FIRST PUBLISHED: Football First newspaper, June 27, 2004
By Chris Hunt



It takes a rare victory over arch-rivals Spain, but the Portuguese finally wake up to the realisation that they are allowed to get excited about their national football team. For the first time in the tournament the hosts can forget about the many moods of Figo and the endless debates about whether Brazilian-born Deco should be allowed to play for their team, and they can let themselves go, jamming the streets of Lisbon with flag-waving, horn-honking, car-rocking, party people.


In Rossio Square police look on as fans of all nationalities celebrate with the Portuguese, soaking up the kind of atmosphere that you only get with a major international sporting event. And at a tournament like this, everyone likes the hosts to do well – after all, it make the party afterwards just that bit better.



Lisbon comes alive again with the sound of England fans, who turn the city into a sea of red and white. They seem to have a strange sense of certainty that we will progress to the quarter finals as a matter of course, and there is a deathly hush from most of the ground when Croatia go into the lead. The same thoughts flash through the minds of 40,000 fans – we can’t go out like this again, can we? But the equaliser settles nerves and soon we are coasting, although there remains the odd wobble along the way. But as England fans you have to be able to be prepared for any eventuality, to be able to improvise with the slightest change of fortunes – today the crowd seamlessly adapts their chant mid verse, “3-1” becoming “3-2 to the Eng-er-lund” without missing a beat when Croatia score their second goal.


After the game, the largest contingent of the England fans disappear in the world’s largest fleet of hire cars, filling the southbound A2 to the Algarve with economy class Renault Clios and Fiat Puntos.


In Lisbon it is quiet, fans making their way home in small groups. Locals outside a distant bar see the passing England shirts and start chanting “Beer, Beer” – such is the reputation of England’s travelling support and their insatiable desire for a pint. Even the taxi driver who takes me into town has an opinion on the matter. “If England stay in Portugal for another week,” he says, “we will have no more beer left in the whole country.”


There’s a slight air of disappointment on both sides that England will be facing the hosts next. Most locals would have preferred the English to stay longer, not least because of the large amounts of money they are spending here. As for my taxi driver, he is reminded of Portugal’s hurtful exit from Euro 2000 – a golden goal penalty deciding the game after Abel Xavier was adjudged to have handballed on the line. This time he wants the fixture settled like a football match should be. “Whatever happens, whoever wins,” he says, “let it be decided by football, not by the referee.”



In the old town of Albufeira, England fans are heading for the beach. There are football shirts and Portuguese flags hanging among the gaudy beach towels, inflatable li-los and other seaside paraphernalia, but otherwise it appears just like a normal holiday town.


A couple of miles along the coast in Oura is the Strip, made infamous by the recent street battles with the police. Running from Lineker’s Bar at the crossroads down to La Bamba, the place where it all kicked off, the strip is half a mile of resort bars and neon signs.


It may be just four o’clock in the afternoon but England fans are still drinking in La Bamba. They are worse for wear and very vocal, but the only people around to listen are the bar staff and the steady trickle of sunbathers making their way back from the beach.


By night the place comes alive, although there are times when you can forget that that there’s a football tournament going on at all – this is the world famous drinking culture that we have exported around the globe and tonight’s scene could have come from any European resort frequented by the Brits abroad. In Shooters, a sign behind the bar sums up how immune to drunken violence these places have become: “due to health and safety reasons,” it boasts, “all drinks will be served in plastic glasses”.


Sitting outside La Bamba is Nottingham Forest fan Michael. Basing himself in Albufeira for the tournament, he’s here by himself, but meeting up with friends for individual games. “I’ve been here for two weeks and I’ll be here for another two weeks, whatever happens,” he says. “But aside from the football there’s not much to do.”

Each night he makes his way the few yards from his hotel to the bars of the strip. The trouble, he says, wasn’t nice, but it also wasn’t out of the ordinary. “The barmaid told me that it often gets that bad here, but this time it’s got lots of attention because of the football.”


A young and drunken Villa fan paints a slightly different picture. “This is my first tournament with England,” he says, “and I’d never seen that kind of thing before, so we stood and watched. There were only eight police on duty that first night and there were about 500 England fans – people were throwing bottles at the police and then they started throwing chairs. A couple of lads even went and got a bench and threw it.”


