The 92-year-old Goan Lady and Her Poems to Benfica

Srinwantu Dey for Goalden Times speaks to Carolina Miranda who is 92-years-young and the most unique fan of Benfica.

“Yes, I know about Bela Guttman’s curse, but I don’t believe in curses”, said the 92 year old. She was determined, a little emotional, and rather proud. Although she had seen the world, she was speaking from more than just experience. Meet Carolina Miranda, Benfica’s purest fan alive, who lives in a lonely Lisbon house.

Since their 1962 European Cup triumph, Benfica has never achieved any European glory. However, it’s considered the most supported and successful club in Portugal—winning the domestic league a record 36 times. The Benfiquistas are a group of proud and prestigious supporters. Reportedly 500,000 Benfica fans celebrated their 2014 League win on the streets of Lisbon, as the Portuguese capital turned red. When Benfica meets Sporting Lisbon, their eternal rival—the city comes to a standstill. Lisbon derby is immeasurably absorbing and terrifying because of the enigmatic fans of the rival camps. During a derby day, the war-cry of fans along the path of the Segunda Circular highway—the road that joins Lisbon’s two biggest stadiums—is truly formidable. But far away from all the noise, lights, and music there is an old lady who supports her beloved club from her lonely house, seating alone and writing poems.

Carolina - in different phases of her life
Carolina – in different phases of her life

Carolina was born in Goa, an ex-Portuguese colony in India, on the 8th of March 1925. Coincidentally, this was the same year Benfica first moved to their own stadium—Estádio das Amoreiras. Carolina’s father was a High Court Judge in Goa and her mother was a Spanish lady whom he met in Lisbon when he had gone to Portugal to study Law. Carolina is the eldest of four siblings—she has two sisters and a brother.

“I did my primary and secondary schools in Goa, and afterwards I went to Bombay to join a College run by British nuns and did my BA (French Honours) there. Then I came back to Goa.A couple of years later, I got married to a Portuguese Army man and we came to Portugal”, she stopped for a while and continued, “We were married for 50 years. We had two children—a boy and a girl. My husband died 16 years ago. I have no grandchildren.”

This little old super fan, however, wasn’t a football admirer initially. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“How did I first interact with football? I did not interact, I reacted against football!” she chuckled.

“While we were in Goa my husband never spoke about football and as far as I know, there was no football in Goa or in Bombay. Of course, I knew of its existence in European countries, but in India the game was cricket, not football.”explained Carolina.

(Author’s note:This is surprising. Goa is known to be one of the most football loving states of India, alongside West Bengal and Kerala. Though the Goa Football Association was formed in 1959, the history of football in Goa dates back to 1883 when Reverent Fr. William Robert Lyons, an Irish priest, introduced the sport in the curriculum of Christian education. Since then,village football has been a part of Goan culture.)

Lina with her husband
Lina with her husband

“When we came to Portugal, I did not like it that my husband would leave us at home every second Sunday to go to the stadium and watch football.” Carolina bluntly explained.

“I used to get so angry! I could not understand how he could leave the family behind on Sundays to go and run to his football. I was jealous, because I was not used to it. I never saw my father do it and I began to hate football!”

Two years later,Carolina and her family went back to Goa again,and football was forgotten. They stayed there till Independence, and then returned to Portugal.

“Here, of course, football again started getting on my nerves and interfering in my married life.But there was nothing I could do about it. As time passed by, I began to get used to it and when it started being transmitted though television, I also began to watch the matches at home.” Carolina recollected.

“If you cannot fight it, join it. That was what I did and little by little I began to understand the game and become interested in it.  And what do you know? Eventually, I actually fell in love with it.”

“If you cannot fight it, join it. That was what I did and little by little I began to understand the game and become interested in it.  And what do you know? Eventually, I actually fell in love with it.”

Carolina’s husband was a member of SL Benfica, one of the most glorified clubs of Europe, and subsequently Carolina became an ardent supporter of the same club. In fact, all her family members, including her children, her brother and his children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, with the exception of her one sister, were strong supporters of Benfica. It was a family tradition.

“I don’t remember having seen Eusebio playing, but I heard and read a lot about him. He was a real star! As far as I can remember, my interest and real love for Benfica started after Eusébio had retired and just a few years before I became a widow.”

While Carolina never watched Eusebio playing, she has been an ardent fan of João Vieira Pinto, the former Portuguese wonder-forward of the golden generation. In fact, she still regrets the transfer of Pinto to rival club Sporting Lisbon in 2000, the other side of the “Segunda Circular”.

This is a classic example of how the passion for football can drive somebody’s life, even for someone who is remotely attached to the game. Carolina got hooked onto the game even before she had a chance to attend a live game at the Estádio da Luz, Benfica’s prestigious home stadium.

