Football festival turns city red, white and blue
Rivalry is put aside as fans soak up party atmosphere
Published 19/05/2011 | 05:00
It was a long way to travel for a local derby, but they came in their thousands.
Dublin's city centre was a sea of red, white and blue as 16,000 Portuguese football fans descended on the capital for last night's Europa League final between FC Porto and SC Braga.
Fans of the two clubs -- which are located within just 50km of each other -- spent yesterday gearing up for the showdown at the Aviva Stadium.
It marked the first time that Ireland had hosted a European club final. It was also the first all-Portuguese European final in UEFA history.
The historic match was also the largest football event ever staged here, with an estimated worldwide audience of 40 million viewers tuning in for the 7.45pm kick-off.
More than 40,000 fans -- including about 13,000 from Porto and 3,000 from Braga -- thronged the streets of the capital despite the virtual lockdown of the city centre due to the visit of Queen Elizabeth.
The massive security operation that led to the temporary closure of all main bridges over the River Liffey and major city centre thoroughfares yesterday afternoon didn't dampen the festival-like atmosphere.
Grafton Street and Temple Bar became the unofficial party central as Porto supporters decamped from their fan headquarters at the RDS and their rivals did likewise from the 02 Arena.
And while there was no mistaking the friendly rivalry between the two sides, they were proudly united as Portuguese neighbours.
Joao Fernandes (33), from Porto, was outnumbered two to one by his Braga-supporting friends Carlos Matos (35) and Joao Capa (35). But that didn't matter as they soaked up the party atmosphere.
"It's no problem," he said. But he did admit it was a bit strange to travel thousands of kilometres to watch two teams from the same country compete on foreign soil.
"We're used to playing against foreign teams in this competition, so it is a little weird to play another Portuguese team, but as long as we win, no problem," he said.
Porto supporter Sancaio Aohiomo (43), who flew in from Paris to support his home-town club, called it a "fete Portuguese".
"We are friends. It's a party," he said.
His only criticism was the obstacles thrown up by the royal visit which made getting around the city centre challenging.
"You need lots of patience, but Queen Elizabeth will get to take part in the Portuguese party," he laughed.
Meanwhile, officials at Dublin City Council -- which won the joint-bid with the Football Association of Ireland to host the game in 2009 -- estimated the match would generate between €25m and €30m for the city in economic spin-offs.
No less than 11 city centre hotels have been booked out by international media -- from as far afield as Japan, Russia and Sweden -- and UEFA officials.
Some 60 charter flights were due to leave Dublin Airport between midnight and 4am today to ferry supporters back home.
Match report, see sport