For this fan the violence holds a strange fascination. Drawn to Albufeira more because of its resort reputation than because it was the gathering place of the fans, he readily admits to having only seen a few Villa games at home, but he proudly announces that he is now England through and through. He doesn’t seem like the regular England fans we see at the qualifying games around Europe, more the strange breed of ‘hooli-tourist’ treating the matches of Euro 2004 as just another one-day excursion during their 18-30 holiday!



Back in Lisbon it’s nearly midnight and the bar-lined harbour of Docas is full of bemused Germans. Some are quietly drinking, while others are aimlessly wandering around, trying to comprehend how their national football team lost to a second-string Czech Republic side. They also have to cope with the group of England fans that are making their way from bar to bar to say a personal and heartfelt “Auf Wiedersehen” to every single German!


With Spain, Italy and Germany on the way home before the knock-out stages have even started, things are starting to look up for England. Despite the much-discussed under-achievement of the team’s biggest stars, Michael Owen and David Beckham, there is a genuine feeling now, even among the doubters and pessimists, that this team has a fairly decent chance of coming home with the trophy. After all, sometimes it’s not about how good your own team is, it’s about what happens to everyone else – ‘Rooneymania’ has set in and the England fans believe that Portugal are easily beatable!



For all the optimism felt entering the stadium, at the end of the match England’s travelling army realise there’s something far too inevitable about England’s defeat tonight: Owen’s superb opener, the sterling backs-against-the-wall defending, the valiant comeback, the disallowed Sol Campbell goal – and an exit on penalties once again. We’ve taken this rollercoaster too many times before.


If there’s a worse way to go out than to the hosts, then I don’t know what it is. Just when you want the opposition’s fans to melt away, leaving you to wallow quietly in your own private grief, that’s when the whole country comes alive – not just a small corner of the stadium, but the whole damn country. The noise is incredible. The chanting, the car horns, the euphoria – it’s the sound of the Portuguese celebrating their famous victory over the English and I really don’t like it.


Outside the Estádio da Luz, taxi drivers are playing it shrewd now that their cash cow is going home. There’s no chance of a five-minute cab ride into the centre of the city, as many taxis will only take you on a three-hour journey to the Algarve or an hour up the coast to Caiscas – at tourist rates, especially for the English!


Taxi fares aren’t the only things that have been inflated during Euro 2004. On the train I encounter a Carlisle fan whose friend paid £180 for a ticket that morning, but just before kick-off some touts were starting to knock them out for face value. “Oh well, at least he got in,” says the Carlisle fan. “You don’t get to see a game like that very often in a lifetime.”


But you do! Games like this are becoming common currency for the travelling England fan. We’ve been here before and we’ve seen how the story finishes every time – and there’s never a happy ending. At least the Carlisle fan will go home with his memories – and that will steel him for a long season in the Football Conference. But that’s the magic of football. With the floodlights of Lisbon’s Stadium Of Light still warming the night sky, this fan is already contemplating his next match – a home game to Canvey Island at Brunton Park.



With English spirits at an all time low, there is only one thing that could cheer up the remainder of England’s travelling support – the complete and utter humiliation of the French by Greece. With Henry and Trezeguet completely manned-marked out of the game, it is quite apt that the team that had done so much to dent our chances of winning Euro 2004 should depart the competition in front of so many England fans, the cross of St George easily out-numbering the French tricolour in the Estádio José de Avalade. Even the massed chant of “Eng-er-lund, Eng-er-lund” half way through the first half was a reminder to the French of how passionately English football fans feel about their team. The French, by contrast, bowed out not with a bang, but with a whimper – and on the whole, I think I’d rather go out of the tournament on penalties to Portugal than be booted into touch by the rank outsiders of Greece.



As far as Euro 2004 is concerned, some England fans are in it for the long haul. With a huge percentage of all tickets for the tournament sold to people with English addresses, it is obviously an indication of both our insatiable desire for the sport and our incredibly buoyant economy. Even the day after Sven and the England team boarded a Luton-bound flight home, England still boasts one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – followings in Portugal.


“With Beckham and the boys gone,” says one fan, “at least I can start to enjoy the tournament without the heartache that always comes with watching England.”

Amen to that!





© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007