“Much after my husband died, I was invited by my brother to go to the stadium to watch a live match against R.S.C. Anderlecht of Belgium. That was quite an experience! Something overwhelming! I felt so small in the middle of that crowded stadium, all red and when they started singing their Hymn I could not hold my tears of emotion and I cried like a baby! I will never forget that fantastic sight as long as I live. I was thoroughly shaken.This was my first and the only time I went to a Stadium,” Carolina explained emotionally.

Carolina now.
Carolina now.

Carolina started writing poems just for fun about four or five years ago. Initially, though, the poems were not about football.

She currently lives in a building in an area named Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques. It’s near the heart of Lisbon, where the red line and green line of the Lisbon metro intersect—but she hardly has anyone to talk to.

“When did I start writing my poems? That is another story,” she recounts.

“I live alone in a big house, have nobody to talk to, not even my neighbours who are not permanent residents and every day I see different faces climbing up and down the stairs at the entrance. I practically don’t know anybody who lives in this building and feel very lonely, although I read a lot and watch TV, watch football, and have some friends from social networks.”

“Most of my friends, unfortunately, are dead and some are suffering from Alzheimers. I don’t feel safe going out all by myself, although I use a walking stick. I only go out to go to a restaurant with my children when they are here or when they come to see me once a week.”

Football, however, has been a loyal companion..

“That’s why I decided to write verses on Benfica as a hobby.  I write one or two poems a week and this started about three or four years ago. So this is, in short, the story of my poems to Benfica,” smiled Carolina.

Most of my friends, unfortunately, are dead and some are suffering from Alzheimers. I don’t feel safe going out all by myself, although I use a walking stick. I only go out to go to a restaurant with my children when they are here or when they come to see me once a week. That’s why I decided to write verses on Benfica as a hobby

In this busy and speedy world of click-baiting football articles and blind fanboys, we had discovered a pure football fan in a remote street of Lisbon.

When we asked for a few samples of her poems, she was a bit shy at the beginning and reluctant to show us.However, thanks to her niece, we received some specimens and the translated versions are furnished below for our readers.

“As you might have heard the Italians say, ‘Traduttore, traditore’, which means that a translator is traitor, because the translator more often than not mis-translates and changes the thought of the author completely. Besides, I always focus on the funny side of football and make use of many idiomatic expressions and popular sayings—trying to insert some humour in whatever I write. I think all that will be lost in translation,” the 92-year-old chuckled.

“I wish them all the best and would like to see them win the European Championship before I die,” she concluded.

The old lady is still living in hope.

Benfica, are you listening?

BENFICA – BORUSSIA-DORTMUND

poem-1

BENFICA-CHELSEA

poem-2

O DERBY LISBOETA (Sporting-Benfica)

poem-3

The Legend of Ruth Malosso

He was not only a great inspiration but also an important figure in upholding the values, principles and feelings of football, even after finishing his career,” says Chelsea manager, José Mourinho. Srinwantu Dey tries to pay a humble tribute to the immortal ‘O Rei’, a wonderful soul and modest ambassador for both Portuguese football and Benfica. An extended version of this article has been published in ‘Tiro: A football odyssey from Amazon to Alps’ , Rattis Books, UK, June 2016.

In one of football’s most recognizable traditions, live bald eagles swoop around the 65,000 odd crowd before every game at one of Portugal’s “Big Three” as mascots – Vitória and Glória (Victory and Glory). It’s a sad day for football lovers as Portugal and Benfica legend Eusébio leaves for his heavenly abode, leaving millions in grief, following a heart attack earlier today. His legacy can never fade into oblivion as long as ‘Victory’ and ‘Glory’ keep entertaining us – symbols befittingly synonymous to The Black Pearl.  Penning a tribute piece on this legend is a Herculean task I believe, as his stature, statistics and accolades are far too astonishing to translate into words. Let us instead look through a few incidents from the early years of his career, which announced to the world in the 60’s – a legend has arrived to rule Europe!

The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered
The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered

The Myth of Ruth Malosso

Eusébio was born to a poverty-stricken family in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). Football was more than a game to him and he was often found playing on the streets instead of attending school. As a result, he was the only member of his family who couldn’t finish schooling. He was an amazing talent since his childhood and no wonder he caught the eyes of several talent scouts. The scenario at Mozambique was very different back then – it was a Portuguese colony and there was no professional setup for playing football. The better clubs were actually feeder clubs of famous football clubs of Portugal. Eusébio was picked up by a local club – Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques which had a tie-up with the very famous Sporting Clube de Portugal, Lisbon.

