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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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BOOK UPDATE:

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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the

stadium!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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…

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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!

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

 

60. The Europa Cup Final, pt.II: the journey…

Following is just a sample of the exploits of the author who has spent fifteen years following football around the world, and whose book can be ordered here.

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When we left our intrepid hero in the last blog, he had just managed to get his hands on the hottest football ticket in town, the Europa Cup Final between Benfica of Portugal and Sevilla of neighbouring Spain.

With the rabid Benfica fans having booked every seat on every mode of transport to the neutral venue, Torino in Italy, I had done some rapid research and discovered a car-sharing site called blablacar where drivers with spare seats share costs with temporary travellers.

Within minutes, I had booked a ride from my street in Lisbon to Sevilla in southern Spain and, a day later, from Sevilla across three countries to north-west Italia and back again.

With a mini-van full of rival fans.

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“I am a Benfica fan, but a nice guy, and would love to join you on your journey to the cup final, if you’ll have me,” was my message to them.

Sure” was, essentially, their reply.

I spent a day or two with a friend from Australia wandering the gorgeous, sun-drenched streets of beautiful, tile-covered Sevilla, marvelling at the Moorish architecture of the UNESCO Heritage Alcázar palace complex directly in the city centre.

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Just as much fun was climbing over the surreal curves of the world’s largest wooden structure (apparently): the part-waffle, part-mushroomMetropol Parasol‘ again in the heart of the city. Sevilla proved itself to be one of the most fun places I have ever been, with amazing weather, and modest prices.

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But I was a man on a mission, and 36-hours after arriving, I was stood outside Sevilla airport at 7am, waiting to be picked up by a mini-van. Half an hour after the time they were meant to be there, I realised that I had no working phone, no internet, and a very expensive piece of paper which would be useless if I couldn’t get to Italy.

Spanish time, huh? ” I greeted my driver, Carlos, when the ride eventually showed up 45minutes late.

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The next two days were amongst the most surreal, and fun of my life.

The Boys pulled up, threw my bag in the back of the rented minibus, and whisked me North through endless Spanish countryside. They were six seasoned Sevilla fans: Carlos, Joaquim, Manuel, Fernando, (I’m not making these up from a mental database of ‘stereotypical Spanish names),  José, and José Angél, of various ages and professions, but all united by a passion for football, and as friendly and welcoming to someone from the enemy camp as I could have hoped for.

We drove all day and most of the evening, sharing stories and reminiscences about past matches and journeys, stopping occasionally at picnic spots to take photos and ruin my vegetarianism, (I had presumed we would stop at restaurants, but with military precision they had packed enough food to feed an army for the journey…93% of it consisting of the various meat products which can be derived from pigs).

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Along the way I learned a lot about Spanish football: how Sevilla’s stadium is a ridiculously close 3km stroll away from their arch-rivals, Betis; the names of heroes, past and present; and, worryingly, how they had won this competition two years in a row in the not-so-distant past of 2006 and 2007.

Best of all were the songs they sung over and over…and over and over again, and with such a friendly crowd, coming from such a beautiful city, I had no trouble adopting SFC as my second Spanish team.

(Having spent a few months living in Barcelona, the boys of the Camp Nou will always be my true Spanish love).

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On top of all this, I also finally learned who uses Twitter: slight bored middle-aged men on fourteen-hour car journeys, apparently…

We crossed the border into France, and pit-stopped at a hotel at which I earned the group’s love and affection by being able to speak the lingo and get us rooms for the night.

Early the next morning, we set off again, passing some stunning mountain scenery as we whizzed past the Alps to arrive, early afternoon on match day, in the centre of Torino: one of the least attractive cities I have ever visited, but one which was painted red and white for the day: the colours of both teams all over the city.

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We parked next to the impressive, compact Juventus Stadium where the match would be kicking off at 7:45pm that evening, and spent the day wandering the streets.

We ate, drank and chatted with fans from both countries as well as locals of neutral affiliation, (although many were leaning towards cheering for Sevilla, since Benfica had somehow managed to knock their beloved Juve out of the competition in a bloody and hard-fought semi-final, which prevented them from playing the final in their home stadium).

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Most bizarrely, with the city having allocated two areas for each of the sets of fans to congregate before the match, and with me not really knowing any of the Portuguese fans, my adopted friends insisted on me joining them at the Sevilla fan zone…even dressed in the jersey of their rivals for the day. Everything would be fine, they assured me.

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And they were right – the Sevilla fans, in their thousands, barely gave me a second glance as we all drank and sang together.

(Sevilla’s centennial theme song is truly gorgeous, and you can hear it in all it’s glory here: I was told that it is massively popular all over Spain).

This is what football should be all about.

Finally, with maybe two hours before kickoff, we left the fan zones, took over the city’s trams, and returned to the stadium.

After 1,800kms, and around €400, it was time to find out if my ticket would get me into the match…

 

 All of these stories, and many, many more, are available in the forthcoming book: ‘Benifca to Brazil’, which can be ordered online HERE.

58. Benfica to Brazil…THE BOOK!

Sports-lovers, Benfica fans, travel addicts and readers,

Some of you may have heard the exciting news, but for others this is the first you will be hearing about the biggest literature and sports project of the year:

BENFICA TO BRAZIL IS FINALLY AVAILABLE AS A BOOK!

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Featuring travel, adventure, politics, danger, and of course football; from Europe to the Americas, from Africa to Asia.

Come enjoy the video, share with friends and family, and make sure to order your copy now!

Just kick on the K of the video below to visit the project’s home page!

40. Benfica to Brazil: THE BOOK!

For those of you who are enjoying the daily updates from the 2014 Brazil World Cup, you will be excited to learn that this is just the first part of a bigger project.

The ultimate goal is to turn the blog, (and my footballing life), into a BOOK entitled:

‘Benfica to Brazil.’

As the name suggests, the book will feature tales of my year following Lisbon-based super-club Benfica across Lisbon, Portugal and Europe, culminating in my attempts to watch them play in the Europa Cup Final in Torino, Italy.

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There will also be tales of how I made my way into the Champions League Final between Atlético and Real Madrid.

The culmination will be, of course, my two months spent following the World Cup in Salvador and across Brazil, including stories from my time at the past two World Cups in South Africa and Germany.

The book will be coming out in around October 2014, with a marketing campaign launching soon after the World Cup ends.

TO STAY INFORMED OF THE BOOK’S PROGRESS AND EVENTUAL RELEASE, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL TO THE FOLLOWING ADDRESS, WITH THE SUBJECT: ‘BOOK INFO’

benficatobrazil@gmail.com

You will then be kept up to date with all developments, and will have the first opportunity to acquire the book when it becomes available.

Enjoy the rest of the games!

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