In Portugal, everyone likes football... in their own way.
|‘Your mum started watching football when Scholari was Portugal’s manager.’ My dad says laughingly.
‘He asked us all on TV during the Euro 2004 to hang a Portuguese flag from our windows,’ she said ‘so I did it. All over Lisbon there were flags hanging everywhere... I still have my flag over there.’ She adds.
I lean back on my chair, stuffed from 3 servings of the Pork and Clam stew my mum cooked. A few glasses of homemade red wine and a few more glasses of Favaios, Moscatel from the Douro, have left me mellow and merry, relishing in these tales.
‘It was because of Scholari that I started watching football. He got us all behind the national team! I will never forget the Euro 2004. I was like this during the whole game against England, with clasped hands and wishing England not to score, just repeating – hang on guys, hang on... Then Ricardo defended the penalty – WITH NO GLOVES!’ She shouted as she stood up almost knocking over her glass of wine, emotions flooding bad, a wide grin on her face hands waving about the air, ‘I watched the whole game against England! Ricardo had no gloves! Ricardo had no gloves!’
It is then that I realise that this is just like a soap opera to her. But down deep inside, she is just like any other normal football fan: It is all about the drama, all about the emotion. One moment you are on the peaks of catharsis and the next you are on the depths of hell.
‘They should have been nicer to Ricardo after that,’ she says naively, ‘it is not fair what they did to him. Paulo Bento hates him.’
After 55 years on this earth, my mum finally started watching football. As millions of other people, she now has her own understanding of the game, her unique way to look at it and her own opinions. She is now 63 and her only experience on a football ground was on the Sporting – Manchester United match a few years ago, when Ronaldo led us to an historic win over the English behemoth in a friendly match. A couple of weeks later, Ronaldo had signed for Manchester United on a record transfer deal for Sporting. She never watched football before, not because she didn’t like it, but because of bad associated experiences and social stigmas.
‘When I used to share a house with your uncle, he would not speak to anyone for a whole week when Benfica lost.’ Straight away I make sadistic plans to give him a call at an opportune moment. ‘ And your brother was the same, he would even kneel down shouting at the telly, for Sporting to win! It was then I realised it was not just Benfica fans, it was all football fans that were like that.’ I thoughtfully acknowledge she is absolutely right.
Portugal is (probably) the only country in the world with 3 daily football newspapers. Each one of them, even the least popular, has at least twice the printing run of the most popular non-sports paper. In our bid for the Euro 2004 our slogan was ‘We are crazy about football!.’ In our bid for the next big event it should be ‘We are even crazier about football! We love it, we breath it, we LIVE IT!’
It is not just rash youngsters and moody men who go to football now. These days you see housewives, couples, grannies, all going to watch Portugal play! ‘I don’t support Sporting or Benfica; Portugal is my team!’ They all love football in their own way and we all suffer together for 90 minutes at a time.
As I walk around Lisbon, the signs of recession are all around us. Shops are closing, prices are exorbitant even for British standards, pensions and subsidies are getting cut, there are ominous whispers everywhere you go. For a layman, it would only make sense that football would also be affected. However, the one thing you need in a crisis is a source of escapism. It is an outlet for your frustrations, a chance to forget about your daily problems, an opportunity to shout, shoulder-to-shoulder with your brothers-in-arms and savour that dizzying sense of exhilaration! It is a chance to forget about your daily problems and for at least one hour and a half feel like you are in heaven, as together we climb the arduous path to victory! It is therapy!
I smile as I reach into my back pocket and produce the three tickets for tonight’s quarter-final Cup Match: Sporting V. Maritimo. I look at them and I smile – For me, dad and mum! Winning is important, but the most important is to be there tonight!