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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!!

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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

inside

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!

 

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!

26. The ‘beautiful’ game…

Last night, the World Cup began.

At last.

I joined 10,000 other fans at Salvador’s FanFest, (serviced by a whopping five toilets: for anyone visiting, I recommend not spending too much time at the top of the beach nearest the FanFest…), and people drank, danced, and got soaked as we spent three hours waiting for the game to start.

Three hours during which apparently they decided not to show us the Opening Ceremony on the giant screen.

Oh well, I got about a third of the way through my regular World Cup Challenge of taking a photo with a fan from every country in their national jersey, (and a few in team jerseys from around the world, too), and the party spirit was, finally, high.

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Bumped into an Argentinian who supports my team – Racing!

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Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie!…

And then that decision happened, and the World Cup was already a little bit ruined for me.

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6.0, 6.0, 5.9, 6.0, 5.8…

I was wearing the Brazil jersey I’d bought in 2006 in the joy of going to my first ever World Cup match, the same fixture in Berlin. After seeing the replay, I took it off in disgust and refused to wear it again for the rest of the evening.

It felt dirty, (in every sense).

The crowd reacted awkwardly, the locals, (about 50% of the crowd), cheered the penalty a little shamefacedly, thre rest of us soon turned our support to Croatia, hoping for them to score a deserved equaliser.

People, from the Croatian players and manager to the press are blaming the referee.

It may have been a terrible decision, (made not only by a referee, by the way, but by a linesman and an ‘additional assistant referee,’ the man whose job it is to stand on the goal line and…well, I’m not sure. (S)he no longer has responsibility for goal-line decisions, since FIFA finally allowed technology to take care of that. But from two metres away he failed to spot the worst dive I’ve seen for years in a football match.

But if referees are making decisions like that every five minutes in matches, as players spend more time rolling around on the floor and waving imaginary cards at officials as they did last night, (wasn’t that made a yellow card offence in itself?), what chance do they have of getting every decision right?

We should stop blaming the referees, and start blaming the people who are obviously to blame: the diving, cheating, scumbag players.

Fred...

Fred…

Anyway.

It was great to be at the World Cup again, meeting people, taking photos, discussing memories from past events.

The evening ended with a gig by local percussion band Timbalada, followed by a DJ set from local favourite Fatboy Slim, (or Fachi Boi Slimi, as he is brilliantly pronounced here!).

For now, I am off to watch Mexico vs Cameroon, switching between my Cameroon and my UNAM Pumas jerseys, and then heading to my first live match of the 2014 World Cup: a category 1, halfway line ticket to see a rematch of the last final, Spain vs Holland!

(Dressed in my Barça shirt: Forza España!!!)

Photo on 13-06-2014 at 12.16 #2

 

22. Updates from the FIFA frontlines…

Twenty-two hours and fifteen minutes to go, and blog entries are coming thick and fast now!

This is the smallest so far, just a single message from a new friend who just returned to São Paolo from a holiday here in Salvador.

“So, literally all of my housemates are joining two buses of people headed to SP to protest tomorrow. They bought mini gas masks…”
 You have been warned…
Photo courtesy of Pressenza

Photo courtesy of Pressenza

6. Benfica to Brazil…

The title of this blog may be a mystery to some of you, but only if you have never heard of the most supported football club in the world. Today, I leave for Brazil, catching a 16:25 TAP flight to Salvador de Bahia, (after two years of presuming I would be in Rio I had a late change of heart, knowing that I would be there in 2014 for the Olympics anyway, and seeing that after the draw Salvador had much better matches, at least until the final). 1917584_full-prt

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Benfica

Sporting

Sporting

I popped over to Lisbon for two reasons: one, I had never been to Portugal, and two Continue reading