My Benfica journey began on December 1st, 2013 in a Seixal café.
A few months earlier I met my girlfriend Andreia, who was born and raised there. Both of us live in the United States, but I made a promise to her that once a year we would visit her family in Portugal. Our first trip started in the café meeting some of her family members, who were watching a soccer match on the television. I asked who it was, and I was told “Benfica”. I also recall hearing how they are “the best team in the world”. That night, Benfica beat Rio Ave 3-1. We continued our adventures throughout Portugal, and my interest in the Portuguese culture grew by the hour. From the kind people to the wonderful food, everything about Portugal was interesting to me. I had already fallen in love with the woman, and now I had fallen in love with her culture. Andreia’s brother in law, Eduardo, has always been a key influence of my interest in Benfica. If I ever had a question about statistics, or why for some reason the team just “didn’t show up” for a game, Eduardo had an answer. I soon learned about two other teams, who for now I’ll just refer to as green and blue. I learned how green was the rival, though blue was somehow more of a rival. How? I wondered. One day I would visit the blue city, and find out for myself.
Months went by and I would catch a game or two now and then, having signed up for
BenficaTV. My interest in the team kept increasing as I saw more. I found myself taking
Portuguese lessons from a nice lady in Lisbon, over Skype. I could now pronounce words
without sounding like an ignorant tourist, and there was something very satisfying about that.
Benfica would go on to win the Taça de Portugal and the Taça da Liga. I knew something about
this team was special. Fast forward a few years to 2017 and I finally picked up my first Benfica jersey. I wore it proudly wherever I went. No matter where in the world I travel, someone notices my Benfica jersey. I don’t know why, but wearing it had taken my interest of the team to a whole new level. I started watching every match, listening to podcasts, reading news articles, etc. The next logical step was to go to a live event. Seeing how I visit Portugal once a year, this seemed very likely. Unfortunately the team schedule didn’t line up perfectly with our travel schedule. I traveled back to the United States, and the journey continued without having seen a live event.
Soon I would learn more about the blue team and the green team.
My constant interest of the Portuguese culture led me to a Fado show in the United States. The show was wonderful, and everything was going so well until I was on my way home for the
night. As I walked towards the exit, I overheard someone comment on my Benfica jacket. Not
understanding all Portuguese words, I didn’t know the extent of the negative context to his
comment. I said “Sporting?” He replied with disgust, one word I definitely understood was
“Porto”. I replied, “Ah, Porto…” before exiting to go home. Unfortunately that’s my first interaction with a Porto fan.
My first interaction with a Sporting fan was at a grocery store, where someone called out my jersey, and said something about Sporting. His wife then asked him “are you really doing that in a grocery store?”. I smiled and said, “It’s ok, you’re not a Porto fan, so we’re good”.
Not all interactions with Porto fans have been negative, though. When I play pick-up soccer, there are all kinds of Portugal soccer fans. I’ve managed to find quite a few fans who just love the game. There’s always that friendly competition, but it’s different than the first Porto interaction I had. As time goes by, I learn more about the game, which in turn makes it easier to communicate.
2018. I just found out Benfica will be playing two games in the United States. I don’t have to wait until October to see them! I bought two tickets literally the second they went on sale. 4th row. Middle of the field. For this game I brought my 12 year old son, Trevor. After two delayed flights, we arrived in Pittsburgh around 1AM the day of the game. No sleep, no problem. We woke up around 8AM, and decided to try out a local Portuguese breakfast place. After that, we went to a museum to see some dinosaurs, or what was left of them.
12PM, it’s time to go check out the stadium. We walked around, and found out the only merchandise available for sale was clearly Dortmund. What’s going on here? Dortmund fans all around, Dortmund colors in the stadium. I then recalled how one of their key players is from Hershey, PA. Now it made a bit more sense. I decided to test my luck and see if I could meet up with one of the Benfica Podcast members. We needed to see Benfica fans, and that was a sure way to do it. Sure enough, Alfredo responded within minutes and told us to meet him at the hotel where Benfica was staying. We got there, and found out ten minutes before arriving the team bus was there with all of the players. What?! I had one more chance to meet the team, and that would be around 6PM. Now we were finally with a group of Benfica fans, and we all decided to get some lunch. My son started talking statistics with Alfredo and some of the other fans, and at this point I knew it was turning out to be a great trip. After about an hour of talking European soccer with new friends, we went to move our rental car closer to the stadium.
