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Porto

In 2018, UEFA had an idea. Only this time it was a good one. For years the international ‘friendly’ matches which took place between major tournaments were meaningless and without jeopardy. They were basically an exercise into calling up young and new players to the country’s respective squads, so the manager could have a look at them in an international setting. 

So UEFA invented the Nations League. All 55 European footballing countries were put into four leagues relating to their rankings, with each league divided into groups. This meant that everyone had a chance to play someone of a similar standard, and given the chance to be promoted to the next league up should they win their respective league. The carrot at the end of this particular stick was that the top four group winners in League A would compete in a semi-final and ultimately a final held in the same week in the same country. The inaugural finals would be in Porto. The teams taking part were Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland and England.

The semi-finals were drawn and Portugal played Switzerland in Porto, with England up against the Netherlands in Guimarães. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick secured Portugal’s place in the final in a 3-1 win, and the same score in favour of the Netherlands, albeit after extra time, extinguished, at that time, my hopes of watching England in a competitive competition final.

But by this time I had bought my ticket and was off to watch the final in the fabulous Estádio do Dragão, with a little sight-seeing thrown in. The consolation of not seeing England in the final was that I got to see Ronaldo and Virgil Van Dijk pit their wits against each other, and despite England’s non-appearance there was a healthy crowd of English supporters, who added to the atmosphere as well as out-singing the Portuguese and the Dutch.

With all that talent on show the game ended in a close 1-0 win to Portugal. I’d arranged to meet Carl, a guy whom I sit next to at Pride Park, for a pre-match drink, and we soaked up the sun along with a mixture of fans from all four of the countries involved, and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. After the match we headed back to town, getting hopelessly lost down some very dark and extremely desolate side streets. The moral of the story being, don’t believe everything your GPS tells you. In the end we just headed for lights and towards the distant sound of traffic. Eventually we found a bar full of very drunk locals who took great delight, once we’d opened our English mouths, that Portugal were champions and we were not. All in good fun, though… I think.

The city has two major football teams: FC Porto and Boavista. Porto are the dominant force, not only in the city but also in the whole of Portuguese football, winning 29 league titles. Perennial participants in the Champions League, famously winning the competition in 2004 under Jose Mourinho, to add to victory in its previous incarnation as the European Cup in 1987. Boavista in comparison have only won the league once in their history, and their best European achievement was a UEFA Cup semi-final in 2003 where they lost to Celtic.

One thing that is unique about Boavista is their home shirt. A black and white chequerboard design, similar to a chef’s uniform, is as iconic as football shirts get. Whereas Porto shirts could be found all over the city, the Boavista top was another matter entirely. I eventually found just one, in a gift shop in a size smaller than I would normally buy. But I didn’t have time to go to the stadium and I promised myself that I would shrink into it. As for the Porto shirt, I contrarily opted for the 3rd Orange edition, and it’s a belter. 

FC Porto orange shirt

Porto is a beautiful city full of history and character. As with most major cities there is a river at its core, and the river Douro weaves its way through the different districts. One thing you’ll not fail to notice is the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a colossal iron double-decker bridge which has stupendous views across Porto and beyond. You can walk up there or you can get the tram, but either way you won’t be disappointed. The ubiquitous red roofing tiles are a sight to behold from the elevated view of the short cable car ride, which gently glides you from the end of the bridge to ground level, or vice versa depending on where you start your journey. Art galleries, museums, hilltop gardens and the fortress like Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral) are all easily navigated in this most compact of cities. The seaside is also an hour’s subway train ride away. One of its most beautiful places is the beaux arts-style São Bento train station, worth a visit even if you’re not catching a train. The weather is hot in the summer, but extremely clement the whole year round. A cool drink down by the riverside always rounds off the day very nicely.

I’ll definitely be going back to have a proper look around and perhaps a train journey to some nearby towns to collect more shirts.