Futebol em Braga
Heavy on the experience, light on the game (57)
The first live football game in Portugal was quite an experience. Definitely disappointing that Amy couldn’t make it, though. While we’ll get to a game in Lisbon as soon as we can, she won’t have the Braga match to compare it to.
Yes, I somehow managed to stumble onto a 30,000 seat stadium without realizing it.
When describing the evening, it’s hard to start anywhere other than with the stadium itself. Despite the rather mundane moniker of Estádio Municipal de Braga, it’s an amazing structure. On our visit to an apartment under construction a couple of days earlier, we’d seen a view of it similar to this one:
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It’s a little hard to tell from this angle, but the stadium is nestled up against a rocky bluff giving it the nickname A Pedreira (The Quarry). Viewing stands are only on the sides, both ends are open to the elements.
This image gives a better sense of the layout of the structure.
Completed in 2003, the award-winning edifice seats 30,286 people and is the seventh largest football stadium in Portugal.
Despite its size, I was completely surprised by my arrival at The Quarry. Yes, I somehow managed to stumble onto a 30,000 seat stadium without realizing it.
Amy had mentioned reading online about “unpleasant cops” who were present onsite starting about an hour before matches. The recommendation was to arrive before they did and avoid having to deal with them. I was not on pace to get there that early so I wasn’t entirely surprised to find myself in a funnel to a checkpoint manned by four officers wearing yellow security vests over their uniforms. Not knowing exactly what would be required, I called up the .pdf of my tickets on my phone and joined the crowd that had been gradually growing in size around me for the previous 300 meters or so of my walk from the center of Braga.
When I reached an officer, I showed him my phone. He glanced at it, said some words that sounded like “porta cuatro, quinze,” and gestured me forward, patting my shoulder as I passed by. Awww. Since my tickets directed me to “Porta (gate) 04, 15,” I figured I was heading in the right direction.
I walked forward a short distance, took a right, and was gob-smacked to see this:
I’d come to the stadium from above and had no idea it was there. I could see right over the top of it.
I waved my phone at another yellow-vested uniform and headed the only way I could - down - while wondering if I could have used a ticket for a game from last week. The turnstile at the bottom of the stairs, though, put an end to those thoughts as I needed help bipping my way inside.
It’s hard to imagine a bad seat in the house. Perhaps some are partially obstructed by safety rails, but there were no odd angles or large concrete beams in the way (lookin’ at you, Fenway Park).
Most of the stadium experience felt very familiar:
there’s a giant modern scoreboard (granted this one is beautifully framed by the rocks)
there were unnecessarily loud player introductions (with slightly less volume given to the opposition, of course) and pre-game activities inexplicably involving ten dudes standing there waving flags. For more than five minutes straight. The core strength they must have!
“get the crowd amped up early” efforts (as unimaginative as they might be in this case)
and what seems like some sort of theme/fight song that we’ll undoubtedly learn soon enough should we become frequent attendees.
The seats are also standard stadium issue, albeit non-folding and sans cup-holders:
These things are to be expected, I suppose.
One thing, however, that I was totally unprepared for was this at halftime (note the thousands of cellphone flashlights waving back and forth across the way):
(Abject apologies for my off-key enthusiasm. And the wild laughter.)
Also visible in the above video are the five guys (five!) who were apparently responsible for fixing the entire field at halftime. They have long sticks that I would love to get a better look at and they somehow managed to cover a decent percentage of the field in their allotted time. I assume they were replacing divots torn up by cleats - the football equivalent of dragging the infield between innings.
Finally, no visit to a stadium would be complete without:
Other random observations
While there was no effort to search bags or run people through metal detectors on the way in, it was also difficult to move freely throughout the building. Once or twice I went out to explore and was stymied by closed partitions blocking off stairwells and sectioning off concourses. I really wanted to get closer to the field and that just wasn’t happening.
No booze, no bottle caps. But I could have walked in with a crossbow in a backpack.
Reviews suggested the food was forgettable. I’d say they were wrong. It was memorably bad. At least it wasn’t expensive. I got a lapful for 6 euro:
On the right is pão com choriço. Bread with sausage in it. The sausage looked closer to pepperoni and tasted like . . . well . . . like it wasn’t really there. The bread was crusty and also flavorless. The batatas fritas were very . . . crispy. The meal was monotonous in both flavor and texture.
You’ll note the water bottle has no cap. I had an interesting conversation with the early 20-something behind the food counter. I started by asking in Portuguese if the bread had dairy in it. He responded in English (why does that happen?) and said they don’t have access to the ingredients. I asked if I’d read the sign correctly saying that the beer was non-alcoholic. He told me he thinks there’s only one stadium in all of Portugal that is permitted to sell alcohol. I did not have the presence of mind to ask which one. (Google says no stadiums here offer booze.) Then I ordered a water. He unscrewed the cap, which I thought was a nice thing to do, if a little odd. As I gathered my goods I nearly spilled some water so I asked for the cap. No can do, he replied. Apparently, the little blue buggers can be used as projectiles and, thus, are not allowed into the stadium.
No booze, no bottle caps. But I could have walked in with a crossbow in a backpack.
Or, a basic combination of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur (also known as gunpowder), as this in-game entertainment demonstrates:
Interestingly, I may have witnessed one of the last of these displays if this article, published the same day I went to the game, is to be believed.
Here’s a view of the stands early in the second half of the game.
It was raining at the time - the precipitation looks beautiful in the lights. The first dozen or so rows closest to the field are almost all empty. Possibly because of the rain?
The group way up in the upper left was the small but mighty Boavista traveling party. I find it fascinating that they’re cordoned off all by themselves, totally alone in the top deck.
The group on the lower right were the most enthusiastic supporters of the home squad. They were in full voice the entire game. Not once did they quiet. And, of course, the pyrotechnics.
The rest of the crowd was generally pretty taciturn. There were fleeting waves of enthusiasm spurred by something happening on the pitch or, less often, the piped-in noise.
There was, waaay behind me and to my left, a dude with a drum. He had a remarkable inability to manage basic concepts like timing and tempo. He also seemed to lack self-confidence as his desultory attempts at the “let’s go” chant rarely lasted more than one round. (Maybe he would have made a second attempt had there ever actually been anyone shouting “let’s go”?)
Oh, right, there was also a game!
Braga came away with a 1-0 win, scoring just over a minute after the start of play in the second half. It was as exciting as an hour and a half of one-goal action can be. Maybe? Though I’ve come a long way,I still have some more to learn before truly appreciating the sport.
That’s all for now.
Love from Lisbon,
Scott (& Amy)
Fenway is iconic, my friend, and don't you forget it! I wonder if Neil Diamond knows he is a world-wide sporting phenomenon?
Watching the US in the World Cup here in VRSA I assumed the “Sweet Caroline” was a not to the Americans. But I returned the next night to watch Portugal and found the same song played. Odd but fun!