Sunday 20th June
No game. This was our one day off, after watching six games in six days and the prospect of another two in two for those staying in Portugal we were all ready for a break to chill out and recover. It was also decision day for the locals. Their group, like all the rest, was coming to a climax with simultaneous fixtures in Lisbon (hosts vs. deadly rivals Spain) and Faro (Greece vs. Russia). With Greece expected to get the result they needed against the already eliminated Russians it meant that either Portugal or Spain would be going out prematurely. Spain had the advantage in knowing a draw would suffice; Portugal had home advantage but all the extra pressure that being hosts invariably brings.
The city of Porto, like the rest of the nation was on tenterhooks. A mixture of expectancy and anxiety pervaded everything. The streets were awash with the national colours, green, yellow and maroon were everywhere, even the most dilapidated flats were flying dozens of flags whilst most locals went about their usual jobs in shops and cafes, in metro stations and even on the funicular railway wearing the national shirt or scarf. They did so with a minimum of fuss, perhaps they feared the worst and that the rest of Euro 2004 would be a damp squib if Figo and co failed to progress.
We passed the time doing the usual tourist things you do in Porto; we strolled over the stunning double-decker bridge that spans the Douro river to Vila Nova De Gaia (home of all the famous port lodges), called in at an incredibly friendly Russian vodka bar run by genuine Russian ex-pats who insisted on plying Danny with assorted shots of free vodka (it wasn’t even lunch-time) before settling down on the exquisite river front to sample some of the famous types of vintage port in conjunction with some local sausage flambéed in the local fortified beverage. We then went round the Sandeman port house on a guided tour that culminated naturally enough in some more sampling of the goods.
We then all converged on the big screen in Praca Da Liberdade. There were thousands of locals gathered but we managed to sneak a prime spot on the upper tier of the square that formed a convenient balcony from which to watch the subsequent madness. Portuguese television coverage of Euro 2004 was pretty comprehensive (albeit tacky) but the channel favoured by those organising the big screen opted for their equivalent of a very cheap down-market ITV. The pre-match build up consisted of all the usual adverts from the official sponsors, even these raised a huge cheer of recognition and fervent anticipation, and then straight in to the line-ups, the national anthems and off we went. No fuss, no analysis (that was the job for daytime television), no crap, and at half-time in between the adverts there were just long lingering shots of the crowds in the stadium, invariably focusing on the most scantily-clad and gorgeous young women they could find…
The reaction to the national anthem was incredibly moving. The whole square (and by kick-off the surrounding grid-locked streets) stood and raised their scarves above their heads in a stunning show of local pride, singing their national song with fervour. They then followed up by whirling their scarves around their heads in a synchronized blur of green, yellow and maroon. The “Portugal Allez” mantra reverberated in increasing speed and ferocity as the game kicked off. The Russia game had been memorable, but this was something else.
The game ebbed and flowed, both sides had their moments that brought screams of delight and shrieks of horror from the rapt audience. In such an evenly matched contest goals were going to be at a premium, but Spain contrived to miss some guilt-edged opportunities. At the other end the national darling Ronaldo in conjunction with the core players of FC Porto (or soon to be ex-Porto) threatened to send the entire nation wild. The first half remained goalless despite misses by Carvalho, Costinha, Maniche and Ronaldo – the biggest cheer came when news came through that Greece were 2-0 down after just 17 minutes.
The second half saw the tension increase noticeably, the songs were more urgent, the reactions to each missed chance ever more melodramatic. There were people stretching back as far as we could see watching the drama unfold. The breakthrough on 57 minutes brought pandemonium on a grand scale. There were a minimum of ten thousand in the square; Figo fed Nuno Gomes, he took the ball on and from 25 yards out drove it low into the corner. Hysteria resulted; we looked down on the carnage below. It looked like footage of the Liverpool Kop from the 1970’s. Cue more singing and scarf twirling.
The remaining 33 minutes put the locals through an intense, terrifying emotional roller coaster. Spain responded to the goal by creating and wasting series of decent chances. At the other end Portugal counter-attacked with verve and panache but just could not score a second clinching goal. The closing minutes were horrible, frenzied, panic-stricken – Torres caused a collective gasp of breath when his effort smacked against the post. We were dragged into the collective anxiety-attack because it was in our interest for the locals to remain in the tournament to sustain the fabulous party atmosphere. As the game reached the inevitable finale the whole square rose up as one, roaring their encouragement, waving their colours in a very un-Portuguese-like show of excitement. The final whistle brought total jubilation – a wave of noise and passion, relief and pride swept across Porto, they had beaten Spain in a competitive fixture for the first time in their history. Long after the final whistle with the big screen still showing interviews with breathless fans from Lisbon the Porto locals were swirling round the square doing the conga in faster and faster circles. Then the local television came over live to our square and the locals erupted once again.
We all knew we had to get up early the next morning, half of our gang were catching their flight home and the rest were booked on a mid-morning train down to Lisbon for the England game but there was no chance of an early night. With thousands dancing in the streets and many more clogging the roads in their cars honking their horns and hanging out of windows waving flags we had no option but to head for the Ribeira and dive headlong into rowdy celebrations.
All you had to do was sing the “Portugal Allez” song at any local and you got a huge cheesy grin. We settled down for the night in our usual spot and many locals danced past in a noisy jumble of euphoric chaos. Wolfie was particularly adept at singing the local song and being rewarded with free beer from passing local beauties on a memorable night. We waved our free green and purple Super Bock “clackers” in time to the chants of the meandering fans and caused a great deal of amusement when we changed the Spanish football anthem “Viva Espagna” into “Adeus Espanga” (“goodbye Spain” in Portuguese). That went down well along with “Super Bock Allez!” as we drank away the night with the Austrians again, making up silly songs to sing and unlikely plans for Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
When we arrived in Porto the locals had been bemused by all the northern European fans. They had been wary and stood on their doorsteps watching the colourful zoo go past. However day by day they gradually got into the swing of things, venturing out and standing on the fringes, selling Super Bock on street corners, wearing their own colours with pride and mingling in with the rest of us, feeling confident enough to sing their own songs and on this particular night they were as loud and crazy as anyone – the Dutch, the Swedes, the Danes, the English. They had learnt to let their hair down and as one local explained to me in the queue for the nearest toilets (up a spiral staircase in the middle of the kitchen! – the only other option was straight into the Douro taking care not to fall in) this was the best thing that had ever happened to the usually the tranquil Porto. It was a riotous last night for Danny, Rhian, Bjorn and Chay. We even managed to sell our spare France vs. Switzerland tickets at cost price to some Burnley fans.