first football derby

My brother Bing has been obsessed about football for as long as I could remember. It’s definitely his favourite sport. That’s easy to say. If he was home and there was a live championship match on television at the early hours of the early morning, he’d camp outside the living room where the television would be located and he’d stay there until it was time for the game.

the crowd gathering at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon; the people wearing red and black to show their support for the club of the home team of Benfica

the crowd gathering at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon; the people wearing red and black to show their support for the club of the home team of Benfica

Him being in Portugal, a country that loves football as much as he does, is just a match made in heaven, really.

After a weekend in Porto, he brought me to the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon to watch a football derby — Benfica versus Sporting. He told me that the team we would be rooting for was the home team of Benfica, since his son, Ciaran, was training there.

I am not much of a sports fan. I think the only sport I ever really watched was women’s figure skating. I got caught in the whole Lillehammer scandal of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding and from then on, I started watching. I watched figure skating for a good eight years before I stopped, when they started forcing people to do quads. It became more about the technique and less about the artistic nature of it.

So I stopped watching sports altogether and just watched abbreviated versions of it in movies.

I have seen a basketball game once when my brother Datu brought me to watch Alaska versus Shell way back when. I think I was still in high school then, so it must’ve been 20 years ago. I enjoyed myself the moment I had chosen a team and I started cheering. I’m an energy absorber and being in an enclosed space with hundreds and hundreds of people projecting strong emotions really fires me up.

Well, the Estadio da Luz can seat over 60,000 people and on that Sunday derby, there were 61,850 people in the stadium and you could feel the energy. It was so palpable, it was amazing.

Bing had told me to dress appropriately already — in the Benfica colours of black and red — and he handed me a scarf I could wave around to help show where my loyalties lay.

It was so amazing. They were playing dance music with a strong percussive and bass beat to pump people up and the crowd was just building on that momentum. When the Benfica team was called to the field, the cheers were thunderous. When the Sporting team was called, the stadium booed them and, according to my brother, the Europeans hiss or whistle when they are unhappy or angry and the whole stadium just burst into a loud, collective whistle. I have never heard anything quite like it.

The game began and in 8 minutes, a Benfica played got swiped and carried out of the field. I heard the people cheer and how the people took everything so personally. If the striker didn’t get the goal in, the people would stand up and yell. When the goalie blocked a shot, the audience were on their feet cheering him on.

the cheapest seats (behind the goal) are reserved for the more frenzied fans and this is where the people wave the flags and fire cannons (yes! they fire cannons!)

the cheapest seats (behind the goal) are reserved for the more frenzied fans and this is where the people wave the flags and fire cannons (yes! they fire cannons!)

And then, Benfica scored an early goal. The crowd erupted and it was still within the first 20 minutes. It was so exciting and people were in good spirits. I had taken enough photos and after Benfica’s first attempt at a goal, I had already put my phone in my pocket and just enjoyed the whole proceeding.

As the game proceeded, with Bing giving me some explanations as to why certain plays were made that way and the difference between a yellow card and a red card (only three or four yellow cards were handed out this game).

And then, just within the next ten to fifteen minutes, Sporting scored their own goal and it was mostly due to the indecisiveness of Benfica’s goalie. I was stunned and angry and screaming and, by this time, I had learned how the chants and the songs went (even though I didn’t know the words) and I chanted along.

The first half of the game ended with one goal each and I was livid. I had already started to see that Sporting was playing a stronger game. They seemed more in tune with each other and they were always taking the ball and bringing the fight to Benfica. Benfica was put on the defensive the whole time and it didn’t suit well with me.

When Benfica did bring the game to Sporting, ready to make a goal, they kept passing the ball badly and to areas where no one was there to catch it. I was getting very angry. I felt they were playing so badly and I wanted to switch sides then and there!

One of Benfica's attempts at a goal

One of Benfica’s attempts at a goal; yes, we had really good seats

The game ended and it was a draw. But I felt angry. I felt angry at Benfica for not playing well, for not having a goalie that they could trust and rely on, for having such a weak offensive. Sporting was really giving them a workout and considering that they were on their opponent’s and rival’s home turf, they kept their wits about them and played really well.

I can respect that from any team.

Talked to my brother about it and he said that I did read the situation right. Benfica was not at the top of their game and I felt pretty good about that. This might be my first football game but I pretty much understood what was going on. I learned pretty quickly.

More than anything, I was just amazed at the whole feeling of it. The energy was so contagious and it’s something I can really use and fuel. I absorb energy and that was such a rush. I loved it. It’s something I could do again should the situation present itself.


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