Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sporting Club Braga 1 Newcastle United 2

I’m in the kitchen at work pouring out from the pot another award-winning brew. I feel my phone vibrate. I fish it out from my pocket. The text is greeted with a smile as wide as the Tyne Tunnel. It reads: “Newcastle United are playing in the Algarve Cup when we are on holiday in Portugal, shall we take the kids?” It’s never a good time to broach the subject of groundhopping with Mrs P, particularly when we are on holiday.

“I’ve heard Vilamoura is a classy joint love, perhaps you and Wendy can spend the evening there, strolling around the shops and sampling the fine restaurants that are on offer, whilst ‘Dafty’ and I entertain the kids.” Hook, line and sinker, readers!

It’s Saturday morning. We’ve been holed out at the Balaia Golf Village for nearly a week. Tears streamed down Mrs P’s face last Tuesday when sea blue skies were replaced with cotton wool coloured clouds for the day.
The Estadio Algarve is an awkward bugger to get to, but Reception have kindly arranged a taxi with a local firm (“Anna’s husband”). We’ve been stung for 50 euros each way. The kids spend the first few hours of the morning trying to catch a glimpse of our neighbour, Sam Oldham, who has made it into the Olympics gymnastic squad. GB perform well and qualify ahead of China.

‘Dafty’ and I slip away for a few hours and sink a couple of pints of Super Bok at a local Portuguese bar. There’s time for some horseplay in the pool before a pre-match meal of pizza and chips.

‘Gangsta’ is wearing his new blue Michael Jackson hat that he has been hanging his nose over the last few nights on the local Strip. “Anna’s husband” asks if we’re sure if there’s a game on tonight, as we sweep off the A22 and into desolate stadium car park. Suddenly an opening appears where a small gathering of Toon fans are milling around a ticket booth swilling pints of Carlsberg lager (Newcastle Brown not available).
I part with 20 euros for an adult ticket. The kids cost 10 euros a piece. The boys squeeze through turnstile number six. Suddenly a bespectacled, moustachioed, jumped-up security guard, resembling Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army, places his arm across my chest. “Non camera.” I try to explain that it’s only a friendly and that half the crowd have camera phones. But he’s having none of it and points towards a prohibited camera sign hanging on an adjacent wall.

I’m ushered into the ‘Supervisor’s Office’, where I’m greeted by an attractive, slim Portuguese lady. I arrange to collect my belongings after the game. I’m flipping fuming, readers.

The kids and ‘Dafty’ are in hysterics. They merrily snap away as we take our seats on the upper tier. Hopper has proper got the bottom lip on. ‘Live is Life’ by Austrian pop-rock band Opus is bouncing out of the stadium’s speakers.
There seems to be more atmosphere in the lower tier. We sidle past a distracted steward, who is less vigilant than the fool who confiscated my camera, so we’re closer to the action. The stadium announcer tries to pump up the crowd that has now swelled to nearly 1000, with hits from Queen, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.

The Estadio Algarve was purpose built for the 2004 European Championships. It hosted three games including a quarter final match between Sweden and Holland which ended goalless (Sticky doesn’t do 0-0s). A taxi driver told me it’s mainly used for pop concerts and cultural events. I remember on a previous holiday in the Algarve that Sean Paul and Simple Minds played here.

It has a capacity of 30,000. It has two huge curve-covered stands running along both touchlines. Both ends behind the goals are open. It would be a schoolboy error to forget the sunscreen on a sweltering Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It’s the third consecutive game tonight. Panathinaikos are also competing in this round robin tournament. The pitch looks worn and is cutting up.
The boys are hanging over the tunnel high-fiving all the players as they walk out onto the pitch to another god forsaken tune. If you want to make us feel welcome how about a bit of funk and soul from Geordie duo Smoove and Turrell.

Braga is a city in north west Portugal with a population of 170,000. They have qualified for this season’s Champions League. In 2011 they reached the Europa League final where they lost 1-0 to rivals Porto.

