Split be­tween fans and own­ers rips apart his­toric Por­tuguese club

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SPORT -

LIS­BON: It is the story of a group of sup­port­ers who have had their club taken away from them and launched a new team in Por­tu­gal's sixth tier, leav­ing a pro­fes­sional out­fit to play in a de­serted sta­dium with a new name and logo.

The club is Be­le­nenses, the his­toric out­fit from the Lis­bon district of Belem, fa­mous for its monastery, egg tarts and the iconic tower by the River Ta­gus dat­ing back to the 16th cen­tury.

Nearby, up the hill in leafy Restelo, the 20,000-seat sta­dium of the same name plays host to a Sun­day am­a­teur game in the Lis­bon district league.

With a team of homegrown young­sters and be­fore a de­cent crowd, Be­le­nenses ease to a 3-0 win over Oper­ario, a neigh­bour­hood side from the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal. They are top of the league.

There wear­ing his scarf sport­ing the cross of the Or­der of Christ -- the sym­bol of the club in ref­er­ence to the nav­i­ga­tors who set off from Belem in their Car­avels on voy­ages of dis­cov­ery -- Fer­nando Nunes strug­gles to hold back the tears as he dis­cusses the club's col­lapse.

He is 82 now and re­mem­bers when Be­le­nenses won the league in 1946, one of only two oc­ca­sions when the ti­tle went to a club other than the three gi­ants of Por­tuguese foot­ball in Ben­fica, Porto and Sport­ing.

"Our his­tory has been tar­nished, but Be­le­nenses will over­come this cri­sis and get back to where they be­long, in the first divi­sion," he told AFP.

The pre­vi­ous day, also wear­ing blue, the pro­fes­sional ver­sion of Be­le­nenses beat the mighty Ben­fica 2-0 in the top flight, but they had hardly any fans there to wit­ness the oc­ca­sion.

"Those who sup­port the pro­fes­sional team don't have a love of the club, they don't rep­re­sent Be­le­nenses," in­sists Luis Pin­heiro, one of the vet­er­ans of the 'Furia Azul 1984' ul­tras who have re­mained faith­ful to the his­toric club that will cel­e­brate its cen­te­nary in 2019.

Two sep­a­rate teams called Be­le­nenses have ex­isted since 84 per­cent of "so­cios" (mem­bers) de­cided to split from the owner to whom they had ceded a ma­jor­ity share­hold­ing in 2012.

As a re­sult, the pro­fes­sional out­fit were forced to move in the sum­mer to Por­tu­gal's run-down Na­tional Sta­dium, the venue where Celtic beat In­ter Mi­lan in the 1967 Euro­pean Cup fi­nal and which still hosts the Por­tuguese Cup fi­nal.

This ver­sion of Be­le­nenses is backed by a set of young ul­tras, al­though the group's leader Rita Louro says some of the old "so­cios" have come on board as well.

"It hurt me to leave Restelo, but here we are still Be­le­nenses. There is no rea­son for us to stop sup­port­ing them," says Louro, 25.

Sell­ing the club to a com­pany called Codecity was a way for Be­le­nenses to bring down debts of nine mil­lion eu­ros ($10.3 mil­lion). The club then hoped to buy back its shares via an agree­ment ne­go­ti­ated be­fore­hand.

But that agree­ment was nul­li­fied in 2017, deny­ing the "so­cios" any con­trol over the team's fu­ture des­tiny.

The sit­u­a­tion is sym­bolic of changes to how Por­tuguese clubs are run -- they were once the prop­erty of their mem­bers but are now equiv­a­lent to lim­ited com­pa­nies af­ter a re­form in­tended to bet­ter su­per­vise club fi­nances.

The bit­ter split at Be­le­nenses even led to hot wa­ter and power be­ing cut off in the pro­fes­sional team's dress­ing room be­fore the of­fi­cial di­vorce was en­acted in June.

"The 'so­cios' are happy again af­ter vot­ing to sep­a­rate," says Patrick Mo­rais de Car­valho, the pres­i­dent of the his­toric club, who hope to be back in the top flight within five years.

Mean­while, Codecity di­rec­tor Rui Pe­dro Soares be­lieves he saved the club from bank­ruptcy.

"I don't want to talk any more about the am­a­teur team. My spon­sors and eco­nomic part­ners don't al­low me to say any more," he said, ir­ri­tat­edly, in an in­ter­view with AFP.

How­ever, a Por­tuguese court re­cently gave the pro­fes­sional club one month to change its name and logo, a de­ci­sion per­ceived as a vic­tory for the his­toric team who are des­per­ate for the "fake Be­le­nenses" to dis­ap­pear.

And to one day re­turn to where they feel they be­long. - AFP

Foot­ball Club Be­le­nenses play­ers at­tend a train­ing ses­sion at Restelo sta­dium in Lis­bon on Novem­ber 2, 2018. - AFP photo

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