Chels have been dining consistently at the top table of European football for nearly eight years now. Those hideously short, turn of the century, UEFA Cup campaigns are largely forgotten by all but the most masochistic of our fans.
And there are a couple of teams that we seem to keep bumping into on our travels. One of them is Porto. Therefore, when discussing European trips there with friends we tend to tag them “Porto 1”, “Porto 2” or “Porto 3”. Or indeed “my Porto” and “your Porto”.
One friend managed to get so uproariously drunk during the course of Porto 1 and Porto 2 that he missed the games on both occasions.
There was a hiatus of four years between my last foray into Europe with Chels, the unspeakably awful trip to Seville for the Real Betis game and the trip which is the subject of this piece. A lot had happened in those intervening years. I had moved to London permanently. I had had my heart broken by The Former Mr Baby.
It had been discovered that the arthritis uncovered following the cartilage damage sustained on the way home from Seville was so serious that it was going to impose certain lifestyle limitations, necessitating a move from the Harding Lower to the West Stand.
2009 had been a really bad year generally. Someone picked me up in a bear hug at the FA Cup Final and fractured one of my ribs. Friends and family kept getting ill, having accidents, or actually dying and poor Old Mother Baby thought she’d pulled a groin muscle which eventually turned out to be a fractured hip necessitating replacement, had a heart attack after the op and was in hospital for 6 weeks.
I had had no holiday and was determined to get away by the end of the year even if it was just for a couple of days. And when the group stage of the Champions League was drawn and we pulled out Porto, I made arrangements to go over for three nights courtesy of everyone’s favourite reliable travel provider (starts with an “Ex” and ends in “pedia”).
However, given that many friends had already sated themselves on Porto 1 and Porto 2, this was going to be a solo trip and in order to cut down on time off, I arranged to fly out on the Monday evening after work.
I arrived in Porto after ten pm on a misty night and found myself a cab into town. I spoke virtually no Portuguese. The cabbie spoke no English. So we ended up having a nice chat in French (and I was glad to be reunited with the word “brouillard” to describe the weather). He dropped me off at the hotel, I negotiated my way through check-in and was glad to get to bed.
The great thing about turning up a couple of nights before a European game is a chance to have a good look around the city you’re staying in.
Next morning after a decent breakfast I set off to explore via the City Sightseeing tour. Jolly cold on the top deck – it was November, after all – but it looked like a really nice place and the tour took us out as far as Boavista, an aptly named place, when the sun shines. It also took in the port lodges on the way back into town and I resolved to visit one the next day.
After a quiet afternoon at the cathedral, and a delicious dinner at one of the recommended restaurants, I had an early night. I don’t think my liver’s ever had it so good on a European trip.
The next morning I woke to see rain teeming from the skies, and the trip on the tour bus round to the port lodges wasn’t quite so pleasant. I decided to go to Croft’s which was a bit further up the hill, but had the merit of not charging for admission.
By the time I’d walked up there in the rain I felt distinctly chilly and was delighted to be welcomed with a glass of white port and a roaring fire. The tour was a fascinating experience – I was mesmerised by one huge barrel which stored the equivalent of 146,000 bottles. Freezing cold in there, though. Must have been the chalk walls.
On the way back down the hill I met a group of fellow fans looking lost in their search for Crofts, so at least I was able to point them in the right direction. And still the rain teemed down. There was only one thing for it. A pre-match visit to the shops in Santa Caterina. There are two things I really want to do when Porto 4 comes along. Firstly go to Sandemans (the lodge with the famous label of the mysterious caped man), and secondly take a suitcase so I can lug a load of bargains back with me.
I had an omelette with some very strange, albeit potato-y, chips in a café next to the hotel before setting out to the Estadio Dragao. It was one of the quickest trips ever to a game by metro, fast and efficient. So fast that I got there at 7pm, with at least an hour to kill before it was time to go into the ground for an 8.45pm kick off. So I thought I’d have a walk around. And my eyes met the most beautiful sight.
Now, I’ve always been quite proud of the Fulham Broadway shopping complex. Some grounds offer you Victorian mansions and heavily residential areas. Some grounds offer you areas where if you see a cat with a tail, it’s a tourist. Some grounds offer you… Tottenham High Road. However, Estadio Dragao offers you the entirely appropriately named Dolce Vita Shopping Centre.
All right, it might not necessarily appeal to the entire fanbase, but if you’ve got an hour to kill before kick-off, bliss. Shops, restaurants, coffee bars – and by the way, even though everyone claims that Italians make the best coffee, I would dispute this. Portuguese coffee is the best. So I had a lovely meander until it was time to go to the game.
Once there, I saw many of the usual suspects from European games, and although we hadn’t sold all our tickets, we managed to get a few decent songs going. And then, early in the second half, something happened which was the stuff of legends being born…
I was standing at the front near the corner flag (hoping that a camera might spot me so Old Mother Baby could see me), and a faint cloud of what the broadcaster and Chelsea fan, Andy Jacobs, describes as “jazz fags” drifted through the still night air – happily it had stopped raining by this time. And I could hear a refrain of a song that I couldn’t quite identify. And although it was being sung gently, it grew louder and louder.
“Don’t worry. About a thing. Cos every little thing’s. Gonna be alright…”
And it got taken up by the whole Chelsea contingent. Someone had obviously added bits to it, between the lines people started singing “doo doo doo/doo doo doo” and clapping to it. The Porto stewards were laughing their heads off and I saw a riot policeman trying not to smile. And we must have kept it up for about 15 minutes.
Although Sulky Nic scored after 69 minutes, the match was a bit of a non-event with both sides having qualified for the next round, although the victory ensured we’d top the group, for all the good that ever does. Deco seemed intent on not upsetting the home crowd and barely got out of neutral.
A reasonable detention period of about 20 minutes followed the game, and after we were allowed to leave, choruses of “Don’t Worry” continued not only to the metro station, but on the train as well.
I got invited to a pub, but I had to be up at 6am for a 9am flight, so I went back to the hotel and was so tired I left the packing (i.e. throwing everything into the case) till the next morning and sank into a deep sleep, waking with a start when the alarm went off.
Shame that it was still so dark that I couldn’t see out the window on the way to the airport by metro. I checked in (put my case in the hold this time to accommodate a bottle of pink port I’d bought at Croft) and was inevitably disappointed by the duty free shop. Got a decent seat on the plane and was looking out the window when a ragged cheer broke out – Pat Nevin was boarding the flight, having been in Porto commentating on the game for Five Live.
I was lucky enough to have a chat with him in baggage reclaim back at Gatwick – friendly, obliging chap that he is. He said on previous Porto trips he’d gone running in the hills above the port lodges but the weather was way too bad to do it this time!
I think European trips are quite heavily influenced by the numbers in which you travel. I’d been on my own for most of the time but I saw a great deal more of the city I was visiting than I’d managed on several other trips.
Also I was entirely sober, not having spent time in licensed premises.
But like several others, I look forward to Porto 4 immensely.