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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57. Champions League Final pt.III: the match…

We left our intrepid hero having paid €320 outside Benfica‘s Estadio da Luz for a seat with the Atlético Madrid fans at the 2014 Champions League Final, and if you have forgotten how he got there, read up on the adventures so far here.

Now, for the match itself…

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I had missed the first ten minutes of the match, but once the green light on the stadium turnstile came on, I realised I had actually made it into probably the second-most desirable football match in the world.

My seat, naturally, was at the very top of the stadium, and I ran to it, risking a heart attack at the crucial moment.

I have been to Benfica’s Estadio da Luz, (Stadium of Light), over a dozen times since I arrived in Lisbon in December 2013, but today was something special. I was in the corner right next to the TV cameras, surrounded by the red and white stripes of Atlético Madrid, and facing a wall of white where the Real fans were sitting.

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The atmosphere was, as you can imagine, tense – I was sat with some rabid Atleti fans who refused to sit down, and some friendly German workers who had built the press box we were sitting below, but you could feel the nerves throughout the ground.

And then Diego Godín scored for Atéltico, and everyone in my half of the stadium went mad.

We danced, we hugged, we cheered.

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And for the next 54 minutes (plus injury time) the tension ratcheted up slowly as Atleti hung on, and I felt every second along with my adopted underdog brethren – cursing every Real dive, (although Atlético were throwing themselves around a fair bit, it has to be said), abusing every dubious refereeing decision, (of which there were one or two), and cringing with every stunning run, and subsequent miss from my favourite ex-Spurs player, Gareth Bale.

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On a night when local legend Ronaldo failed to live up to the hype of his homecoming, (he began his career up the road at Sporting Lisbon), Bale set himself up time after time, and time after time he poked the ball just wide. As 90minutes came and went, and the referee indicated five minutes of injury time, (five minutes?), Atleti fans dared to believe.

Real Madrid, featuring the most expensive player in the world, alongside the greatest player in the world, (this year at least), were on the verge of losing to a team which, three years ago, was going nowhere and had just lost to a third tier side in the cup when Diego Simeone joined them; a team which had beaten both them and my beloved Barça to the league title, the first team to do so in a decade, and the first team to even get within 17 points of the pair in the past five years; a team which had sold most of its star players over the last few seasons, and had lost more towards the end of a gruelling season when their squad depth couldn’t compare to the big boys.

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And then Sergio Ramos scored a 93rd minute equaliser and that, every single person in the stadium knew, be they Real or Atleti, fan or manager, was that.

Manchester United and Bayern München fans know how vital 3 minutes can be in a Champions League Cup Final, and now Atlético Madrid do, too.

But even worse than that: Atlético Madrid have played two Champions/European Cup finals in forty years, and they lost both of them by a combined total of around 139 seconds. Atleti were apparently ‘seven seconds’ from victory against Bayern Munich in 1974, when their goalkeeper, (father of Liverpool legend Pepe Reina), allegedly took off his gloves to give to a journalist as a souvenir before the final whistle..and promptly let in the equalising goal! This time there were 2 minutes and 12 seconds left of injury time, and they went on to lose the replay 4-0.

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The rest was almost a post-script. In the second half of extra time the Argentinian Ángel di María took advantage of his rivals’ exhaustion to fire in a shot which, after it was saved, my man Bale broke my heart by heading into an empty net, and Marcelo did the same minutes later, without the keeper being able to save this time. CR7 went back into my bad books, after years of working his way out of them since his Manchester United days, with his ridiculous topless posing after scoring a meaningless penalty, and the tears of the fans around me made me glad that this was only my team for the evening, in the same way I wouldn’t have felt quite the elation had ‘we’ won.

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It may not have been the highest quality match I had ever seen; some stars may have been missing; and the play may have been swallowed up by nerves at times; but from Simeone storming the pitch to remonstrate with Real players, to the Real fans celebrating late into the evening, this was a first Champions League Final I will never forget.

You can watch the highlights here…but I don’t recommend it, if you’re an Atleti fan.

If you enjoyed this, you can get much more by picking up my book: ‘Benfica to Brazil’ now available, online or in print, HERE!

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30. World Cup Live Match Review pt.II: Germany vs Portugal…

I have spent the past six months living in Portugal, having an amazing time in Lisbon with some great people and one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world.

That is going to make this blog entry difficult to read for some of my friends back there, and for the thousands of readers I have who have found me through their (and my) love of the most supported club in the world, Benfica.

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I meet a Lisbon native but 48-year veteran of Brazil…still proudly rocking the SLB!

But I really enjoyed this game.

I may have been one of the most confusing people at Continue reading

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

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

5. Champions League Final, pt.II: the hunt for tickets…

Saturday, 24th May 2014: I slept until I woke up, and then strolled down the classy main boulevard of Lisbon, Avenida de Liberdade, to join the madness of the FIFA fan zone in the capital’s main square, the river-side Praça Comercio.

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FIFA descends on Lisbon…

Normally a giant, empty meeting point overlooked by a statue of the fairly useless 18th century King Joseph I, for the past week the square had been taken over by FIFA, Ford, Adidas and all of the other sponsors which make football what it is today.

(Note: this is to be read either sarcastically, or with the understanding that ‘what football is today’ isn’t necessarily a good thing). Continue reading

4. News from FIFA…

I had planned to write today about my attempts to get into Saturday’s Champions League final here in Lisbon, but two things distracted me from that: an email I received from FIFA, and the fact that I am essentially a 10 year old boy in a 36 year old’s body.

Firstly, I checked my inbox after lunch to find a message from the ‘FIFA Ticketing Centre.’

Once the excitement of wondering if they’d finally decided to let me buy the tickets I had spent two years trying to obtain wore off, (answer: no), two things caught my eye.

My ticket haul at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa...somehow...

My ticket haul at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa…somehow…

Firstly was the ‘Hungry? Thirsty?’ section of the email, which helpfully informed me that there would be food and drink at the stadium. Who’d have known? Continue reading

2. Champions League Final, pt.I…

So yesterday afternoon I managed to buy tickets for the Champions League final in Lisbon city centre, at just €10 each, for me and half a dozen tourists who joined me after an entire day of my walking tours for the match at 7:30pm.

I even managed to talk them into a free CL keyring!...

I even managed to talk them into giving me a free CL keyring!…

They were for the women’s Champions League final, between reigning champions Wolfsburg of Germany and Swedish debutantes Tyresö, in the fascinating Restelo Stadium in Belém, just west of central Lisbon and overlooking the Jeronimos Monastery, (a 500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the glittering Tejo river. Continue reading