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.
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.
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!