Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Friday, February 19, 2016

SL Benfica (Portugal)

Sport Lisboa e Benfica, commonly known as Benfica is one of the most prominent football clubs in Portugal. The club from the capital of Lisbon was formed on the 28th February 1904 as Sport Lisboa when former students from Real Casa Pia de Lisboa and members of Associação do Bem met at the back of Farmácia Franco on Rua de Belém.

The club has departments for futsal, basketball, roller hockey, handball, volleyball, rugby union, cycling, athletics, beach soccer, swimming, archery and table tennis. However, it as a football club that the SL Benfica name is most prominent.

Club colours of red and white were selected with the team playing their first ever game on the 1st January 1905, which resulted in a 1-0 victory over Campo de Ourique. The club won their fair share of games but struggled because of poor facilities on the dirt pitches at Terras do Desembargador, leading to eight players joining Sporting CP, to start the big Lisbon rivalry.

Another sports club, Grupo Sport Benfica merged with Sport Lisboa in 1908 and changed their name to Sport Lisboa e Benfica, while both carried on their separate operations. Problems with the team’s pitch remained before they moved to their first grass pitch, Campo de Sete Rios, in 1913.

Because of high rents the club moved to Campo de Benfica in 1917. In 1925 Benfica moved to their own stadium; Estádio das Amoreiras, which would herald the first titles for the club.

The Portuguese league’s inaugural season was in 1934. Benfica were crowned as champions in 1935-36, which was backed up with two more titles in 1936-37 and 1937-38 to complete a hat trick. In 1940 Benfica lifted the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) for the first time with a 3-1 win in the final against Belenenses at Estádio do Lumiar.

In 1941 Benfica moved into Estádio do Campo Grande, before going on to lift the national title in 1941-42. In 1942-43 the team completed their first league and Taça double under Coach János Biri, with Vitória de Setúbal being beaten in the final.

The trophy was retained following a 8-0 hammering of Estoril Praia at Campo das Salésias in Lisbon. A sixth Primeira Liga championship was collected in 1944-45, before the decade was ended in fine style in 1949 following a fourth Taça success. On that occasion, Atlético CP were seen off 2-1 at Estádio Nacional under the stewardship of former Millwall full back Ted Smith.

Another Primeira Liga arrived at the club in 1949–50, with another Taça success in 1951 as Académica de Coimbra were brushed aside. City rivals Sporting CP were brushed aside as Benfica once again retained the trophy.

The Brazilian coach, Otto Glória arrived at the club in 1952, as Benfica looked to become a more professional outfit. The team made a hat trick of cup successes with a classical 5-4 over the other of the ‘big three’; Porto. In 1954 they moved into their new stadium; Estádio da Luz, with an initial capacity of 40,000.

Glória’s side would complete the league and cup double in 1954-55, with Sporting CP once again the beaten Taça finalists. Another double followed in 1956-57. On this occasion it would be Sporting da Covilhã who departed Estádio Nacional empty handed.

A tenth Taça victory was sealed in 1959 following a 1-0 win against Porto. Hungarian Béla Guttmann joined the club as the new head coach with a task to carry on the success. He was not to disappoint as the 1960’s would prove to be a golden era for Benfica, aided greatly by the signing of Eusébio from C.D. Maxaquene in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.

In his first spell Benfica won the Primeira Liga in 1959-60 and 1960-61 as well as a Taça victory over Vitória de Setúbal in 1962. However, their biggest success came in 1961 when they lifted the European Cup following a 3-2 victory over FC Barcelona at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern to break the strangle hold of Real Madrid in the competition.

The European Cup was retained as Real Madrid were defeated 5-3 in a classic game at the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam, with Benfica’s goals coming from  José Águas, Domiciano Cavém, Mário Coluna and a brace from Eusébio. The hat trick of wins was stopped in the 1963 final at Wembley by AC Milan.

Guttman departed after being turned down a pay rise. He was quoted as saying, "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion". Fellow Hungarian coach, Lajos Czeizler took over and led the club to yet another double in 1963-64. Porto were hammered 6-2 in the Taça final, with José Augusto, António Simões and José Torres amongst the starring players.

Guttmann returned between 1965 and 1966, as Benfica once again lost in the final of the European Cup; this time going down 1-0 to Internazionale at San Siro. Consolation was found by way of an eleventh Primeira Liga title in the same season. Many Benfica players would form the base of the Portugal national team that reached the semi-final of the World Cup in 1966.

Benfica were crowned champions again in 1966-67 under the Chilean, Fernando Riera. Glória returned in April 1968, as the team once again ended as runners-up in the European Cup after being defeated 4-1 at Wembley after extra time to Manchester United.

Glória’s team ended a glorious decade as further league title wins were achieved in 1967-68 and 1968-69, as well as yet another cup triumph as Académica de Coimbra were defeated in the 1969 final. Former Sheffield United forward Jimmy Hagan arrived in 1970 looking to continue the form.

