Football crazy

Did someone mention football? I feared as much. By now, it will be obvious whether Euro 2004 is the saviour of the Algarve’s tourism trade for this year or, as some are saying, it has single-handedly destroyed trade in the western Algarve in particular.

From what people have told me, bookings for June and into July are way down on normal years because regular clients don’t want to get muddled up with a bunch of football hooligans. We all know that, actually, a majority of fans are men who just want to enjoy football – but, sadly, in England in particular, football equals hooligans, equals trouble – and who wants that on holiday?

There are many things about football I don’t understand, quite apart from the offside rule, and I realise as I write that I am opening the classic can of sexist worms here – but that’s OK, let’s have a bit of fun. I don’t understand why grown men think it’s cool to wear a replica football shirt of their team. What does that achieve other than swell the coffers of the team that changes its strip every couple of seasons and puts the price up at the same time? I don’t understand why men want to travel – from England to Portugal, let’s say – without a ticket and without accommodation, just to be in the same country as the football matches and to watch them on TV in a bar. Atmosphere? Is that another word for getting drunk somewhere different?

I don’t understand why men have to get drunk while watching football on TV. Least of all do I understand why grown men travel long distances in order to beat seven bells out of each other and do a lot of damage to innocent people and property along the way. Just what is it about football that pushes all these puerile buttons? As a mere female, I do not have a clue – perhaps Skip could enlighten me and others of the female gender who are similarly perplexed.

Does it go back to the caveman thing, or the Romans pitting the Christians against the lions? Perhaps we could do away with the football altogether and just have opposing teams of hooligans beating each other up for two hours in a sealed stadium as a spectator sport. Although I am not a UK taxpayer any longer, I sympathise with my friends there who tell me they really object to their money being spent on policing these idiots, whose sole aim in life is to cause as much damage as possible to whoever and whatever gets in their way.

Talking of football, have you seen that Porto’s trainer, José Mourinho, is going to be the new trainer at Chelsea, at a salary of around 7.5 million euros per year? Read that again – 7.5 million euros a year. That’s over 600,000 euros a month. You could do a lot with that sort of money: build a football stadium – or a hospital; buy a couple of tanks and enough bombs to kill lots of people – or establish a housing and education programme in areas that desperately need it. I don’t need to go on, do I? But no, Roman Abranovich is determined to buy the best football team in the world. Fine, it’s his money, he can do what he likes with it. But what does it prove? That sport isn’t sport any more but big international business? That money talks, while boring old-fashioned principles such as sportsmanship sit it out on the sidelines?

And yet money does not have to be all about ostentatious power. TIME magazine recently published one of its regular ‘100 best’ features – this one was about people who have, in one way or another, contributed positive things to the world. How wonderful they were able to find 100 – doesn’t always seem like that, does it?

High on the list were Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation has helped millions of people around the world. It focuses on health and education, bringing both to communities where such facilities would otherwise not exist. With their drive and energy, they break through bureaucratic barriers and use their wealth in a hugely positive, practical way. Pop star Bono was on the same list – he uses his profile and influence to shame politicians and bureaucrats into action. It’s nice to know that there are some people out there doing good things.

And talking of good things, I have to say that I am writing this at a desk in a beautiful hotel overlooking the River Douro, in the heart of the Douro valley. The sun is shining, the sky is blue – and this is gentle respite time in an otherwise hectic round of visiting quintas and meeting makers of top-quality wines. It really is another world. Everything has its own pace and, however much money you throw at them, the vines will grow in their own good time.

Man can select the location and the variety of grape to plant, can tend them with loving care, but it is Nature who does the rest, for better or worse. And those who work with the vines know that, and respect it. They live well, they enjoy life – and it’s catching! I just love the wide open spaces up here, the feeling of freedom and naturalness. This is the real Portugal, and it makes me appreciate all over again what a beautiful country I have chosen to live in. And even though Porto is two hours by car, Euro 2004 could be a million miles away!