matches).Two weeks later, they won the League Cup, again for the second year in a row.


I sure chose the right team to support when I arrived in Lisbon 18 months ago…


63. My year of football blogging, 2014…

I have been writing my book blog for just over three years, and in all that time I was proud to have had 16,039 people drop by to read it.

doron panini

In the eight months since I launched this football blog, it has received over 27,000 views since it began on Friday May 27th, with a frankly ridiculous 7,149 people dropping by on one day alone.

This was blog entry number six, my first on Lisbon, and proved the power of my newest team: Benfica, with its 250,000+ fans around the world, the most supported club in the world, and most of them (you!) seem to have stopped by my blog, for which I thank you.


My readers came from 110 countries!! This is a truly ridiculous number, around twice the number I  have visited, and shows the fact that whilst there were only 32 countries in the World Cup, football is a worldwide sport, (and again highlights Benfica’s global reach, as I explain to both the tourists on my Lisbon walking tours, and in a blog about them here).

Understandably, more of my readers came from my current home country, Portugal, closely followed by the USA and UK…so there is absolutely no correlation between my readers’ locations and national footballing prowess.

(My apologies to US readers, whose team actually did quite well!)


Oh, and I also funded (and am in the process of writing) A BOOK! Which you are all welcome to read!

Feel free to check out my Wordpress annual report here, and drop me a comment letting me know what you are looking forward to reading about in the coming year.

HAPPY 2015!!


62. Benfica to Brazil: the book is ready to launch!

A happy 2015 to all of you out there, wherever you are.

Whether you are a Brazilian football fan trying to forget that game, a Benfica fan trying to remember all of those trophies from last season (but forget that final, and that curse), or a follower of another team, or even another sport, (or none at all!), I hope 2015 brings you everything you hope for.

(Unless you hope for your team to beat one of my teams, of course.)



One thing it may bring you is a copy of the Sports Book of the Year™ – ‘Benfica to Brazil.’ My first published work is now fully funded thanks to the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, and over a hundred lovely people who want to read more of my adventures following football (and other sports, and fun, and languages…), around the globe.

If you read this before January 7th, you can join them in ordering the book and even having your name added to the back of it. Just go to the Kickstarter page, choose your reward, and sit back until March!


If you’re reading this at a later date, there should be details of how and where to buy your copy of the book on the Kickstarter page…but you will have wait for my next book to get your name in the Thank You’s!

More football news in future blogs, but probably not as regularly as they used to be, as I may be a little busy writing in the coming weeks…

61. The Europa Cup Final, pt.III: the game…

Doron is a world-travelling sports-lover who adopted Benfica as his team when he moved to Portugal a year ago.

You can order and read the book of his travels and his sporting adventures here.


When last we saw our intrepid hero, he had travelled across four countries to arrive in Torino, Italy, with a second-hand ticket to see the Europa Cup Final between his beloved Benfica and his new second-favourite Spanish team, Sevilla.

My newfound Spanish friends said their goodbyes and good lucks at the stadium, and I went to take my place inside, around two hours before kickoff. The line to get in was long and seemed nervous, and I soon found out why: they were checking everybody’s passports before they would let people in.

Since I had a ticket in somebody else’s name, this could prove to be a small problem.

It was almost an even bigger problem, as when I had bought the ticket I had been given the choice of two which were available: one in the name of Giovanni, and one for Natalia.


Having gotten into World Cup matches with second hand tickets of every imaginable name, nationality and gender, I had very nearly taken the Natalia ticket just for fun.

With staff checking tickets to make sure each one belonged to the person who was holding it, that would have been the end of my journey.

As it was, I still had a chance, so I prepared my best ‘Who, me, guvnor?’ innocent looking face, as angry looking fans occasionally pushed past in the wrong direction, and eventually came to the front of the line where a guard asked to see my ticket and passport.

Luckily, having spent six months living in Firenze in 2001, I spoke a little Italian, and calmly explained to him that I had just travelled 1,800kms to be at the game, and that my passport was locked in the car of the friends I had come with, sure that he wouldn’t be taking his job too seriously.

“Well then,” he replied seriously in Italian, “you’re not coming in.”


I stared at him in shock, as several other people were let in with valid ID and tickets, and tried to explain it to him again.