Being a subsidiary of big clubs of Portugal, often they used to get a chance to play against big guns of Portugal and other top clubs during their African tours. Such a tour of ‘Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses’ (current Portuguese Cup winners, 1960) discovered a young 17-year old boy who scored two goals against them with blistering pace. Former Brazilian international, José Carlos Bauer was the first person to notice his immense ability who was travelling to Mozambique at the same time with his São Paulo based club Ferroviária de Araraquara. Surprised by his skill level, Bauer immediately referred him to São Paulo, but the Brazilian club denied the chance to take risks for an unknown African footballer. There is a myth that after returning to his home town, Bauer went to a hair-cutting salon where he came across his old acquaintance Béla Guttmann. Guttmann, a Jewish-Hungarian, who was a former manager of São Paulo – was managing S.L. Benfica at the time. During a friendly conversation, Bauer mentioned to him about this young talent of Southeast Africa.

Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann
Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann

 

Guttmann was known to be a gold digger. He had just sacked 20 senior players after taking charge of Benfica and was looking for fresh faces. He enquired about Eusébio and came to know about his fascinating skills. He also learnt that Eusébio is currently playing for their biggest rival’s feeder club. At the same time, slow movements had started at other side of Lisbon when Eusébio’s childhood friend Hilário da Conceição – who already was an established defender of Sporting Lisbon – had recommended him to his club. Guttmann didn’t take any chances as he knew it was easier for Sporting to capture this raw talent as he was playing for their subsidiary club. This being a highly sensitive issue, the Benfica board decided that they will never use Eusébio’s name in any communication before the deal finalizes, and thus given a code name – Ruth Malosso. Guttmann went straight to Eusébio’s family home and convinced both him and his mother for this move and got him to sign a contract. He was brought to Portugal secretly after that in December 1960, and sent to the outskirts of Lisbon to prevent any kidnapping. After a long running tug-of-war between two rival clubs, it was agreed upon that Eusébio will be playing for Benfica and he was registered in May, 1961.

After seeing Eusébio train for the first time at the Estadio da Luz, Guttmann shouted to his assistant Fernando Caiado, “It is gold. It is gold”.  José Aguas, Benfica’s #9 and captain, promptly suggested “If it has to be me then so be it, but somebody has to drop out for him to play.” And the rest was history.

 

‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’

Just after Eusébio started displaying his charisma in Portugal, Benfica were invited to play in the Tornio International de Paris in 1961 and in the final they played against an exceptional Santos side, led by the ‘best in planet’ footballer Pelé. Within an hour, Benfica found themselves trailing by an insulting 5-0 scoreline, where Pelé struck twice. Guttman had to unleash his last weapon, codename Malosso, from the reserve. He was not mistaken. The 18-year old substitute scored a rapid hat-trick within 63rd to 80th minute of the match. He also won a penalty, which his teammate failed to converted. Guttmann’s young team eventually lost the tie 6-3 to a star-studded Santos team, but the young prodigy won everybody’s heart on that day. Next day, prestigious French magazine L’Équipe made a headline neglecting the main scoreline and Santos’ victory which read as ‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’. Later, Pelé stated about Eusébio – “He scored beautiful goals. All of the Santos players, including myself, thought Eusébio was a great player even if none of us knew who he was at that time.” After this encounter, they met quite a few times, but this game truly announced that another black pearl has come to rule the world.

Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup
Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup

 

Taking on the Galácticos

A crowd of over 60,000 gathered in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium hoping to witness a clash of the titans at 1962 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Benfica. This was a game where Real was trying to re-establish their dominance on European kingdom, and reigning champions Benfica were establishing themselves as an unstoppable force in the Europian mainland. Eusébio was there too. But he was more mesmerized to play against his childhood hero – Alfredo Di Stéfano. The classic final started and soon Di Stéfano took over control of the midfield playing from the deep, while razor-sharp Ferenc Puskás kept threatening the Benfica defence continuously.  Within 25 minutes, the Hungarian wizard put Madrid upfront with a two-goal lead. Though Benfica equalized the score, but again before half time, Puskás completed his hat-trick and gave Madrid back the lead. In the second half, Guttmann was able to shut down Madrid’s mastermind Di Stéfano’s elegance and that is when the ‘Black Panther’ took over control of the stage. Once Mário Coluna made it 3-3, Eusébio scored two goals within 5 minutes, and eventually, Benfica was the winner with a thumping 5-3 scoreline. But Eusébio didn’t forget his dream, he collected the shirt of the Argentine genius and kept it hidden underneath his shorts so that nobody can steal it from him – it was pretty precious to him. The scene was symbolic, as it depicted the passing of legacy from one legend to another. Eusébio definitely didn’t disappoint Di Stéfano!

Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup
Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup

 

The Legacy

In his decorated career, he kept scoring goals and making history for Benfica and Portugal. Numbers do the talking for him. One may browse the digital media to find countless lists of his achievements. For me he was a legend true to his own style – a perfect striker with blistering speed, silky skills and enormous power! Guttmann aptly described his shots like watching Sputnik launch into space!

His arrival in Europe was definitely not the first among Africans. Even before him, Maghrebi star player Larbi Ben Barek or Sebastião Lucas de Fonseca of Maputo – who was known as the eighth wonder of theworld among Portuguese – already pioneered that Africans also can contribute to European football.  But Eusébio was definitely the first imported African who ruled the European football demography for more than a decade. The floodgate was opened by him, leading to European powerhouses starting thorough scouting in their colonized provinces. He couldn’t play for his own country Mozambique. Mozambique football association wasn’t established until 1976, after they earned their sovereignty the preceding year. From early 60’s, Portugal regime was involved in turmoil, insurgencies and other political pressure. Rather his inclusion and glorious performance for the Portuguese national team helped the regime to highlight the unity of the metropole and the colonies, leading to racial harmony.  His nickname given as ‘O Rei’ (The King) had massive significance in a regime of fascist dictators.

New Picture
Weeping Eusebio after ‘Jogo das Lágrimas’ – ‘the game of tears’

Being a thorough gentleman and great ambassador of the game, Eusébio won the hearts of all his compatriots and opponents. During the ‘Game of Tears’ where Portugal lost to England 2-1 at Wembley and were knocked out of the 1966 World Cup, Eusébio was found to break down in tears and comforted to the dressing room by both team-mates and opponents. Truly, the greatest victory ever for Benfica over Sporting Lisbon has been nothing but winning Eusébio from them.

Rest in peace, Panther.

Scout’s Corner : Michael Simões Domingues (Mika)

Scouting Network identifies young players under the age of 21 who have exceptional talent and could be one of the leading players of the future. This month GoaldenTimes profiles Michael Domingoes

 

     Born: 08 March, 1991

     Nationality: Portuguese

     Height: 1.95m

     Weight: 90kg

     Position: Goalkeeper

     Contracted till: 2016 to Benfica

     Termination Fee: 20.0 m €

They say that goalkeepers mature with time and a bright start has often led to huge expectations and subsequent downfall of goalkeepers. The truly greats though signal their entrance – a 17 year old Gianluigi Buffon singlehandedly stopped the marauding Scudetto winners, Milan, to a 0-0 and Iker Casillas made his debut as a 17 year old and was Madrid’s #1 by next year. Michael Simões Domingues or Mika has put his markers early on in his career and in a season when a year older David de Gea was sold for 20m, Mika has taken strong strides to be a future #1 of Portugal.

Born in Yverden, Switzerland, Mika joined Sporting Clube de Pombal – a branch of the great Sporting Clube de Portugal, as a 10 year old. After 4 years there, he shifted to União de Leiria, a middle rung team, which managed to get itself relegated in 2007-08 but was promoted the very next year. Mika though was in the youth ranks and would only debut for Leiria in 2009-10 in a league match against Guimarães when the #1 goalkeeper got the marching orders. In those 30 minutes that he came in, Mika would concede a goal from a penalty but would make some brilliant saves to keep the score down to that single goal. His next opportunity would only come in the following season in a tough away match to one of the powerhouses of Portuguese SuperLiga – Sporting Lisbon. This time Mika kept a clean slate and came to the notice of the scouts. In two other matches, he would concede 6 goals, but the spark of the potential, that he had, was seen.

That spark though would become a raging fire in the FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Columbia in August 2011. Portugal reached the finals of the tournament only to lose to their Brazilian counterparts, but it was Mika who stole the show by not conceding his first goal till he came up against the hat-trick hero Oscar in the finals. That made it 575 minutes on the trot. It broke the previous record of going unbeaten for the longest duration in the U20 World Cup. To put it into perspective, the corresponding record in the FIFA World Cup is held by Walter Zenga of Italy and that is 518 minutes.  Mika’s heroics just didn’t stay confined to the regular playing time. He saved 3 Argentine U20 penalties in a shootout in the quarterfinal to take Portugal U20s to the semis. He was awarded the Golden Glove for the stellar show throughout the tournament.

Europe’s biggest clubs came calling for Mika but he chose to join Benfica and with Artur as the #1 and Eduardo, the former Portuguese #1, Mika will have to fight for opportunities. At 20, he has age on his side and has already progressed to being the #1 in the Portuguese U21 team. Keep your eyes on the Estádio da Luz, for the next big European goalkeeper may just come from there.