Posted: 2/27/2009


      After a stroll on the 12th fairway of the golf course between Francisco's compound and the Atlantic Ocean, we are off on another adventure in this Portuguese Wonderland.

     First to Bombarral, the nearby small town where Francisco lived until he left for the New World of America at 15 years old, and the little house where he lived,and the shop that he ran while 10 years old after school. We stroll through the town park with its old cork trees and on to Restaurante O Sport, the restaurant of his old sports club. I am treated to a lunch of Bacalhau, THE Portuguese dish of cod pie. The cod is caught off the coast of Norway, brought south, split open and dried for 6 months on beds of salt and under the sun. It's mixed with potatos, eggs, onions, olive oil and more, and then a baked dish is served at the table.  I had a local wine and a salad, and then we needed a stroll.

     Off down south on A8 The Atlantic Highway, to Lisbon and a tour of the historic Belem area, with the ancient Tour de Belem from where Vasco da Gama set sail on 8 July, 1497 and discovered the route to India, spices, trade and great wealth. Then the huge Padrao dos Descobrimentos, opened in 1960, 500 years after the death of Henry the Navigator. It is built in white marble as a stylised Caravel, with Henry at the prow and dozens of discoverers, priests,sailors,scientists, queens and poets of significance.

     It's time to meet an old friend for a drink of sparkling water outside an Argentinian cafe attached to the bull ring, Praca de Touros, renevated a few years ago and built in Moorish style, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  I first saw Antonio Simoes at World Cup 1966 in England, and their first match, Portugal v Hungary at Old Trafford, Manchester. In the quarter final at Goodison Park, Liverpool they came from 3-0 down to defeat upstarts North Korea 5-3 and a semi-final with England at Wembley, which was really the true final for soccer lovers.

     Portugal lost that match and England went on to defeat West Germany 4-2 after extra time in the final.  I have met Tony through the years in America and Europe and was in the same hotel in Vienna when they beat Austria and qualified for EURO 96 in England. I had also met him in Stuttgart at The European Cup final when he was coaching and they lost on PK's to PSV Eindhoven.  A true gentleman of futebol, now retired, but still doing radio and TV work.

      So, to my third of 5 matches in a week, and to Estadio da Luz, the home of SL Benfica, for the visit of Leixoes. I was privileged to have a seat in row A at the front of the Tribuna Presidential. Along from me sat Carlos Queiroz, the national coach, and responsible for the Youth Revolution of the early '90s, and then a true legend, in a cream suit, Mario Coluna, ´O Monstro Sagrado´ - The Sacred Monster, captain of that 1966 World Cup team.

     Just prior to kick-off  I have my photo taken next to the statue of the great Eusebio, and once inside, an AMAZING sight.  VITORIA, the club mascot, a huge eagle, is taken up to the top of the 4th tier of the stadium. Her full time trainer goes to centre circle where there is a high perch with the Benfica logo on top, without the normal eagle.  On command the eagle swoops down and circles the stadium 5-6 times and then lands on the perch.

    The visitors are unlucky to concede the lead after 27 minutes, and play much better then when I saw them tie 2-2 at home on Monday.  At half time I had a quick chat with Queiroz, then spotted Coluna by the free bar, and I chatted until 30 minutes into the second half, and we had missed 2 goals. I had been served 3 glasses of red Porto Douro wine, and Mario's glass full of Cutty Sark whisky had been continuously replenished by the time I went back to my seat. He is very frail now, about 73 years old. but we chatted about the Cup and matches in Manchester, Liverpool and London, and he kept bringing up memories of his dear old friend, Sir Bobby Charlton, and I gave him his telephone number to call.

    He was so pleased with that information that he invited me to visit his native Mozambique, where he went back to live for a while. Until fairly recently he was also President of the Mozambique national federation.