Again he told me: too bad.

This was not in the script.

In my best bad Italian, and with the saddest look imaginable on my face, I asked him to call over a supervisor, which he did. I explained my problem again, sure that this senior guard had better things to do than deny me access to the stadium.

Get out,” he basically told me.

My dream was at an end before it had even begun.

I stood there,shaking slightly with disappointment, as the original guard continued checking tickets and his supervisor walked away to deal with another crisis nearby.

Which is when I decided to just walk past the guard as quickly as possible, without looking back.

And somehow, nobody stopped me, and with trembling hands I presented my ticket to the ticket scanners, and was inside the stadium.

This is how my life works.


I spent the next hour terrified that I was being hunted after being spotted by security cameras, but eventually realised that nobody cared about me, and could enjoy the fact that I was actually




There were all sorts of festivities as I walked down to the front row to take in the atmosphere on the pitch, and of the Benfica fans around me. A friendly photographer offered me his official team sheet to add to my collection when I asked, which was nice.




Not too far away, German international legend Michael Ballack was being interviewed, and I spent a while watching that. When it was done, the interviewer was presented with a Benfica jersey by an assistant, who motioned to the crowd in my direction whilst pointing at the shirt.

The interviewer looked up, and caught my eye, and I raised my eyebrows. He nodded, and strolled over to introduce me live on German TV. He seemed vaguely surprised that I was English, not Portuguese, but I couldn’t have been more excited to be presented with a signed Benfica jersey half an hour before kickoff.

Things were going rather well, in fact.


Too well, maybe.

I don’t believe in good or bad luck, in karma. Sometimes good things happen,  sometimes bad. Often great things, many times terrible. I definitely don’t believe in a limited supply of luck, or in using it up.

And yet…

It seems I had used up all of Benfica’s luck for the evening. Ninety minutes after kickoff, the score was somehow 0-0, despite Benfica having had a number of great chances, and a few obvious penalty calls denied.


After another 30 minutes of extra time, it was still scoreless, and we were headed to penalties, the worst thing in sports.

Against a team who were even luckier than I was.

I may have been lucky to be in the stadium, with someone else’s ticket and a free signed jersey, but all of that didn’t compare to Sevilla FC’s luck in getting there. They were only even in the competition (after finishing NINTH in the Spanish league) because Malaga, who finished sixth, were banned from European competitions due to overdue payments; and the team which was meant to replace them, Rayo Vallecano, who finished eighth, were ALSO thrown out for unpaid debts.

And, after playing eighteen matches to get to the final, having started in the third qualifying round, Sevilla were only on the pitch in Turin thanks to a 94th minute injury-time goal in their semi-final sent them through on away goals.


So, yeah, they had some luck on their side. And it saw them win the penalty shoot-out, 4-2, largely thanks to their goalkeeper Beto (Portuguese, ironically) ignoring the rule which bans ‘keepers from leaving their line before the kick is taken, and being halfway to the ball to be able to save it for two of Benfica’s penalties.

Before you accuse me of sour grapes, I’ll just say that my hosts on the drive home delighted in sharing with me Twitter photos like this one from their fellow Spaniards, acknowledging how far off his line Beto was:


Oh well, these things happen, and at least there aren’t two professionals whose sole job it is to stand either side of the goal and stop things like this happening.

Oh, wait…


I saw grown men cry that night. The only thing that comforted me to a small degree as I trudged away from the stadium was knowing that the lovely guys I had spent two days travelling with and getting to know would be happy…and they were, whilst respecting my grief.

We drove through the night, arriving back in Sevilla around 24-hours later, just in time to walk over to the crumbling concrete cuteness of their Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, where the players were celebrating into the night on the pitch, with speeches, songs, and a fairly hilarious impromptu recreation of that injury-time goal which had gotten them to the final…with an imaginary ball.

I was put up for the night in one of my car-mate’s apartments, (the least they could do, considering what their team had done to me…), and was whisked back to Lisbon the next day by blablacar, to a city which had once again suffered the Guttmann Curse…but that’s a story for the next blog!


Check out ‘Benfica to Brazil – THE BOOK’ at Doron’s KICKSTARTER PAGE here!