Hagan’s side would win the Primeira Liga in three successive seasons; 1970-71, 1971-72 and 1972-73 along with a couple of Taça triumphs against Sporting CP in 1970 and against the same opponents in 1973 to complete another double. After a year without honours, Benfica would once again lift three consecutive league titles in 1974-75, 1975-76 and 1976-77 all under different head coaches; Milorad Pavić, Mário Wilson and John Mortimore.

Wilson returned as the 80’s began with a sixteenth lifting of the Taça, this time against Porto. The cup was retained against the same opponents under the guidance of Lajos Baróti who followed it up with the league title to complete another double.

Sven-Göran Eriksson arrived to lead Águias (Eagles) to consecutive Primeira Liga championships in 1982–83 and 1983–84. The team also reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1983, but Eriksson’s team were defeated 2-1 on aggregate to the Belgian giants, Anderlecht.

Three consecutive Taça’s were lifted in 1985, 1986 and 1987 against Porto, Belenenses and Porto as improvements including the addition of a third tier were made to Estádio da Luz, making it the largest stadium in Europe, and the third biggest in the world with a capacity of 120,000.

Mortimore returned as Benfica won another league title in 1986-87 to complete the double with the cup win. After the club invested heavily in the team to try and become champions of Europe once again, the team reached the European Cup final in 1988, where they lost on penalties to PSV Eindhoven at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart.

Former star player Toni, was not to be denied as coach, as the team won the Primeira Liga in 1988-89 before reaching the 1990 final of the European Cup. Eusébio was so determined to lift the ‘curse of Guttmann’, that he prayed by the grave of his former coach.

The legend’s prayers were to be in vain, as AC Milan triumphed 1-0 in the Praterstadion in Vienna. The investments failed to pay off and Benfica were thrown into financial problems. Wilson returned for a third spell to help his side win the 1996 Taça against Sporting CP, but the era would prove to be the worst to that point in the club’s history.

Between 1994 and 2003, Benfica would appoint eleven managers, including three spells for Wilson, and a two year appearance from Graeme Souness. Star player Simão was signed for €11 from rivals Sporting CP, which would prove to be astute business.

In 2003 the old stadium was demolished, with a new arena of the same name but a smaller all seated capacity taking its place. Benfica defeated José Mourinho's Porto to win the Taça de Portugal for a twenty fourth time in 2004. In 2004-05 the club were crowned as champions for the thirty first time under Giovanni Trapattoni.

Benfica lifted the Taça da Liga (League Cup) in its second ever year in 2009 with Quique Flores in charge of the team. He was replaced by Jorge Jesus in what would prove an inspirational move.

Porto were defeated in the final of the Taça da Liga in 2010, before going on to win the 2009–10 Primeira Liga, with Óscar Cardozo firing in the goals. Further Taça da Liga triumphs came over Paços de Ferreira and Gil Vicente to win the competition four years in a row.

In 2013 Benfica were eliminated from the early rounds of the Champions League, but they won their way to the final of the Europa League, where they were defeated 2-1 by Chelsea in the Amsterdam ArenA. The team reached a second successive final in 2014. This time they were left as runners-up as Sevilla won the penalty shoot out at Juventus Stadium.

Jesus’ side made up for the disappointment as they won the Primeira Liga and the Taça de Portugal against Rio Ave to complete Benfica’s tenth double. A fifth Taça da Liga was won, also against Rio Ave, to round off a superb season on the pitch. However, 2014 was also a sad year for the club as legends Eusébio and Coluna both passed away.

Benfica carried on their excellent form in 2014-15 with their thirty fourth league title, along with the League Cup following victory against Maritimo. Despite the success, contract talks with Jesus failed to be resolved as he departed for rivals Sporting CP, to be replaced by Rui Vitória.

My visit

SL Benfica 1 FC Porto 2 (Friday 12th February 2016) Primeira Liga (att: 61,536)

Having sorted myself out at the self contained accommodation in the old town of Lisbon, it was time to head to the Estádio da Luz in the north of the city. The weather was wet, but I was very eager to get out and go and collect my ticket.

SLB had emailed me advising of huge crowds and congestion around the megastore. I took head and set off over a couple of hours before kick off. Research suggested it could take forty five minutes.

I get on the Azul line on the metro from its last stop at Santa Apolonia. It was eleven stops to Alto dos Moinhos on the packed train and significantly less time than I believed. The rain was teeming down as I emerged from the station. A gang of Brits were also heading to the game. One said, “It’s just like been at Rochdale!”

The huge stadium was visible ahead and I followed the crowds past the heavy police presence and many food and drink stalls. While I was hungry, I wouldn’t know what to order because of lack of Portuguese and it being my first time. Sorting the ticket came first. I found the megastore and went inside.

The large building had several shops inside and a large mall, along with bars and restaurants upstairs. It was absolutely packed with very little signage or staff to assist. Eventually I found someone to point me in the right direction to join the queue. The line actually went down quite quickly and once I’d shown the email and some ID I had my €25 ticket.

Programmes are rarely produced in this part of the world, and so it proved again. I bought a club newspaper from the small stall which covered the game. It was then quite a struggle to get back outside as so many were trying to enter to avoid the rain.