Newcastle upon Tyne is in north east England with a population of 280,000. It is famous for its wool trade, coal mining and ship building. Famous custodians include: Sting, Neil Tennant, Mark Knopfler, Cheryl Cole and Ant and Dec. It’s a hotbed for producing brilliant footballing talent. Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Andy Carroll and Michael Carrick are all from the area.
There are a group of four Geordies sat in front of us. One of the guys enquires whether former Toon midfielder Hugo Viana is in the SC Braga line-up. ‘Dafty’ informs him that he is on the bench. The guy says that his daughter (Laura) has a huge crush on Viana, and promises to hound him for an autograph at the break.

Everyone in the stadium is taking photos now apart from Sticky, who has even left his malfunctioning HTC phone back at the apartment. What a miserable beginning to the evening this has been. I’m cheered up by the flashing white teeth and permanent smile of Newcastle’s 20 year old winger Sammy Ameobi. He’s as tall as a giraffe but has legs like pencils. He’s sharp out of the blocks but is inclined to turn inside onto his favoured left foot.

Braga play keep ball for the first 20 minutes as the Magpies chase shadows. Ivory Coast international Cheick Tiote looks sullen and moody. He loses possession and fakes an injury. He takes an age to get to grips with the pace of the game. Demba Ba drops deep as Pardew plays Cisse on the shoulder with Ameobi wide right and the impressive Sylvain Marveaux on the left.
Good news arrives on 25 minutes with the official opening of the first bag of Haribo’s that 'Gangsta 'and Will have smuggled in past that miserable dumb-ass of a steward. On 35 minutes Cisse blazes over following good work by Danny Simpson and Ameobi. On the stroke of half time good chances fall to Braga’s Amorin and Cesar.

At the break Shola Ameobi is wheeled out to sign autographs and pose for pictures. He says that former Tricky Tree James Perch is the best golfer in the Club. Looking at his playing time last season I’m not least surprised. Sticky Junior attempts some banter with ‘Perchy’ but the miserable sod is having none of it.

‘Laura’s Dad’ is waving what appears to be some old fish n chip paper in the air. Hugo Viana has scrawled a personal message to his daughter. “She’ll be made up marra.”
There is an increase in tempo and tempers in the second period. Tiote gets hold of the game by the scruff of its neck. He breaks the world record for the number of fouls in a ten minute period. The referee’s patience finally snaps. He waves a yellow card in Cheick’s direction.

The Toon are awarded a penalty following a theatrical dive by Marveaux. Demba Ba, who has spent most of the evening bad-mouthing the officials, steps up to take the spot kick, only to see the keeper make a great save. He coolly rolls in the rebound. “You’re not singing anymore” chant the ‘Toon Army’ in the direction of the four Braga fans who have made the long trip south, and who are congregated in the stand on the opposite side of the ground.

Braga equalise immediately, must to the disgust of perennial moaner Alan Pardew, who has been meticulously penning notes all evening. A fine move is finished off by Amorim.

Both teams go for the jugular in a very entertaining 45 minutes. The winning goal arrives on 75 minutes following a moment of brilliance from former Tranmere and Wigan full back Ryan Taylor. His 25 yard floated free-kick leaves Beto rooted to the spot.
There’s still time for Braga to smash an effort off the post and for their 6’ 4” Brazilian defender Douglao to be dismissed for bawling in the assistant referee’s face. Four bags of Haribos have been demolished: Now where’s that bloody camera of mine, Mainwaring, you stupid boy. Man of the Match: Fabricio Collocini


Uwdi Krugg said...

I knew it was coming following all the build up on Twitter. Classic opportunity for a snazzy looking friendly in the sun. Well... have to say it was worth the wait! Especially that 'Apocalypse Nikon' horror story (you must have been gutted). Tremendous stuff.

Sticky said...

I am never drinking a bottle of Port again. See you've been busy son. Like the look of that West Didsbury ground.

Keep em coming. Best footy blog on the Net, mate.

Eddie said...

Theatrical dive by Marveaux... hmm, not sure that's quite true. Wasn't a dive and was far from theatrical!

The Comedian said...

Love the checked shirt Sticky. Is it a Tweedies original ?

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