Por­tu­gal toxic mood deflates Euro eu­pho­ria

World Soccer - - Contents -

Last sum­mer’s Euro 2016 tri­umph should have been the per­fect spring­board to pro­mote the Primeira Liga as one of Europe’s finest. Af­ter all, around 50 per cent of Por­tu­gal’s win­ning team played their foot­ball in their home coun­try, in­clud­ing the en­tire mid­field quar­tet – Wil­liam Car­valho, Joao Mario, Re­nato Sanches and Adrien Silva – that started the Fi­nal against France.

Sadly, as well as miss­ing the op­por­tu­nity to en­er­get­i­cally mar­ket the do­mes­tic game in a pos­i­tive light, a suc­ces­sion of de­plorable in­ci­dents saw Por­tuguese foot­ball plunge it­self into a toxic bath of vi­o­lence, ha­tred and in­sults. Ref­er­ees were at­tacked, the coun­try’s big­gest clubs and their fans traded in­vec­tive, and a sup­porter was killed dur­ing clashes be­tween Sport­ing and Ben­fica fans.

There are few things as cow­ardly as the courage of a crowd, and dis­taste­ful chants from the stands are cer­tainly not the pre­serve of Por­tuguese foot­ball. But the level of ha­tred es­ca­lated to ap­palling lev­els in Por­tu­gal this sea­son.

In April, Porto’s “Su­per Dra­goes” sup­port­ers group chanted how they wished that Ben­fica had been the oc­cu­pants of the ill-fated plane that crashed and wiped out the Brazil­ian Chape­coense team in Novem­ber.

Even in a coun­try where pas­sions

among ri­val fans run high, and un­pleas­ant ex­cesses are com­mon­place, the mind­less evo­ca­tion of the hor­rific tragedy, still fresh in the mem­ory, touched a raw nerve.

Not a week had gone by be­fore a sim­i­larly vile chant was sung, this time by Ben­fica sup­port­ers “cel­e­brat­ing” the death of a Sport­ing fan af­ter he was hit by a flare thrown in the 1996 Por­tuguese Cup Fi­nal. Sport­ing them­selves are no in­no­cent party in this sorry phe­nom­e­non, its sup­port­ers hav­ing sung about how they would like Ben­fica fans to “fol­low” Euse­bio shortly af­ter the Ben­fica leg­end’s death. Th­ese sick­en­ing ex­am­ples of how the hard­core sup­porter groups lose all no­tion of ba­sic hu­man de­cency fol­lowed hot on the heels of vi­o­lence in phys­i­cal rather than ver­bal form.

On March 2, in an am­a­teur game in the Porto district league, Canelas for­ward Marco Gon­calves was shown a red card af­ter just two min­utes for a crude chal­lenge. His re­ac­tion was to grab the ref­eree by the head and knee him in the face with such force that it put him in hos­pi­tal with surgery re­quired to mend his smashed nose.

The Por­tuguese As­so­ci­a­tion of Foot­ball Ref­er­ees re­vealed that it was just the lat­est of 43 cases of vi­o­lence to­wards ref­er­ees that had oc­curred in the sea­son, and there was a call for the rein­tro­duc­tion of a law that was sus­pended in 2012 which stip­u­lated that a po­lice pres­ence was com­pul­sory at all foot­ball matches at all lev­els.

Un­for­tu­nately, in­ci­dents stok­ing the an­i­mos­ity in Por­tuguese foot­ball were not re­stricted to the sense­less acts of a mi­nor­ity of inane sup­port­ers or out-of-con­trol am­a­teur play­ers. It goes to the very top of club hi­er­ar­chies.

Por­tu­gal’s me­dia is only too happy to give club pres­i­dents and direc­tors a plat­form from which to lam­bast their ri­vals. Long-serv­ing Porto pres­i­dent Pinto Da Costa has used his po­si­tion for decades to cre­ate an “us against the pow­ers from the cap­i­tal” scenario. Since his elec­tion in 2013, Sport­ing pres­i­dent Bruno De Car­valho has adopted a fiercely con­fronta­tional style against any­one and ev­ery­one he per­ceives as ob­sta­cles to his club’s suc­cess.

Dur­ing the sea­son, a doc­u­ment from Ben­fica’s hi­er­ar­chy was leaked con­tain­ing de­tailed in­struc­tions about what pun­dits af­fil­i­ated to the club – mostly pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists and for­mer play­ers – should say about cer­tain top­ics, com­plete with a list of in­sults and jibes to be used when re­fer­ring to Sport­ing’s pres­i­dent.

It sub­se­quently emerged that th­ese “di­rec­tives” have been is­sued on a weekly ba­sis for sev­eral years. One of Por­tu­gal’s fore­most jour­nal­ists, An­to­nio Saraiva, com­pared it to Mao Tse-tung’s Lit­tle Red

Book, say­ing it re­vealed “a para­noid sec­tar­i­an­ism” and “the ac­cep­tance of

The de­ci­sion by the Por­tuguese Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion to in­tro­duce video ref­er­ees next sea­son was wel­comed by all par­ties

thought con­trol” by those who sent and re­ceived it re­spec­tively.

With emo­tions spi­ralling dan­ger­ously out of con­trol, in the early hours of April 22, mu­tual provo­ca­tions be­tween groups of Sport­ing and Ben­fica fans led to scuf­fles that re­sulted in the death of Marco Ficini, an Ital­ian fan who was run down by a car. The Fiorentina and Sport­ing sup­porter had trav­elled to the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal to watch the Lisbon derby that week­end. La­mentably, the tragedy failed to stem the flow of vit­riol, with Ben­fica pres­i­dent Luis Filipe Vieira and his Sport­ing coun­ter­part Car­valho ex­chang­ing in­cen­di­ary mis­sives in the en­su­ing days.

Only in the clos­ing weeks of the sea­son did the tur­bu­lence lessen, with a rare show of una­nim­ity as the de­ci­sion by the Por­tuguese Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion to in­tro­duce video ref­er­ees next sea­son was wel­comed by all par­ties.

Con­stant sus­pi­cion of rigged of­fi­ci­at­ing is at the root of most of the con­flict. It re­mains to be seen if the use of the VAR will act as a balm and lead to a health­ier at­mos­phere sur­round­ing the game in Por­tu­gal, or if the un­wel­come fall­out from the al­ways fe­ro­cious three-way fight for supremacy will find an­other out­let.

Some ar­gue Por­tuguese foot­ball has al­ways been this way. This year, of all years, it should have been different.

Trib­ute...Sport­ing sup­port­ers honour Marco Ficini

Sup­port...back­ing for ref­er­ees be­fore the game be­tween Es­to­ril (in yel­low) and Na­cional

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