Portugal resident Phil Town watched the local reaction to the national team's efforts change from despair to delight and back again over the course of Euro 2004

Well, it was, according to UEFA chief Lennart Johan­sson, the best-organised European champ­ion­ship ever. It did not have any cases of doping, and terrorism of any kind was thankfully conspicuous by its absence. It was also, of recent editions, the least scarred by hooliganism. Banning orders slapped on around 3,000 of England’s “finest”, plus a similar number from Germany, will have helped that, but so will a general sense, on the ground, that having a good time might just be better fun than kicking heads. And the mild-mannered and relatively non-aggressive nature of the Portuguese gave this mood a valuable helping hand.

There were bookends of violence. In the first week, the British tabloids were rubbing their hands at daily, alcohol-fuelled scuffles involving the English in the Algarve. But while Sky News was calling these out­breaks “riots”, the more reasonable Portuguese media preferred the term “disturbances”, and they were quick to try to see both sides, admitting that the police may have been a little heavy-handed. The local bar-owners interviewed said the same. They also rightly pointed out that the behaviour of the English was not very different from what normally goes on in the height of summer. The minister overseeing the organisation of the tournament, José Luís Arnaut – “This is not hooliganism” – agreed. The police response was perceived more as the establishment of a stance than anything else, as were the arrests and depor­tations

At the other end of the tournament, desperate Greek fans were involved in disturbances over the allocation of tickets for the final, but in between, there was a blessed absence of major trouble. An English fan was fatally stabbed in Lisbon, but this was by a pickpocket and could have happened to any tourist at any time of the year. And so the Portuguese media focused on the fans from other perspectives. Outside broadcasts were the television channels’ staple fare, with their interminable straw polls of fans who were often a bit the worse for wear. There was a fascination with the English: their capacity for beer, lobster-pink sunburn, the England banners draped around Rossio Square in the heart of Lisbon. (Reporter: “What means ‘Tits on Tour’?”)

President of the Republic Jorge Sampaio had urged at the outset that “we all have the responsibility to make this festa a great demonstration of tolerance and sports­manship”. Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) president Gilberto Madaíl laid it on even thicker: “Euro 2004 attracts thousands and thousands of supporters who, for a while, turn Portugal into an even richer cultural mosaic. For every one of them there is hospitality and kindness, characteristics of our affectionate people.”

How the country received the estimated 250,000-plus guests was important not just because of the desire to be a good host per se but also because the projected boost to the economy was one of the major justifications for the initial public outlay, a third of which was reportedly recouped before a ball was kicked. One brewery shifted 22 million litres of beer in the space of a fortnight. And the Portuguese tourist board estimated that tourism could increase by three to six per cent by 2010 because of Euro 2004, although the Algarve suffered a drop in tourist trade for the month because of people actively choosing to avoid the football hordes.

What did enjoy a major boost was Portuguese self-esteem. There was the sense that the country was doing a good job with this tournament (an idea subsequently endorsed by UEFA). And early on, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari urged the Portuguese to hang the national flag out of their windows. The FPF followed this up with a TV advertising campaign along the same lines. The Portuguese responded en masse, and the flag (green for hope, red for love) won new prominence on verandas, in bars and on cars. Tabloid 24 Horas promised that naked model Fátima Preto, swathed in the flag, would drop it if the Selecção actually won the title. You could hear people humming the national anthem to themselves on the train.

The fresh sense of patriotism crossed all social and racial boundaries and seeped through to the media. The normally highly sceptical sports press seemed largely to have forgotten the preceding year or more of dismal performances and results, not to mention the false start against Greece. “Don’t turn your back on the Selecção,” A Bola warned its readers. That first meet­ing with the Greeks was, in retrospect, all too ominous. Figo hit the nail on the head: “It’s very difficult to play against a team whose main concern is to get men behind the ball.” He might have been speaking about the final and Scolari might have seen it coming and done something about it.

But Scolari, too, was above criticism from all but the most die-hard. Faced with the unthinkable pros­pect of going out at the group stage, he knew he had to do something radical, such was the poverty of that first performance. His answer was simple: revert to a win­ning formula, ie stick FC Porto’s Champ­ions League-winning players in. And so for the game against Russia, three Portistas were drafted in to make a total of five. It worked. And the Selecção never looked back, helped additionally by the arrival of a figure of the Virgin Mary, Scolari’s favourite lucky charm, urgently flown in from Brazil.

 From a clueless bunch of strangers, the Selecção had suddenly meta­morphosed into a team to be reckoned with. The result and the manner of it against England had the nation in veritable paroxysms of joy. By this time, no one really believed that Portugal could falter and the semi-final against Holland felt like a foregone conclusion. Sublime was A Bola’s simple front- page banner on the morning after.

With the pressure off from the press, it began to be applied from within. Figo (“I’d trade all the titles I’ve won for this one”) and Costinha (“Now we have 90 minutes to achieve something that’s never been ach­iev­ed before”) were doing themselves no favours. An estimated 20,000 lined the route that the team coach took to the Luz for the final. It all had a whiff of premature triumph­alism and the team did not appear to be able to handle it when the crunch came.

But there was still dancing in the streets at the end. Not in the same numbers as if Portugal had won the thing, but with much more pride and a greater sense of “Portugality” than a month before. On the day after the final, the Portuguese woke up to the same old economic and political crisis that’s been nagging away at the country, but for three weeks, the brilliant cam­paign of their Selecção had driven these earthly concerns to the back of everyone’s minds. And the residual glow is set to linger on for some time to to come.

From WSC 210 August 2004. What was happening this month

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