There are numerous episodes that are lived during a football career. When asked what best story I can tell, I can never truthfully answer. But I know surely which one was the more, in the following events that seem like fiction. It was the craziest week I have ever lived in the football world. Surreal.
In October of 1981 in Portimonense, first league team I played at the time, I was invited to play in Bahrain against Kuwait’s national team, qualified for the Worldcup in Spain (1982). Taking advantage of a break in the Portuguese championship, it was the first time any club from Algarve had a budget to play abroad.
The trip started on a Saturday morning on a bus from Portimão, in direction to Lisbon, where we were supposed to catch the plane to Madrid for a transfer to the Emirates, arrival scheduled on Sunday evening. The first game was scheduled for Tuesday.
When we arrived to the airport, we were notified that the flight had been delayed for the following day at the same time. Here the problems started. If we went on that plane we would lose the connection to the Emirates. Either we would go by bus or, the chosen solultion, by train in carriages with bunkbeds. Before midnight the whole team was in the train, each player in a department for 4 people. Many players were resting, ready to commence the trip. But as time went by, the train remained still. It was delayed. The reason: a mortal hit in the area of Alverca had caused a temporary block for circulation.
The trip’s promoter worried with the delay, left the train to obtain more information. Moments later, the train started to move. From the window we witnessed a comic situation: the promoter running in the platform, suitcase in hand, screaming for the train to stop. He didn’t make it. While we were realizing what a problem it would be to arrive at Madrid without contacts or tickets, the train stopped before reaching Alverca. People had disconnected the carriages of the train. The promoter in the meanwhile had caught a taxi.
At 4 am, the promoter said that the only way to arrive at Madrid in time was by… taxi. 6 taxis were called, requiring the drivers to bring passports. Our coach Manuel de Oliveira wanted to return to Portimão with the team. The president Manuel João said otherwise.
The taxis arrived, yet on the way, the drivers raced with each other causing us to go all separately. Barajas airport was the meeting point. We stopped to put gas, to eat, even a flat tire and traffic in the entrance to Madrid. Result was that we were too late. We had to improvise.
The following morning we flew to Tunis, then transferred to Beirut in Lebanon. After yet another flight we arrived in Bahrain. 24h late and no warnings. When we arrived at the luxurious hotel, we had a kowaitanian prince responsible for the federation with 2 or 3 more elements with unhappy faces.
Like me, Zé Manuel Delgado and Carlos Alhinho were mistaken by delegated of the club as we were wearing suit and ties. Neither the president of the club, the coach nor the promoter knew English. As our trio did have knowledge of the language, we apologized on behalf of the club for the lack of communication and explained everything. Our apologies were accepted.
That late hour still permitted us to eat, yet the menu was in English. Yet again, me and my fellow teammates chose the plates that satisfied all the pleayers: lobster and a Chateaubriand beef. As dessert Courvoiser crepes. A luxury. The coach was absolutely annoyed, and only warned us about the high cholesterol of the food. Innocently we argued that the employees misinterpreted our choice of menu.
It was a delicious dinner accompanied by an Indian pianist from Goa, satisfied to entertain Portuguese people in the hotel. He even treated us with our favorite music. I remember perfectly the lyrics “Coimbra is a lesson of love and tradition”. Goosebumps. Nostalgic times in Académica. It was past midnight when we went to sleep. Exhausted from the 48 hours of unexpected twists and turns, no one appeared for the morning practice. The heat was unbearable, humidity and a game in the afternoon. It didn’t make sense. We manifested.
In the afternoon, in an artificial field, we lost 4-0 against Kuwait. In the interval I stayed in the fresh air conditioned rooms of the stadium. It was impossible to play in that temperature. Two days later we played the second game and tied 0-0.
Friday we had our return trip scheduled in the morning. We would fly from Bahrain to Cairo, to then connect to Madrid. The trip was destined to have yet again some unexpected events. Instead of landing in Cairo we were deviated to Luxor in the South of Egypt. Unfortunately we didn’t immerse in the open-air museum that comprises the city—we were stuck inside the plane again in an immense heat. Two hours later we went to Cairo, knowing again that we had lost our connecting flight to Madrid. Cairo’s airport was filled with police and guards with weapons. The tension was consequence of the murder of the president Anwar Al Sadate a few days before by the Egyptian and Islamic Jihad. The middle defence Amilcar, as always the joker, had the nerve to take a photograph with one of the armed men and immediately provoked an incident. Aggressive and anxious, the military spoke in Arabic demanding the camera, however since we were a sports team the tides turned. Our flight to Madrid was hours later and our connection to Lisbon was lost.
We stayed overnight in a hotel in the center of Madrid. On that Saturday we flew back to Lisbon and then home to Faro. After the ride to Lagos nearby, where we would play the next day against Rio Ave, a strong team led by Felix Mourinho (José Mourinho’s father). In Lagos we had dinner and slept. On Sunday we presented ourselves exhausted from the trip, full of sleepless nights and temperature changes. We lost 1-0. On that afternoon Manuel de Oliveira, the coach, was fired. An unforgettable event that he later mentioned in a book.