For some fans, watching football just isn’t enough; there has to be an element of adventure to it, perhaps even some minor peril.
This, I guess, partly explains the popularity of ‘the Road to Wembley’, a challenge where a football fan selects a tie in the Extra-Preliminary Round of The FA Cup, then follows the winners to their next match. The aim is to stay the course through the six rounds of qualifying and all eight rounds of the Competition Proper and for the journey to culminate with watching the Final.
Although I’ve never attempted a season-long journey through the Cup, countless football fans have and many have also written about their experiences; I have a couple of books on the subject in my library.
Shamefully, it hadn’t occurred to me that similar journeys might be undertaken in mainland Europe. The British media repeatedly tells us that the United Kingdom is unique in its passion for knockout football and for the stories of plucky underdogs overcoming clubs with much greater resources. I think I’d always known that to be nonsense, but it did occur to me that geography might be a problem; France, Spain and Portugal all have far-flung island outposts, Germany is massive, and Italy and Greece also have islands to get to and from.
In One Thousand Miles to Jamor, author Filipe d’Avillez follows the 2018-19 Taça de Portugal from it’s First Round through to the conclusion. The title comes from d’Avillez’s method of choosing his starting point; having worked out that the Azores are the furthest point from the National Stadium with teams taking part he finds an Azorean club playing near his home, away to Casa Pia.
Casa Pia, who are one of Portugal’s oldest clubs but are playing in the regionalised third tier, embark on something of a Cup run, and so are the focal point of the first three chapters. But – Road to Wembley purists may wish to look away at this point – at the Fourth Round stage, d’Avillez abandons them, in order to follow a different club, Vale Formoso.
An Azorean club, Vale Formoso had already lost twice, conceding eight goals and scoring none, although the five goals they shipped in the First Round had all come in extra time! Unlike in England, 22 of the clubs beating in the First Round get another go, via a repechage. Although they lost again, their opponents fielded an ineligible player, so Vale Formoso were reinstated again. In the Third Round, the minnows took on third tier club Coimbroes, who were reduced to 9 men before half time. The match finished 3-3 but in extra time, Vale Formoso found the winner in extra time, booking themselves a trip to top-flight Tondela. Although they are the ‘big’ club in this tie, the author focusses on Tondela because of their Wimbledonesque rise from the fifth tier to the top division in less than 15 years. Tondela go through, but Casa Pia go out: “I understand perfectly well that I am responsible for the defeat” notes the author, exactly as I would have.
That single observation encapsulates this book superbly. This is a tale told by a passionate football fan who, by embarking on the journey from First Round to Final, immerses himself and his readers into the fan culture that is ingrained within Portugal. We meet passionate ultras, dedicated volunteers and a married couple whose love is paused every time there is a Lisbon Derby. Readers are reminded that, at every level, football is given its meaning by the supporters.
Freed from the constraints of a linear path to the Final, d’Avillez chooses what he considers to be the most attractive tie of each round from the Fifth Round onwards. He does follow Tondela to their next game – mainly because it is the third season running they have drawn Lexioes, who won the previous two ties – but after that game, there’s only a handful to choose from anyway. By this point, it doesn’t really matter who actually makes it to Jamor, because what One Thousand Miles has become by this point is a study of a football-daft nation through its most egalitarian tournament.
Just how passionate the Portuguese are about the beautiful game is demonstrated beautifully by the chapter about the Cup Final itself. In a ‘Road to Wembley’ book, getting hold of a ticket to the denouement can be a nightmare, because of the way they are distributed. In Portugal, the problem is even worse, but not because of blazer-clad neutrals; the National Stadium has a capacity under 40,000 and is extremely difficult to reach. With two of the Big Three in the Final, demand for tickets far outstrips supply.
So, not only does d’Avillez not follow the traditional route to the Final, but he also has no chance of getting into the game. No matter: he goes to Jamor anyway and joins Sporting and Porto fans in the forest around the stadium, where pigs roast on skewers, barbecues spring up and plenty of wine and beer is drunk. There are bands playing, supporters of the two clubs socialising and a broad consensus that playing the Cup Final on neutral ground is the right way to conclude the tournament. Fans like the spectacular setting and unique atmosphere provided by Jamor. Those without tickets – and the author – can watch the game on specially erected screens. Fittingly, for a book which is as much about the smaller clubs as the giants, it ends with a chapter in which d’Avillez gets to watch Casa Pia play at Jamor.
One Thousand Miles… ticked a lot of boxes for me. It was well-paced and engaging and, while there was the odd unconventional or jarring word choice, that’s to be expected from a Portuguese writer working in English. I loved how this book shone a light on clubs that aren’t exactly household names in Portugal, never mind elsewhere and that it was about the experience of matchday more than it was about the match itself. In that respect, it has something in common with some of the other books featured in this season.
In short, One Thousand Miles to Jamor is recommended. I enjoyed it immensely and felt a connection with many of the people Filipe d’Avillez features in his book. I think other football fans will too.
Yet again, I’ve picked a title published by Pitch Publishing to review, which says as much about their output as it does my reading choices. As usual, I’ll recommend Stanchion as an excellent place to buy football books, because they love the game and look after their customers.