• 2020.10.19
  • What it takes to become a football player
There’s no doubt that football is the national sport of Portugal.
It’s common for Portuguese (European) men to hold onto the dream that their children will grow up to become football players—to the point that my husband even started planning out a life of football for our son when he was still in the womb.
He ended up being born in a year when my husband’s favorite football club took the title in the Champion’s League. You can probably imagine how overjoyed he was at what he considered a lucky omen.

When my son entered elementary school, he joined the local football club—the same as nearly every Portuguese boy. My husband did everything he could to accompany him to practice twice a week. He was so into it that he’d end up playing a game with the junior high school kids or filling in for a coach who was away at a game with another team. No wonder he kept coming home late!
On the weekends, it was my husband’s job to take my son to his games. He’d always be cheering loudly from the stands when it was our son’s turn to play.
Interestingly, Portuguese fathers are not known for making noise in the stands. Maybe it’s because it’s such a peace-loving culture, but they tend to watch silently and protectively over their sons as they play.
My husband happens to be Spanish, though, so there’s no getting around the fact that he’s going to stand out by constantly yelling for his son. There’s one other father that gets as riled up as my husband does—and he’s Argentinian.
It was pretty strange to see these two fathers yelling out in Spanish during games between little kids out in the Portuguese countryside.

Eventually, though, the fathers’ dreams ended up falling apart. The son of the Argentinian ended up quitting football and picking up street sports. My son… well, it was actually my husband who took him out of football after having seen him play for a while.
My son is small and wasn’t a great shooter, but he was a quick runner in the midfield who was good at dribbling and passing to his teammates near the goal. Still, he’s so kindhearted that he was reluctant to steal the ball from the other team—and he was even afraid of hurting his opponents or his teammates by kicking them by mistake.

One of my daughter’s girlfriends ended up joining a famous Portuguese football club, though.
She showed incredible talent from a young age, and was better at football than the boys in her class. She always went around with a football and goalie’s gloves. When the kids would get together for birthday parties, you’d still find her playing football with the boys the whole time. She was targeted by scouts before her tenth birthday and asked to train with a famous club in Lisbon five times a week. When school let out around 5:30 PM, she’d go to Lisbon for practice. It was ten at night before she could start her homework. It was a hard life for a girl who was barely ten years old, but she loved football so much that she enjoyed it.
Her mother told me that there was only one thing she begged her daughter to stop doing when she was young, and that was sleeping with her arms wrapped around a football. It seemed to me that unless the girl loved that football more than any doll and loved football that much, she’d never be able to reach a professional level.
When the daughter was 11 or 12, she joined an under-14 team and participated in tournaments. Today she plays for the under-16 team.
Two years ago she was invited to play for a famous German club, and last year a famous Spanish team reached out, but she ended up staying locally.
When asked about it, the 13-year-old girl flashed a smile full of big white teeth and said, “I don’t want to leave my friends and family. I want to play as hard as I can for my club here that I love.”


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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