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Friday 17th January 2020 ko 21.15

Primeira Liga

SPORTING CLUBE DE PORTUGAL 0

SL BENFICA 2 (R Silva 80 90)

ATT 41,017

Entry €65

Robyn and I knew we’d like to spend the weekend after our wedding in Lisbon. We knew they’d be plenty of interest to visit there, and the idea was to use this as a “Mini-Moon” with a longer honeymoon in the summer. The problem was would we want to watch any football? We rapidly agreed on one game, as let’s face it, clocking up an entire weekend watching nothing but football is hardly romantic.

The point was neatly made at our hotel the My Story Charming Augusta, near to the Rua Augusta Arch. I’d made them aware whilst booking that we’d just got married, so on arrival we found they’d made the towels into intertwining swans’ necks and they surprised us by providing complimentary champagne and canapes. So you can imagine their surprise when we left for the evening and the concierge asked where we heading?

I imagine he expected us to say a romantic meal, perhaps at a Fado restaurant (we went on Sunday night) and he was more than a touch surprised when Robyn advised we were heading for the Estádio José Alvalade. I guess we didn’t quite fit the newly-wed stereotype!

From my perspective I was surprised we got tickets! Once we’d set the wedding date I’m sure you can imagine me thinking, “Lisbon…. Benfica, Sporting, or Belenenses.. so which one?” then seeing Sporting were at home my heart raising then falling when I saw it was the Derbi de Capital and thought I would never get a ticket! But getting a pair of tickets was easy-  all it took was a little patience, the tickets (with all the cheap seats long since sold out) appeared on the Sporting Lisbon website about a week before the game. Tickets were available on the night and yes, I have no idea why such a big game saw an attendance roughly 10,000 below capacity.

When you do your research into how to get to the José Alvalade you’ll no doubt see a recommendation to go on the green metro line to Telheiras. Don’t, get off one stop beforehand at Campo Grande unless like me your OCD means you like riding trains to their termini! If however you do opt for the longer walk from Telheiras you do get a quite wonderful sense of anticipation as the floodlit green structure gradually appears from behind the housing.

This was never going to be a visit to a historic stadium, the stadium was built in 2003 for the 2004 European Championships replacing the original José Alvalade stadium adjacent to the current one. Alvalade was both the club’s founder and first member. The new stadium holds 50,095 and opened with a friendly against Manchester United, where incidentally a certain Cristiano Ronaldo impressed his marker Gary Neville so much he helped convince Alex Ferguson to sign him soon afterwards.

Perhaps the reason (other than cost) for tickets being so readily available is due to the Sporting drought, no Primeira Liga title has been won since 2002. That’s no acceptable to the fans of the club that has had the likes of Ronaldo, and Luis Figo on the books and has won 18 Primeira Ligas, 17 Portuguese Cups and the 1964 European Cup Winners Cup. Robyn and I didn’t need to learn any Portuguese to understand the graffiti on the underpass near Teleheiras station. It was clear Club President Frederico Varandas is a man under pressure.

If you do buy the expensive seats here, then do be prepared to do some climbing. The inevitable search and bag check wasn’t intrusive, and there was a left luggage store by each entrance. But once in, the top tier is roughly five flights of stairs up. I looked at Robyn, up since 4.30am and smiled sweetly at a steward… We did enjoy that lift up to hospitality!

We really were up in the gods, but were early enough to consider what we were seeing. Other than former QPR midfielder Adel Taarabt on the bench for Benfica the talk was over Bruno Fernandes destined for Manchester United in a deal worth (apparently) up to £67.6 million. This was meant to be his final game for the club, but but it seemed Varandas pushed a hard bargain- he moved on the 29th January.

Other than the fact that Robyn and I were exhausted, we’d been up since 4.30 that morning and 21.15 is mighty late to kick off a game (the latest I’ve ever seen) but Bruno didn’t look anywhere near being the same quality as his predecessor from here to Old Trafford. I suspect there was the element of him not being allowed to be a Benfica side that look title bound, but we found ourselves watching and thinking,

“£60million? Really?”

Perhaps having better players around him will get the best out of him, but save for a few erudite passes he was fairly well shackled by the Benfica midfield. You could sense the frustration from him, his team mates and anyone wearing green.

The away win didn’t surprise me, the league table and the graffiti outside told me that in advance. VAR proved to be an international annoyance, Rafa Silva’s first goal was straightforward in its legality but the absent referee still took 4 minutes to agree, and that was without any notification of any kind to indicate what was going on. They could have been showing an ad break for all we knew in the stadium. Maybe in the long term that’s the point.

Factor in the breaks for the pyro and it all added up to a mighty late evening. After the inevitable wait to get the metro back, from Campo Grande this time, we rode a train that gradually got slightly less packed with every stop.

Eventually we flopped back into the My Story Hotel around half-past midnight. Now I suppose that hotel is well-used to exhausted honeymooning couples but this was a little unusual.