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! 

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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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50. World Cup Semi-Final Preview: Brazil vs Germany…

So it’s come to this.

After all of the (c)upsets, near-knockouts and fun and games, there are four teams left, two from Europe, two from South America, three former World Cup winners who are in the top five ranked teams in the world, and one almost-team hoping to be the second successive first-time winner.

Brazil face Germany today, and Argentina take on Holland tomorrow to decide whether or not there is any chance whatsoever of me getting a ticket to Sunday’s final.

These Mexicans haven't forgotten how Holland got to the final...

These Mexicans haven’t forgotten how Holland got to the final…

(If Brazil make it, I give myself a 0.01% chance: if they don’t, but Argentina do, it won’t be much better, except that maybe the suicidal Brazilians would rather sell/give their ticket to me than to Continue reading

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

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