Posted: 3/1/2009


     It's the three 'F's that the fascist regime of Salazar used to keep the Portuguese people busy with during his dictatorship and reign of terror that collapsed after his death in 1975, and the peaceful Carnation Revolution brought the country back from the brink.

     Pushing religion, the Fado culture of song and dance, and of course the national sport of futebol was his way of getting his subjects to toe the line. Now, despite a world wide recession, Portugal is part of the European community and a very pleasant place to visit all year. With Francisco and his wife Beverley we drive north on the almost empty super highway to Porto, for the big match on Saturday night, FC Porto, twice champions of Europe v his beloved Sporting Lisboa. The match is at the beautiful Estadio Dragao, Dragon Stadium, next to a clean Metro station. For once the sun isn't shining brightly and it's an overcast day as we await the 8.30 pm kick-off. About 3,300 visiting fans are allowed in one corner section, as their third placed team take on the league leaders, in front of 46,000, near capacity except for the gap left between rival fans.

    It's quite an exciting match but no goals. The skill factor is high but there are too many niggling pushings and shovings and trippings to make it a classico, and honours are shared.

    The next day, Sunday is quite a contrast. First I go and visit two stadiums, half an hour north of Porto on the Metro Red Line. First stop to the home of Rio Ave FC in Ville de Conde and Estadio de Rio Ave, conveniently next to the train station. Outside is a spectacular 999 arch aquaduct built in the 17th Century which stretches all the way to the next and last Metro train station at Povoa de Varzim, a pleasant Atlantic seaside resort, with the only legal gambling casino in Portugal. Next to the beach is 11,000 capacity Estadio Varzim, home of 2nd Division club of that name. They have a home match that afternoon,and I come away with a small poster for the match, but I leave to go to the town of Trofa, and walk 1km to watch my fifth match of the week, CD Trofense v Estrela do Amadora, two teams none of you have ever heard of.

    Quite a contrast to Estadio Dragao with its 46,000 seats, this stadium's capacity is supposed to be 3,100 and its almost full. In fact the announced crowd is 4,400. I am in the front row of the press box in the main 'tribune', and at either end are steep open stands which remind me of Argentina.  Trofense are giving out colourful folded cardboard 'clappers' or noise makers. Their coach is called Tulipa and they wear red shirts and black shorts, while their opponents from near Lisbon are very colourful. Black jerseys with thick red and green diagonal stripes and a yellow 5 pointed star.

    Trofense  only got promoted to the second division in 2006, thanks to a play-off match that went to 20 penalty kicks with goalie Victor converting the deciding one. Two years later they reached the top division for the first time and on January 4th this year beat the mighty SL Benfica 2-0 in this very place, and also tied FC Porto 0-0 at Dragao.  Estrela, the Amadora Stars, are relatively unknown but reached the 2nd round of the UEFA Cup back in 1990.

    After 8 minutes the Amadora Stars take the lead with a simple tap in from 6 metres out from Jardel, with the home defence asleep. To my left in the press box is the man from Radio 1, with his occasional reports to his listeners and he likes to say GOOOOOOOL!. He is 'armed' with 2 packs of Marlboro, a lighter and a giant ash tray. The most impressive player in my opinion is the visitors left winger Silvestre Varela, formerly with Recreativo Huelva in Spain. who is strong and fast.  At half time I am invited to the VIP balcony where I try the various treats of walnut cake, my favourite custard tarts, fruit slices, ham sandwiches and some local wines, plus a couple of shots of Ferreira Tawny Port, very smooth and sweet.

    The second half is about even but up pops Charles Chad in the 69th minute to level the score, and that's the way it ends, and my fifth match in a week.