Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Be Open To Doing Your Own Thing

At Estadio da Luz 
I was in Lisbon, Portugal a few months ago attending an annual conference. Shortly upon landing in Lisbon,  I attended an opening reception and I bumped into a friend/former colleague Sarah Charles (I told Sarah I would give her a shout out in my blog). As we were catching up she said, "Did y'know that Portugal is playing a soccer/football match tonight against Bosnia? It's a UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Qualifier match and tickets are only 10 Euros." My interest was definitely piqued at this news. I then thought about my options for the remainder of the evening. Option 1: I could attend another reception complete with complimentary beverages and catch up with colleagues with whom I will more than likely catch up with later in the conference. Or, Option 2: I could attend a football match in a famed stadium, Estadio da Luz, watching one of the most recognized football players on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo playing for his national team.

Cristiano Ronaldo
While enjoying a cultural experience in a country to which I may never return. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging with my colleagues in counseling, but on this evening, I decided to choose Option 2. After my decision, I quickly went to the front desk of the hotel where the reception was held, spoke with the front desk clerk named Ines who also liked the decision I made and she gave me the lowdown on the quickest route to the stadium (Metro vs Taxi). I went out the front door of the hotel, hailed a taxi, and I was off.

I entered the taxi, told the driver my destination and he gave me a quizzical look. I then inquired, "Portugal is playing tonight?" The taxi driver replied, "Oh yes. They are playing a qualifying match and they need to win." I had a strong feeling that the taxi driver was bemused by the fact that this American wanted to to Estadio da Luz. He took me to the stadium rather quickly and dropped me off directly in front of the ticket office. I practiced some words of Portuguese on him before I exited his taxi and the driver laughed and smiled. He wished me a good night and told me the best place to go to get a taxi after the match.

As soon as I exited the taxi I was amazed by the roar of the stadium. The stadium truly sounded like a jet engine about to take off. The shrieks of whistles that came from the crowd due to poor play or due to  questionable officiating, and the sound of joy for good play was deafening. I approached the ticket office, purchased a seat behind one of the goals about midway up for 20 Euros and I was in the game.

The first thing I noticed while trying to locate my seat was that there were no ticket takers. Each section had an electronic turnstile and if your ticket was not for the section in which you should be sitting then one could not enter that section. I quickly found my section and proceeded to my seat. I liked my seat, from my vantage point I could see everything!

The stadium was enormous and the color red was everywhere (Red was the color of the national jerseys that Portugal was wearing). The drums, the horns, the songs, the chanting, the cacophony was great!

When the Bosnian team would do anything remotely good, the crowd would give the one finger salute (you know the one I'm talking about) to the woefully outnumbered Bosnian supporters in attendance. It was not a bad idea that there was a police presence surrounding the section where most of the Bosnian supporters were seated.

Fair Play and Respect
The atmosphere was everything I envisioned an international football match to be. The previous week my family and I attended a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Oman, Oman vs. Australia and the crowd was so quiet.

For almost the entirety of the game, Portugal controlled it. Portugal passed well, took great shots, and played with flair. When Cristiano Ronaldo scored the stadium erupted! The crowd roared and chanted Ronaldo's name for minutes! For as much as Portugal controlled the game, it felt at many times they could not produce the knock out punch and Bosnia hung in the game. Toward the end of the game the goals for Portugal started to come more frequently and the game ended 6-2. At the end of the game, the crowd did not want to leave. People hung around as long as possible, singing songs, chanting, it was a party atmosphere and it was only Wednesday night!

The noise, the atmosphere, the level of play, I have to say that this was probably one of the best live sporting events that I had ever been a part of. I'm glad I decided to go out and do my own thing!

Obrigado (Thank you), Portugal!

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