Losing the Braga-ing Rights?

Andy Munro on the latest stage of Blues’ European adventures.

It looks as if the Blues European journey is about to end after a disappointing defeat against Braga. Of course, there may be a miracle (and remember Jesus and Mary are on the Braga club badge) if the Portugese side beat Bruges away.

I suppose it’s typical Blues that, if they beat Maribor, they will have played eight European games and only lost two of them, amassing a very creditable ten points, which in any other group would have ensured progression. I suppose the upside is that we can now concentrate on reaching the play offs and, at the same time, hold our heads up high when the talk turns to European football. Such memories are also securely locked away for all of us privileged to witness the European Tour.

In the case of the trip to Braga, I had decided, partly due to work commitments, to fly there and back from Brum airport in a day. I had toyed with bargain £99 overland package which included a guarantee of DVT. However, the amount of journey time and the equation of my ageing bladder plus pints of fizzy on board lager = more stops than are possible, meant I opted for the fly package.

Run by Sports Options, who apparently organise most of the England and European trips, the ‘Cockney’guys sounded a bit like Del Trotter. However their service and organisation were exemplary and despite embarking on a Wetherspoons special breakfast, I still managed to tackle a surprise brekkie on the plane. We were then given a free souvenir badge – Ryanair it definitely wasn’t! The plane and crew were Flybe and the only disconcerting moment was when the pilot wished us a pleasant flight to our resort in Faro!

Luckily we landed in Porto and switched to a coach to take us to Braga after wrestling with the Portuguese customs whose speed of service would have done justice to the UK public sector striking day. The coach did a detour past the stadium which is football ground architecture at its grandest and most unusual. Mind you I heard a fellow Bluenose describe it as crap…presumably the sort of philistine who loves the homogenous, kit-built grounds seen just about everywhere in the UK.

Once in the medieval centre of  Braga we made our way to the main square which was thronged by Bluenoses and their banners, including one highlighting the gingerness of our previous manager and another one showing cult hero Stevie Carr doing his legendary wave to Villa fans. However, it was all good natured and I sat down to enjoy a Portuguese steak in the absence of the expected chicken piri Piri…Nandos where were you? This was washed down with Superbock, red wine and other concoctions. The main bar on the square must have done a roaring trade and for the first time in my living memory I had to queue in a bar to go to the gents….now I know what my missus has to put up with!

We then jumped on the bus to the ground and after another convivial drink wandered into the ground after a search which unfortunately in my case,winkled out three bottles of miniature souvenir port. Once inside the ground the view didn’t disappoint with the Blues fans being near the Quarry (literally) End. Disappointingly the crowd to watch last year’s finalists was a pathetic nine and a half thousand and the home fans were treated to the ‘you must have come in a taxi’ song.

Blues predictably started off with just one up front but despite my misgivings, were well and truly in the ascendancy when they were rightly awarded a penalty. We now know that Ziggy hit the ball without any venom, at a suitably convenient height for the keeper to make the save. The question will remain as to why the Smurf didn’t step in to take the spotkick but maybe he didn’t fancy it. Further chances came Blues way and probably we should have had another penalty and certainly Braga should have had a man sent off.

As often happens when chances (especially penalties) aren’t put away, the opposition got a lucky break with a deflected goal and then closed the game down keeping possession for long periods. To my mind the introduction of Redmond, King and eventually Chris Woods was delayed too long to be of any consequence. In terms of stars, Curtis Davies had a superb match and both Chis Burke and Wade Elliot were a handful. Still, it wasn’t to be and the annoying thing is that there was little between the sides and if it wasn’t for that missed penalty…..

After the match we were kept in the ground for ‘security’ purposes whilst the Braga fans got in their taxi. With almost more police than Braga supporters, I don’t know why they were worried. Arriving back at the airport we were slightly delayed by the VIP flight and it’s perhaps an  indictment that the biggest cheers were for Chrissie Hughton and ‘Magic’ Johnson, who had come to watch the game. Applause for the players was slightly less enthusiastic, particularly for Ziggy. Perhaps the funniest moment was when a lanky Blues fan went up to Chrissie H and said, “If you want somebody tall, lanky and useless I won’t cost £40k a week!” Fair play to Chris,  who couldn’t resist a wry smile.

Despite the result, the day was a memorable trip with the Axa Stadium a highlight to remember when us travelling Bluenoses recall our European exploits.