Often Partisan

The Braga Experience part I

As those of you who follow the blog will know, I (along with sixty-three other Blues fans) decided to undertake possibly the most insane journey of our lives and get the coach to Braga and back. Over two and half thousand road miles, pretty much three days travelling to watch Blues capitulate in Portugal – sounds about right, doesn’t it?

We started out at 3am Tuesday morning from outside St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham, and the journey down to Portsmouth for the ferry to Caen was as you’d expect, uneventful. It would have remained that way had one of our party not lost his passport prior to coming on the trip; bearing in mind how the club had told us how we had to have our passport on us at all times when we to the ground etc, I think it’s a lesson to us all that the lad without his made it to the game and back without too many problems – despite crossing six international borders and having a rather stern lady from the UK Border Agency telling him off.

Having gotten on the ferry and stowed bags in the cabin, @connorcam and I took a walk about on deck – having ignored the announcements made by the staff that we weren’t supposed to go outside as it wasn’t safe. This turned out to be a slight mistake – it was blowing a force eight gale and whilst it was possible to walk to the rail with the wind behind you, coming back the other way to come back in was a different story. With the wind whipping the breath from the throat and the sea ensuring the deck was never properly horizontal it was a relief when we finally made it back inside.

A bit of sleep and a shower later and we arrived at Caen – ready for the long part of the trip, the thousand miles or so on the road to Portugal. I’d expected the trip down to Portugal to be easier than the trip back, and that’s pretty much how it was – finishing off our last few cans of Carling whilst watching a crappy DVD and a re-run of the Carling Cup Final. One of the downsides to travelling on a coach is the lack of real food; the only thing I can really remember eating on the trip down is Doritos and Cheetos. Unfortunately French and Spanish motorway service stations haven’t added the delights of a KFC, a Burger King or even a Little Chef and thus we were left to try to do the best we could with crisps and the occasional snack-pot of pasta.

It’s a bizarre feeling when you wake up because the coach has stopped, but it’s dark and you have no idea where you are. It’s not helped when you look up at a sign and you see a place-name you’ve never heard of, and it meant half the time we were using up data roaming allowances to look up our positions on the old google maps. As the sun came up though on Wednesday morning it became evident we were close to the Portuguese border. After one final stop to have a bit of a brush up and a quick change, and a couple of hours journey in the hills in Northern Portugal and we arrived in Braga. Total journey time: 32 hours.

Of course, once we were there, there was only one thing to do – drink. I have to give a shout out here to two great lads who shared a few beers and a lot of laughs with us – Chris and Barmy. We were lucky enough to find a near-empty bar a couple of blocks away from the main square and it gave us chance to sample the local delights of Sagres and Francesinha. For those who aren’t familiar with Portuguese cuisine (like myself), I can best describe the Francesinha as a meat (ham, salami, sausage, beef) sandwich, covered with a slightly spicy version of baked bean tomato sauce and melted cheese, served with a side of fries. It was an interesting combination; maybe not as good as the Flemish beef stew in Bruges but after a day’s worth of Cheetos it certainly filled the gap.

(picture courtesy Connor Cameron)

Having filled ourselves a little, we ventured to the main square where the Blues fans were in mighty voice, gathered around a strange-looking sculpture of a Christmas Tree in a fountain. As you can imagine, the flags were tied up around the bottom, but it wasn’t long before a daring fan climbed all the way to the top to hang a Blues-Braga scarf. There was a local group entertaining us with some singing (and their bandleader with some football skills that wouldn’t disgrace many a player); the obligatory footballs being booted and headed around the square. It was a lot like the experience of Bruges, albeit with about 30% of the amount of fans.

As always, I’d decided I wanted to get to the ground fairly early so I could take some pics and soak up a bit of the atmosphere; having seen a lot of pics of the Estadio Axa online I was interested to see how nice it was in the flesh. We were lucky enough to get talking to a Braga supporting local who showed us the quick way (and what turned out to be the most scenic way into the ground) – from above the quarry face.

It’s quite a breathtaking view from above, and we frequently paused to get some pics as we sauntered down the slope to the away end. Once inside the ground though, I will admit I was disappointed; like many grounds in Europe the Estadio Axa is a bit concrete, a bit utilitarian looking and the design of the stadium meant that we could barely hear the fans in the upper tier above us. Braga had been clever in splitting the fans between blocks in the upper and lower tiers, meaning that our noise was a bit divided and as such we didn’t sound that loud on TV.

The game has been commented on enough and it’s a bit late for me to add to it. I will say that I thought as soon as the pen was saved we were done for; once again our lack of ruthlessness was exposed and our changes just telegraphed what we were going to try to do. Braga snuffed us out completely second half, and I think they deserved the win; however if the ref hadn’t bottled sending off the left back it may well have been a different story. Que sera sera.

In the second part, I’ll tell you about our slightly eventful trip home, and hopefully bring some more pictures of what was a bit of a crazy awayday.

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2 Responses to “The Braga Experience part I”

  • keith baton says:

    I along with yourself i was one of the now famous 64, althogh the trip was, to say the least tiring, it was also memorable and something i do not regret one bit ( even the small gash in my head from an open overhead compartment )

  • darren fleetwood says:

    have to agree about the foreign cuisine at service stations also the lack of cider. tough journey but it was an experience and it gives you some serious pub talk


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