Location, Location, Location

Primeira Liga
CS Marítimo v FC Arouca
Sunday, 6th April 2014, 4pm
Estádio dos Barreiros
Entrance €20, No Programme
Distance 1575 miles, Attendance 3471
The journey back from the home of “Os Verde-Rubras” was at times a tight-knuckle-steady-yourself unavoidably brisk 10 minute downhill yomp; going up had been a trifle more laboured.
The “short walk” from Funchal’s costal hotels – the “18 minutes” promised by google – is at best 1:3 and at worst, a lung busting hill on which journeying might be better suited to Sherpas, crampons or goats laden with refreshments. Half way up – as I’d drained the last dregs of my bottle – I’d begun to wonder whether this really was the most accessible of the three known matches on offer. It was my wife’s fault of course; she wanted this holiday. I would have been more than happy enjoying the delights at Vicarage Road but NOOOO; SHE wanted warmer climes.

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Over the past few months, her plans had somewhat irritatingly moved from North Africa, to Malta, to the (thankfully not Norwich) Canaries, to Cyprus and back again, via a few other points not reached even by religiously motivated crusades. Discarding each destination on an apparent whim, she’d reinstate them – one and all – as the weatherman/woman refreshed respective forecasts. At each roll of her dice, lists had been screwed up and cast asunder, only to be retrieved when “our” plans returned once more to already mulled-over options. Naturally, while my wife’s discarded lists itemised hotels’ fixtures and fittings; mine have just detailed fixtures.
Two weeks back, having made up “our” minds and booked flights to this pretty rock in the Atlantic, my hand had hastily delved into the recycle bin one last time; Rummaging about I’d hopefully plucked out a crumpled sheet of A4. “Sun 6th” it read “ALL 4pm kos… Marítimov Arouca, MarítimoB v Desportivo Aves, União da Madeira v Athletico CP” “Div1 – red & green v yellow & blue, Div3 – red & green v red & white, Div3 – yellow & blue v yellow & blue” before importantly footnoting “where the f*** are they???”

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Obviously my research hadn’t been too thorough but with time ticking by, urgency was grabbing where it hurt. Despite being a European outpost with top league football, this wasn’t as plain sailing as it should have been. All the Portuguese I spoke had been gleaned from Queen’s “Live In Rio” making the club websites completely alien to dissect and, Wikipedia was unhelpfully suggesting both Maritimo and União played at the same stadium (they don’t). Being a yellow team at home, deep down I’d probably rather have found the latter but once we settled into relaxing poolside, the thought of dragging myself across the island in the midday sun was becoming increasingly less appealing; by breakfast on Sunday morning, stadia location had definitely swung the vote.
Staggered as I am still that two of Portugal’s sixteen footballing elite actually originate in Madeira (though not as flabbergasted as I am by Gatwick’s continued claim to be in London), Marítimo clearly have a poignant history; stepping into their Museu dos Barreiros, they also had more trophies than I’d ever seen before.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (43)bResembling a scene from National Treasure polished silverware lines one wall, stacked high and wide; it’s an incredible sight. The club shop and ticket office now reside inside but around the museu, one can also find old club log books, photos and, timelines of their illustrious rise from dock workers – hence the maritime name – to one of the best teams in Portugal. Being too long to mention, the list of regional triumphs is topped by just a few national successes.
Having been formed in 1910, the Campeonato de Portugal – renamed Taça de Portugal – was lifted in 1926, a year before Marítimo moved to their current home, Estádio dos Barreiros. Since that time, Marítimo have also been crowned champions of the Segunda Divisão (somewhat confusingly the third tier of Portuguese futebol) in both 1977 and 1982.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (103)FC Arouca stem from far humbler beginnings. Setting out their colours in the exposed and narrow away end, one fifth of their support explained that they only, at the turn of the century, left level six on the football pyramid. This Portuguese Wimbledon, were formed only  60 years back but in the past decade have gained four promotions; winning three of titles en route. Said very genial “fifth” explained there would be about twenty-ish Arouquenses by kick-off but distance, flight, poor season, and lack of money deterred as many from travelling as the relative size of their club. Shaking hands over the dividing fence and wishing him good fortune, I leapt down from the high perimeter wall surrounding the pitch and made my way to “my people”. Much as I would have liked to join them – to support the underdog – they were wearing blue shorts with yellow shirts; Marítimo alternatively were the local team.

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By kick off the crowd had swelled in one third of this part-built Estádio. Much like Farnborough, Marítimo almost ran aground when the funding dried up for their proposed new home, leaving two and a half sides of the pitch surrounded by mere concrete steps. Even the once encompassing running track still survives in part, just in front of the sit-anywhere Bancada Central stand. Started in 2009, when or 140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (216)bindeed if, completed the old club house will move below a new stand, and the small open part of a curve – only €12 to sit on – will be no more. For now it was home to a small group of noisy youngsters, standing at the far end. On the day’s evidence – clearly not the “bigger” of anything, let alone the “two predominant groups” Wikipedia had mentioned – these Ultras Templários stood as close to behind the goal as possible, singing from behind a range of small banners adorned with “95” and emblems of the aforementioned crusades.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (98)bWithin the stadium there were however, two far noisier and more organised outfits. To the left, in the shade, near the away section were a group of drummers – Amigos do Marítimo – who obviously rehearse their craft willingly, warm up properly and, in unison drummed superbly throughout the match. In the middle of the THREE groups (take note wikipeople) to the front and right of the Bancada Central stood the most colourful; with huge flags, stereo megaphones and drummers to boot, Esquadrão Maritimista, were and are and easy draw for travelling fans and photographers alike.
By the time I reached them; I’d already walked assertively into the premier seating area, talked one be-suited gentleman out of his team sheet (thanks, by the way, really appreciated) and, been asked to re-join the hoi polloi; all the while snapping away at the engaging scene whilst chatting to anyone who’d listen (to a man/woman each of whom answered my first question “A little”).

