In November, thousands of Wolverhampton Wanderers fans descended upon the Portuguese town of Braga for a Europa League tie. They were expecting to enjoy thrilling football, scorching weather and unforgettable experiences. What they received was something very different. Sam Lambeth provides an eyewitness account of Wolves in Braga.
November 28th, 2019 – It’s raining in Portugal.
Actually, that would be doing the weather a disservice. It is a downpour that can only be measured on a biblical barometer.
A storm slithers across the holy, humble town of Braga. The grim weather can be heard rumbling across the hills.
The locals have sensibly chosen to stay in for the night. However, the 6,000 fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers face little alternative.
They are here in swarms behind a stone-faced line of security officials. Droves of drab and damp gold – as if the amber is peeling off their midriffs and leaking on to the pavement – jostle impatiently for entry. As kick-off begins, thousands of fans remain locked outside.
The atmosphere grows as tempestuous as the weather. Teeth grind, fists clench and arms thrash. Rain continues to douse the Wolves followers as they hear those lucky enough to make it into the stadium cheer a goal.
Each jubilant cry, distant but direct, feels like a brazen taunt.
It was not supposed to be like this.
Firstly, Portugal is notorious for its relentless sun. Wolves fans were, at the time of booking, relishing a retreat from the damp depression of the English winter.
Furthermore, they were excited at the prospect of seeing their team play on continental turf for the first time for almost four decades.
Little did most of them realise that they’d spend the first half of the game surrendering to the heavens, locked out of the only attraction they came to see.
I am lucky enough to be in the stadium from kick-off. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere is tinged with toxicity. I had purchased an umbrella for £18 the day before and it had already proven its worth.
I decided to leave it in my AirBnB as I knew taking an umbrella to a football game would be akin to showing up wearing a pink playsuit. It proved to be a sensible decision. Brollies were begat by the almost feral security, leaving the marooned match-goers to squirm savagely beneath the rain.
As we watch the game, reports frantically filter in from the trenches. Chargers have been confiscated and carelessly thrown into nearby bins. Fans have been violently thrust from pillar to post. Pepper spray has been deployed.
A married couple – polite, stout, unintimidating – walk towards security with bags in hand. Within seconds, their collection of phone chargers, postcards, ornaments and other belongings are ruthlessly disposed of. They later say that their merchandise was intended as presents for their grandchildren.
At half-time, Wolves are winning 3-1 but there is a distinct lack of spirit in the air. Even those of us lucky enough to be granted entry feel like prisoners.
Our stand is segregated by a sprawling net, leaving us to observe the match behind an oppressive, opaque blanket. After half-time, those that had been left hanging are finally allowed in. The mood lifts. All of a sudden, there’s a feeling of rapture that engulfs the stand.
However, by the end of the game, Wolves have thrown away victory and the game finishes 3-3. To add to the misery, the lashings of rain continue unabated. Most of the 6,000 Wolves fans have only witnessed capitulation and humiliation.
As I leave the game, myself and the thousands of other followers are greeted to an entourage of police.
Each are flanked by feral dogs, already delivering brutal barks that reverberate around the arena. I hastily walk towards the exit amid the wrung, resentful supporters and delicately clip the heel of another Wolves fan. I turn to apologise and he looks at me with animalistic anger.
His eyes burn, nostrils flare and lip shakes. It’s almost like a scene from the jungle, when a lion turns on a member of his own pride. I turn away almost instantly but his face, one of incomprehensible rage, feels like the only thing that the rain won’t wash away.
I get lucky with my Uber. Just as it seems the guy might cancel on me, he emerges victorious over a mound of sodden bodies and spluttering engines.
My AirBnB is located on the outskirts of Braga, meaning I am quickly away from the centre of the conflict. I feel like I am taking the last chopper out of Saigon.
I look behind me and see nothing but the unforgiving thunder, the iron-clad grasp of security and the sea of simmering tension.
Listen to the sights and sounds of Braga with our Wandering to Gdansk European episode special: