When the draw was made for the Champions League group stages for 2011-12 season, we were quite happy with our lot. Not only did United look as if they have a relatively straightforward path to the knockout stages early next year, but there were also three decent away trips on the card. Three countries that I had yet to visit in Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland. We held hope that out of the three the first game would be Benfica as it meant as the weather in the North of England was taking a turn for the worse, we would be nipping off for a few days in the sun to see United! And lo and behold we got our wish. Granted we ultimately took an indirect route (having to fly from the scousers strip of airfield to Madrid, then on to Lisbon) but that surely only adds to the adventure….Travelling out it does anyway, not so much coming back!
We set out early on the Tuesday morning, having to get the train to Liverpool then a bus to the station added over an hour to the travel so we had to allow for that. It meant that after a tour of some of the more colourful parts along the Mersey we arrived at the airport and headed for the bar. Surprisingly enough we saw a few reds in and about the varying groups of lads or girls heading out somewhere on a cheapish flight. We departed Liverpool under a gloomy sky flying over the murky Mersey… only to land a couple of hours later in a blisteringly hot and sunny Madrid. The difference in weather was unreal, but well accepted. We spent the couple of hours layover in Madrid sat in their bar seeing more and more reds filter through, it was becoming clear that there had been quite a few of the travelling red army that had also been reduced to fly to Lisbon via Madrid.
We arrived in Lisbon in the evening and preceeded to travel to our hostel. We checked in, dumped our bags in the room (and found there that there were two european lads sharing the dorm with us, whom we would never actually see awake!) and ate in the hostel. The hostel was quite nice, not the dive where our internal organs would be harvested as we slept that I’d previously, jokingly expected. And with that we headed out into the Lisbon night in search of a few Superbock and a look around the city we’d landed oursevles in.
We headed out the next day (the day of the game) to find a few reds we had agreed to meet. As we made our way into Lisbon we saw more and more reds sat around bar tables in the streets enjoying the impossibly large glasses of Superbock…serving a beer by the litre certainly does make the British pint look shallow! We flirted around a few different bars but couldn’t find the people we had arranged to meet, so instead headed for the beach or where we thought the beach was, the same idea that had served us so well last year in Valencia. What we found instead was basically a concrete slope into the sea, more Blackpool than Barbados but we weren’t fussy and with a few other reds milling about the waters edge we camped down. We left the “beach” to find a cab to get us down to Benfica’s ground, the Estadio De Luz. Which was a sight to behold when we finally arrived down there, a quite magnificent stadium. I think maybe we took the wrong route to the ground as we had to make our way down with all of the Benfica contigent to wander around looking for the away end.
There’s not much to tell about the game that people don’t already know. It wasn’t the best game, certainly not in keeping with United’s recent form but we didn’t get beaten, so every cloud and all that. The red army sang throughout and long into the Lisbon night as again we found ourselves at the mercy of over eager riot police. Being held in the ground is very much the norm, but the attitude and trigger happy reactions of European riot police is something people should not have to endure. Amongst the shoves, slaps and smacks we had to endure walking out, all of the United faithful are forced through a small tunnel and away from the ground.
The next day and our return flights from Lisbon were delayed which meant we, and quite a few more reds, made our connecting flight to Liverpool from Madrid with literally minutes to spare. A further delay and a slight hangover meant the flights weren’t the most enjoyable I’ve ever taken as I sat in my seat sweating and panicking! On to Romania for the next Euro trip. Can’t wait!