Almost game time! Now we needed to find a black magic marker for possible signatures. We headed to a local convenience store and picked up two of them. Time to sit and wait at the hotel for a chance to meet the players. An hour later we started to see other fans who were trying to do the same thing. We met a nice family from Toronto, and talked with them the whole time we waited. A red bus arrived, and our excitement increased. Knowing what we had heard before, there were no players on it just yet. We had to wait for the players to get on the bus, but our position to meet them was near perfect. This could really happen.
About 30 minutes later, the president of Benfica was walking in and out of the hotel. Our new friend from Toronto decided to yell his name, and something else to get his attention. It worked. Luís Filipe Vieira walked straight to me and signed my Benfica scarf. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Ten minutes later, players started pouring out of the hotel, some going straight on the bus. The players who took time to meet the fans were walking straight to where all of us were waiting, and I tried my best to gather as many signatures as possible on the scarf. ”Cervi! Cervi!”, my son screamed. His favorite Benfica player was feet away from him. I did my best to get his attention, and after loading his gear on the bus, he walked to us. After signing the scarf, he walked over to my son and gave him a high five. If I have to pick one moment out of the entire trip, this was the best. Moments later, I noticed Rui Vitoria walking towards us. He took his time meeting as many fans as he could, and signed the scarf. The bus was loaded with the team, and they headed off to the stadium. My son was more excited than I’ve seen him in a very long time. It was time for us to go see our first Benfica game in person.
We arrived at the stadium about one hour before game time. Our new friends from Toronto were easy to find, as the black and yellow jerseys were everywhere. We all headed into the stadium, and went our separate ways. It’s too bad with such a difference of Dortmund to Benfica fans, there should have been something set up so the Benfica fans had their own section. I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of our experience. We headed to section 134, and when we got to our seats the Dortmund to Benfica ratio was unbelievable. There were two Benfica fans about twenty people to the left of us, and four Benfica fans about five rows behind us. The remainder of the entire section were Dortmund fans.
The game starts. My attention is drawn to the field, and we are no longer just Benfica television
fans. Benfica started the game strong, and things were looking good. Dortmund scored first, but in my opinion Benfica was still the better team on the field. Not much time went by and
Dortmund scored again, on what looked to be an offside play. A replay after the game showed
what looked like a very close call that could have gone either way. Needless to say, Benfica
went into the locker room at the half trailing 0-2.
About 15 minutes into the second half, André Almeida scored a nice shot from a great angle the
keeper couldn’t contain, and we were on the way to closing the lead. Once and a while we
heard fans singing “Let’s go Dortmund”, and thought, “Isn’t this a soccer match?” Now we knew
there were more than likely just a lot of people who wanted to see the star player born in
Hershey, PA. Almost ten minutes later, and Alfa Semedo took a strong shot that deflected off a
Dortmund player and came right back to him. His second attempt would go past the keeper, and we now had an even score of 2-2.
The game then went to a penalty shoot-out. Every time a Benfica player took their position, the
stadium was full of booing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. People who didn’t know real
soccer chants, booing a team they probably didn’t even know existed just months ago. I decided
to step up my game. Each time a Benfica player got the ball past the keeper, my screams of joy
would show them real soccer passion. I raised the scarf and yelled with excitement. One time,
someone asked “You know this is just a friendly, right?” I replied “This is the first time I’ve seen
my favorite team in person!” He then understood my passion, and a fist bump followed shortly
thereafter. Eduardo Salvio now had the chance to win the game. He lined up his shot, went one
way, and the keeper went the other. Benfica wins! Our first time seeing them in person, and it’s
a victory! The players looked around the stadium and found their fans, thanking them for their
Benfica was now headed to New Jersey to face Juventus. We were now headed home to Massachusetts as Benfica fans who had finally seen their favorite team in person.