Go to Braga, they said. It would be an incredible experience, they said. And they would be absolutely bloody well right.
A lot has happened over the past few days, a lot of which I simply couldn’t encapsulate into a single blog post. But it’s safe to say my first European adventure with Wolves will never be forgotten. I have a sodden, undersized ticket, a whole load of washed out clothes and an awful grasp of Portuguese as souvenirs of a trip that many a Wolves fan will be able to recall in many years to come, for a number of different reasons.
From Manchester, to Gatwick, via Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Barcelona, thousands of us descended to this little-known town in the north of Portugal, across various days, transport methods and with varying expectations it seemed. What we can safely say is that while we were prepared in some way for some inclement weather, nobody was ready for what we encountered on arrival (for me and the wife, at our hotel, see below).
While there was no biblical splurge of rain, the weather was a feature throughout the trip, incessant and determined to wreak havoc. Having landed on Thursday morning it was a full 48 hours before my wife and I caught a ray of sunlight, time where Wolves fans back home could almost legitimately be topping up their tan based on how Mother Nature decided to operate this week. Had we not been there for a football match, it would have been a pretty miserable trip for the most part, with many excursions simply off the agenda
But spirits weren’t to be dampened. We arrived in Praça da Republica, Braga to a cacophony of noise, pretty much entirely with a Black Country twang laced through it. ‘Follow, follow, follow!’ The numerous of layers of singing from inside, outside, under a collection of umbrellas was unmistakeable for a Wolves away following. The dozens of flags bestowed upon the bars in this square were a giveaway too. Even McDonald’s became a vessel for blasting out The South Bank’s Greatest Hits, in between not understanding ‘Order Number 89’ and trying to find a free table to wolf down some fuel for the day ahead. And how we would need that fuel.
Back at Cafe Vienna I remember standing at the bar awaiting my order of drinks and noticing amidst the absolute chaos ensuing everywhere else, the manager, a picture of serenity, know how he was about to do his regular winter taking in the space of a few hours. Close up for a few months, you’ve done the hard work. All of this was conducted in the best nature we could muster under the rather wet circumstances. Just a few thousands fans all simultaneously ticking off an item on their bucket list.
I won’t delve too much into the acrimonious circumstances that surrounded our attendance of the game, but my wife and I were some of the lucky ones who managed to see minute 0 to 90. It should never have been the case that so many seemed to miss out on what was an incredibly entertaining first half hour and for the most part people gave plenty of time to getting into the ground. The policing left a lot to be desired. On a trip like this I feel like we enter an unwritten agreement with the hosting parties. Cafe Vienna certainly played their part. SC Braga played theirs up until the fixture itself. The police didn’t seem to want to do their bit to ensure we all had fond memories though and were happy to antagonise the group.
On to the game though and it wasn’t your typical European setting by any stretch. While being quite simply a concrete mass of two very separate structures, Estadio Municipal is quite the environment for football, as many will have seen on television. The journey to our sears was also quite the task. ‘Worse than Newcastle away!’ One retort from a fellow toilet user prior to kick off. We all know what he means by that.
We certainly couldn’t complain of a bad view either, high up looking down upon the sodden pitch, where the two best teams in the group did battle. Aside from the opening goal though, Wolves showed their newly-found Europa League pedigree. A relatively quickfire burst of three goals meant all was forgiven, as the Braga defence was proving charitable enough to cover for the police’s misgivings. Time and again Adama Traore would slalom himself into promising positions, the third goal adding a layer of icing to his and Wolves’ cake. It made a mockery of the decision not to start him in the first fixture between the teams. At this point it felt like it would be four, five or six goals in our favour by the end of the fixture. There would be more but not, as the flow of the game had gone.
We all know how the game went and after some of the most incisive football we had played all season, it was disappointing not to take all three points. It was a phenomenal trip, full of endeavour from the Wolves fans, whether it be the drinking, sinking and walking through the sodding rain to get to the game. But we made it. I couldn’t tell you when my journey as a Wolves fan started – it was sometime in the mid-90s before I could actually remember anything. But Block A-14. Row 28, Seat 22 of the Estadio Municipal, Braga, felt like some kind of summit.