Monday, May 30, 2011

Portugal had difficult decade and in the middle of it football was at its shakiest. Since long hairs were almost sure sign of greatness during the 1970s, Portuguese had to be the greatest of all, for they sported the wildest hairs in Europe. Alas, it not so and the look was more related to the ‘Carnation Revolution’, which ended the enormously long dictatorial rule of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and his successor (1932-1974), than to purely football matters. As a whole, Portuguese football was rapidly declining in the early 70s, but also there was a shift of power. The shift was not yet significant enough, but it was detectable already: it was the end of Lisbon’s dominance and reshaping of rivalries. Traditionally, national football was dictated by ‘the Big Three’ – by 1975 it was no longer clear which the 3th club was: Benfica and Sporting surely, but FC Porto or Os Belenenses? Belenenses, the third ranking club of Lisbon, was surely declining – they were the most successful club once upon a time, but it was already ancient story, which ended in 1933. Their last title was in 1946, but they were still maintaining relatively strong position, finishing 6th in 1974-75. As for Sporting, they remained technically the number 2 club in terms of success, still managed to win titles, and finished 3rd this year. Benfica won the championship – who else? – so it looked like the status quo remained. But two clubs from Porto were edging Lisbon: Boavista finished 4th and FC Porto – 2nd. This city’s football was on the rise, changing the picture: traditionally the big derby was ‘the people’ – Sporting – against ‘the government and the rich’ – Benfica. A Lisbon derby. By 1975 it was more like ‘the industrious province, which makes money, only to be robbed from the fruits of hard labour by the snobbish bureaucrats in the capital’ – FC Porto – against these very loots – Benfica. Sporting fans may disagree, but at least for Benfica ‘the Dragons’, as FC Porto are nicknamed, were already bigger challenge and bigger trouble. FC Porto was not strong enough yet – they won their last title (which equaled them with Os Belenenses) in the distant 1959 – but were moving consistently up.
Benfica – FC Porto: Benfica’s libero Humberto tries to score between desperate looking Dragons Tibi and Marco Durelio. By names, Benfica still had advantage.
Or did it have advantage? FC Porto had the great Peruvian Teofilo Cubillas (far right) in his squad, freshly acquired from Switzerland. Well… still Benfica rules, for Cubillas is defending.
But even this derby was mostly for local consumption – may be great, but unimpressive by European standards… no Portuguese team, club or national formation – was noticeable outside the state’s borders. If the clubs on top of the table were familiar, it was more to say about the general weakness of Portuguese football at the time: declining giants, but the rest of the league was even weaker, so the giants continued to stay on top. So far.