European Lessons (Part II)

Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Things I have learned from Pompey's first competitive match in Europe (contd).

You can have a great seat at the front of the top tier of a stadium built to house a European international tournament - and still not see a goal scored right in front of you

Having a seat in the second row of the steep Estadio D Afonso Henriques, I was miffed that I couldn't use it to watch the sensational drama unfolding in front of me.

But even accepting that I had to stand up for the entire two hours because the dozen or so fans lucky enough to get seats in the row in front felt the necessity to force their unluckier fellow fans behind them to follow their lead, I was more put out to have to miss the action directly in front of me because the aforesaid dozen wanted to move forward even further and lean over the barrier, blocking our views of the nearest goalmouth.

So how Peter Crouch got to Glen Johnson's cross and beat the keeper remained a mystery until I was able to watch the highlights on the internet back home.

I know it is a great day out, and I know we fans get excited. But it still a poor reflection on a selfish society that a handful of people are concerned only with their own enjoyment and cannot give any thought to their friends and fellow fans stuck immediately behind them.

Portugal is a welcoming country

That may or may not be news to you, but I had never been there before.

So it was a pleasant lesson to learn that the Portuguese seem a friendly people, knowledgeable about football and not in any way fazed by the sight of thousands of hard-drinking, blue-clad, red-faced English football fans singing their hearts out for the club, almost ceaselessly for 12 hours… and then the match starts.

Some of the hardiest might still have been going in the clubs and bars of Guimaraes and Porto even after the match, but given that I have not read or heard of any dramatic occurrences there in the early hours, I can only assume they continued to get on with the natives.

As for those who accompanied me on the daytrip, they were too overcome by the emotions of the day and the effects of the alcohol to carry on their celebrations much beyond the final whistle.

The flight home was a very peaceful one.

Which brings me to the last lesson learned…

There's still a lot that football and the authorities need to learn, even in the policing of top-level European games

Our host club - presumably in conjunction with the local police - decided to keep Pompey fans locked inside the stadium after the match.

It shouldn't have come as any great surprise. Until recently, it was commonplace at away games, and there were announcements during the match to that effect (although the heavily accented voice over the tannoy in the noisy stadium may have made them tricky to comprehend).

And those on the official Pompey tours were briefed on the situation beforehand, reassured that the special trains, coaches and plane would wait.

But it still seemed to come as a shock to many of the Pompey faithful as they attempted to leave in the early hours after possibly the longest day of their footballing lives.

There were, of course, no explanations offered by the Portuguese and Pompey stewards standing guard over the gates; no PA announcements.

Just a growing frustration, which although understandable, was not totally justified if you had ever been to away games when clashes between rival supporters were commonplace.

Unfortunately, as time went on, the mood got darker. The frequent opening of the gates by the tiniest amount for stewards to take further advice before slamming them shut again with no word of explanation served only to add to the frustration.

In the end, that tired anger boiled over, and a tiny minority stormed the gates, forcing concerned officals to unlock them, despite no police approval, and let us all out.

I saw no injuries - but there could easily have been.

In the build-up to that moment, one walking brewery asked me why I "wouldn't" move from my tiny square foot of space to let him through to have it out with the gatemen.

Most of them around him, united in frustration stood quietly, patiently, maybe chatting to the fan next to them (we were on the same side, you see), but showing no inclination of following Port Mouth's aggressive, antagonistic attitude (though I'm not suggesting for one moment his was the sole voice of belligerence).

As it happened, there appeared to be nothing to worry about. I saw no sign of trouble from Vitoria fans as I made my way back to the coach park, and I trust there was none from Pompey's.

But a bit of communication - with the fans and even between stewards inside the ground and police on the other side of the gates about the ugly mood beginning to develop under the stands might have dissipated what minimal trouble there was - and what potential violence there could have been.

It had been a long day for most Pompey fans. Most just wanted to get home or back to their hotels.

Luckily, the result and sheer pleasure of our first European adventure was never going to be erased by the consequences of a very small incident that proved to be a lesson that Uefa and club officials, as well as the police, need to learn - rather than we fans.