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As the game approached kick off, the heat my wife so wanted was beating down upon both us, a shouty announcer with atrocious music and, a very young youth side eagerly trying to impress the watching crowd. Back at the hotel somewhat contradictorily, wife was hiding away in the spa.
Arouca kicked off. A minute later the first howls of discontent rang out from the home support as Derley went down under the first challenge. Slightly innocuous from my vantage point, the ref was setting out his stall (wrongly) and wouldn’t budge from it (disappointingly) for the next 94 minutes. Either side of me, drummers beat out different tunes; as Ceballos fired over for the visitors or Artur’s free-kick was headed wide at the other end, neither group stopped.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (167)bWith Marítimo beginning to take some control of the game – whilst the girls to my left just took selfies – another cross flew wide of the away goal then, moments later the breakthrough came. A long range shot was rifled towards a crowded eighteen yard line, the deflection kindly fell for Derley, who steadied himself, side-footed beyond the outstretched Cássio and, wheel away to celebrate with the bench.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (160)bFrom that point on, the game should have been a breeze. The script was clear. Bigger team, at home, against lower opposition = comfortable win. Danilo Pereira was looking comfortable mopping up loose balls in midfield, Artur was strong on the wing, and Salin was commanding his box with aplomb. Sadly neither the opposition nor the remaining minutes seemed to have got the message.
Instead the first half was played out in scrappy inconsistency, with a ref blowing up for every triviality. As he did so the only player finding form was visiting Ceballos who used the right wing well, creating openings for Arouca. In return, Weeks found Sami but his cross was wide of the goal then, Weeks shot directly at the keeper – after a protracted build up – when clean through. Proving both sides were equal, at the back Marítimo’s João Diogo lost the ball but Tinoco’s cross was collected easily. In truth there was precious little to test either keeper and when the whistle went for the interval – at the back of the stand – muttering comparisons to rivals Nacional were easy to understand in tone if not the words used.

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To cheer the locals, halftime saw cultural dancing and a shootout into a sponsor’s inflatable, whilst subs danced in a circle of their own. As the culture left the field, the announcer screamed something encouraging into the mic before, drowning us all in some dreadful techno-pop. The impact of the music on the locals should not be underestimated. I had headed for the toilet and prayed for the teams to come back out, as soon as possible, to save my ears but, Marítimo were back out far too early…
Kicking off Marítimo looked lethargic; the young fans down the front seemed turned off too. Before the Bancada Central and game of two-on-two had broken out with an empty bottle for a ball; on the curve, a group of boys actually had a ball and their own spectators.

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The drummers began again; João Diogo was hacked down and fans were out of their seats in uproar, again. That free-kick and the next were wasted and when a clear opportunity did come their way, Derley headed wide, again. As Arouca pushed forward, only Artur seemed to be up to their challenge, beating two but his low shot was saved.
The substitutions began with the visitors having the first roll of the dice amid jeers from the stand. Soon Artur was taken out between the benches  – amid shouting and arm waving, and even more jeers from behind me – which cleared both to join the melee. As the argument died down, and yellow card was waved towards one of the visitors, Marítimo made a substitution of their own.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (164)bMaking me think he hadn’t calibrated his sight yet, Derley headed wide for the upteenth time. Lassad’s shot was comfortably saved by Salin, Artur’s was blocked up the other end and the resulting break saw Arouca sub Serginho hit the woodwork. As Serginho soon tested Salin with a cross, the crowd moaned and, when Artur was taken off for Danilo Dias, they moaned further still. Whilst being completely unfair on Dias, the frustration was palpable in all. As it was Dias improved from that point on and certainly helped push the match back in Marítimo’s favour.
Derley teed up Weeks, who shot just over the bar. Arouca won a decent free-kick and incredibly managed to hit the one-man wall with it, Dias broke and fed Sami who shot over and at last the crowd cheered a player change, as Fransérgio was brought on shortly before the end. As the game petered out, Marítimo had to defend deeper; finishing hardly deserving a lead. Soon the whistles began, Go West chants rang out and, Danilo Pereira picked up a very petty yellow card before, Derley and Fransérgio conspired to waste the final chance of the game.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (250)As the ref blew up coaches ran towards him to implore him to do something; given the game was over, I can’t for the life me think what. Whilst some fans applauded the win – in some relief – others rushed for the gates and the newspaper they’d been sitting on fluttered in the breeze.  Out in the car park, one Arouca player – still in full kit, boots’n’all – was being cornered by two autograph hunting boys but he seemed more interested in the coach containing the Desportivo Aves team fresh from their 3-3 draw with the Marítimo B team.
Strolling down the hill, back towards the coast, I mulled over my first Portuguese experience, whilst trying not to be run over by the passing cars on the tight lane.
140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (186)140406 PL Maritimo v Arouca (178)The very even match was too untidy; a draw would have been the fair result but, the woodwork saved Marítimo. The home side looked overconfident and consequently under prepared from the start; the visitors were just desperate to avoid defeat. Unlike the players, the man serving water was working his socks off for the full ninety minutes; the builders clearly weren’t and hadn’t done so for many moons, though their absence has made it still possible to watch matches here, for free, from Rampa dos Barreiros.
And finally, the squad numbers may have been stupidly high in this encounter but – with an absence of elderly hotel guests – the colour in the stadium, the sunshine  and, the fans of both sides (with their improvised headwear), were an absolute delight to be amongst.
I haven’t yet suggested to my wife that, she should have come to a game “to small” for a programme however, the cost was far less than her spa treatment and the trek uphill – even in that sun – really was well worth every last drop of water.

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