ChAlli in Lisbon

Who Should We Support? The Beach Boys!

October 14, 2023 He Said

sebastian and os belenenses
Sometimes, the team you support is chosen for you. So far, that's been our experience with Portuguese football... Força Azuis!
He Said:
You only get one shot at those first few months, one chance to experience all the newness and strangeness of living in a foreign country before those things start to become normalized, before they become part of the routine. I think we're on the verge of that now.

At the same time, there are so many things still to figure out. Why are the door handles arranged in ways that will joust you in the arm? Why don't people pick up after their dogs? Why does the water sometimes have that weird smell? And why are the bathroom light switches outside the door? Yes, there are things about living in Lisbon that can perplex, if not fully annoy, and we're figuring those things out, as well. They seem to be few and far between, though, as we're fully rooted in spectacular weather, amazing food, even more amazing people, and, yes, wine that is cheaper than salsa.

You can't figure everything out in only two months, though. There are other lingering questions. One of the most important? Which soccer team should we support? Soccer, or as British School Sebastian will remind us -- football -- is a really big deal here. I remember it distinctly when we were in Portugal in 2006 as the World Cup was played. People fly flags. They pack the bars and even gather to watch games in mall food courts. Portugal is home to the great Ronaldo, of course. Yes, it's a big deal, and here in Lisbon, people tend to fall into one of two camps. You support the red of Benfica or the green of Sporting. I've been trying to figure out which color to wear since before we moved, and the decision has grown more complicated since we arrived.

On one hand, you'll hear, "You must support Benfica." They are typically the best team in Portugal's top league. They make it to the Champions League almost every year. They have a live eagle that flies around the stadium before the game. They are the team of the people, the working class. They are the team with the deep history.

On the other hand, you'll hear, "You must support Sporting." That is where Ronaldo got his start. They are the underdogs but everyone loves them. Their supporters are classier. They are the team of the people (which is apparently something both sides claim, so I guess it just depends on "the people" you're talking to).

Yes, everyone seems to have an opinion on which side is better, from the guy who turns on the water to the lady at the bank, and for many, the level of support is akin to religious fervor. One guy at a bar told me he grew up in a Sporting household. His father was so extreme that he would drive six miles out of the way to avoid using the Shell station that was ten feet from his house. Why would he do this? Because, at the time, Shell was an official sponsor of Benfica.

The alliances even extend to beer. He also told me that when he orders a beer, if given the choice of Super Bock or Sagres -- the two main beer brands in Portugal -- he will always choose Super Bock. Why? Because Super Bock is the official beer sponsor of Sporting. 

So all of this cuts really deep for people, and it's a great way to connect with the local culture. I'm trying my best to choose. On the one hand, I typically despise teams that wear red, so that pushes me to Sporting just because their kits look cooler. On the other hand, I appreciate history and antiquity, which would direct me to Benfica. Ultimately, I think it will require a trip to both stadiums to make my final choice.

But then, sometimes life happens and teams are chosen for you, and it seems that's how our footballing allegiance is headed here in Lisbon. Yes, Sebastian attends the British School Lisbon, and every Wednesday for PE, they bus him out to a football pitch nuzzled into the hillside of Restrelo. It's a neighborhood that overlooks many historic sites and the famous monastery in Belém. The bridge and Cristo Rei stand tall over the river in the distance, and next to their PE grounds is a stadium, which is home to another local football club that plays in the second-tier Portuguese league.
Os Belenenses, as it turns out, has a story of their own. Described as a historic and sentimental club of Lisbon, they were once part of the country's top league and even won the title back in the 40s. Due to ownership logistics in recent times, from what we understand, they basically had to start over in the country's third league and work their way back to the second league, where they finished second last year. Because they play near the waters of Belém, they are nicknamed "The Boys of the Beach," and because the British School uses their pitch for PE and has plans to expand the school next year into adjacent buildings, Os Belenenses and BSL have developed a very close relationship.

Last week, the entire team came to Sebastian's school, passing out scarves and gear, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. Then, they gave the school free tickets for Sunday's game. So... our first colors are not the green of Sporting nor the red of Benfica. We're wearing the blue of Os Belenenses. They lost the game 2-1, but we had a fabulous time with Seb's classmates as we cheered on the Azuis and The Boys of the Beach!

Other than the football debate? The highlights of the past week or so have been great... a long lunch with my wife on a random Wednesday. A Friday afternoon with friends to watch a blazing orange sunset with Portuguese wine. A trip to the Portuguese Riviera town of Cascais to meet some friends of friends, thus new friends, for a street celebration. Meeting friends from Boulder Community Hospital for lunch in Lisbon. And just enjoying the deliberate pace of Portuguese life, as long as we avoid the door handles.
We're grateful for all of this, but at the same time, sometimes it's difficult for life to go on, much less write about its joys, when you have family members living through terror and war. Our thoughts are with the Schrutts in Israel, especially our nephew, Jaden, who is now, unfortunately, needing to put his army training to use. Hang in there, buddy. Can't wait to see you when this is over!
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