I was delighted to find the Eusebio statue to get a photo before I found my block and decided to go inside. At least I would be under cover. My Scarborough Athletic rain jacked was already looking a wise choice of wear on the trip. It was a steep climb up to the third tier, where I was positioned in the Coca Cola Stand. My first job was to locate my seat and grab a look of the arena.

My first impressions were that it was like Arsenal’s Emirate Stadium. Indeed, I later discovered that it been designed by the same architects; HOK Sport. There was a continuous lower tier, with a couple of service tunnels in opposite corners. A smaller middle tier was backed with corporate facilities and boxes. The top tier was probably the largest, dipping slightly in the corners. The leg room was good and the view excellent. The only downsides were the open gaps between the rear of the seats and the roof to allow air flow to the pitch. The rain was coming straight through it.

It was time to go back down to the concourse to indulge in some cuisine. Going from the pictures it looked like Bifana was some kind of meat in a bread roll. That looked good to me and cost €3.50. A Sagres beer set me back a further €2. The meat was spiced in some way and wasn’t bad, but very tough. The beer I found to be sweet. I later found out that bifana was pork.

The jeers and whistles indicated that Porto were out warming up. I went back upstairs around twenty minutes before the kick off. The atmosphere was building all the time. Porto had a good following a few blocks along from me. A film was put on the screens showing past Benfica triumphs. An eagle flew dramatically round the inside of the stadium before landing by its handler.

As the teams came out, the club song was played and sung passionately, while fans held up the sheets of card left on each seat to form a mosaic. Both sets of fans were giving it their all as flares and firecrackers were let off. It really was right up there with any atmosphere I’d been in as the man on the PA whipped the home fans up into a frenzy.

I wondered why the Porto number two was receiving such a torrid reception. I later found out that the Uruguayan Maxi Pereira was the former Benfica skipper who had left that summer for more money. The card mosaics were now being crumpled up, assisted by the rain, and used as missiles, particularly at Pereira.

The chants of SLB, SLB, rather than Benfica rang out. Fans in Portugal seemed very proud of all branches at their clubs and not just football. Their team started off very brightly. The noise was still getting even louder as attacks built on the Porto goal.

Nicolas Gaitan was looking very lively for Benfica, before Renato Sanches put a clever little dinked pass to set up Kostas Mitroglou to scuff his shot past the veteran former Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas, to go in off the post. The noise was so loud that it went silent. It was amazing.

A couple of home fans opposite me across the aisle were incandescent with rage as another chance went begging. This match was obviously very important. Before kick off SLB and city rivals Sporting were joint top, with Porto six points behind.

The visitors went level just before the half hour mark. Midfielder Hector Herrera was given too much space on the edge of the box. His low shot went into the far corner past Júlio César. Gradually this setback would quieten the home faithful.

Casillas pulled off a brilliant save to thwart a Jonas shot, before Mitroglou somehow contrived to miss an absolute sitter as he put a low cross wide of an open goal from four yards. The teams went in level at the break, with Porto having an ever increasing percentage of the play.

The interval added to the utter chaos I’d experienced. Even getting to the loo and back was an adventure. It was certainly not for a queuing polite Brit. It was every man and woman for themselves. There were plenty of women at the game, with many a fine advert for the aesthetics of the region.

Back inside, a champion motor bike rider was going a lap of honour and waving to the crowd. He was obviously a Benfica fan as the fans were giving him a real ovation. The teams began the second half, with Porto looking more likely to grab something. They had more solidity than SLB.

That said, the home side were still making chances. Gaitan was put through on goal, but Casillas saved. The missiles were increasing in number. Both Gaitan and Pereira were showing exasperation as they continually threw them back off the pitch. It even continued after appeals from home players.

On sixty five minutes the big Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar shrugged off the attention of a SLB defender to force the ball home despite the best efforts of Júlio César. The away fans went wild with delight as their hero postured and took the abuse of the home fans. It certainly helped control their volume.

There was still time for Mitroglou to miss another guilt edged chance as Casillas saved with his legs from close range. Despite his goal, the Greek had a poor evening. Manager Rui Vitória used all his subs in an attempt to save the game, but it wasn’t to be. I departed right on the whistle as the celebrations were in full swing along the stand.

My seat was at the far end to where I arrived. I knew that there was another metro station and a police woman confirmed it. The crowds were packed outside before I finally managed to get down the steps and then under Avenida Eusébio da Silva Ferreira.

The station wasn’t coming into view but I followed the crowds. I asked one old guy “Metro estacion?” He just continued. A younger bloke saw my predicament, walked five yards with me and showed me the entrance. I was that close! No wonder the other fella ignored me. He must have thought I was crackers!

Despite the huge crowds upstairs and general mayhem I was straight on a train at Colegio Militar/Luz. It was a real struggle for those at Alto dos Moinhos to squeeze on. I got a seat within a few stops all the way back to the terminus at Santa Apalonia.

It had been a good night and I resisted a beer. Instead I went straight back and saw the brief match highlights on TV before turning in for the night. There was plenty I wanted to see and discover in a fascinating city the following day.

My video of the match build up can be viewed here

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