First of all where does your love for Benfica come from?
I was born in Portugal, came to Canada at a young age, and my dad is a Benfica fan so that’s how it kind of came about. To me it’s a little bit different because I lived in Canada and there’s various of Portuguese population out here. It was a way of staying connected to back home, so I was watching some of the games and I would talk to my Grandfather, I would talk to a cousin or an Uncle that hadn’t seen in many years this is the topic that would come up. I knew if I was watching Benfica I would be able to talk to them about something right. That’s the genesis of it. It’s funny as I’ve gotten more obsessed with it, I’ve more active in the club, more involved in the club.
How important are fans to a club the size of Benfica?
Benfica, and many of the other Portuguese clubs, are called ‘Socios’ so that fans are members of the club. Very few teams have an owner. Us members pay annual dues and we vote for a president , if we don’t like it we complain and we cry. At the same time we can force general assemblies and force change which is both a gift and a curse. You are never beholden to an owner but you are beholden to us fans who can get very irrational.
It’s kind of organised chaos but because of that factor you’re part of the club. I’m a member. I’m somewhere in the middle with my number code and the way it works is if someone passes away or is no longer a member you get closer (to no. 1). The longer you are a member the more voting rights you have also, you can’t just have 100,000 people sign up today and sway the club. The more tenure you have, the more say you have.
Portuguese football flies under the radar here in the UK. How big an impact do you think Portugal’s football has had on Europe?
I look at the population (of Portugal) which is 10 to 11 million people and you look at Ligue 1 which is the French league. For a long period the Portuguese Liga was ahead of Ligue 1 in the UEFA rankings. Right now, as we come to the end of the season, we’re pretty much neck and neck in the UEFA rankings. For a very tiny economy and very tiny population Portugal has always been known to punch above its weight.
You look at the national team, you look at the last 20 years at competitions they competed in, they’ve been a very competitive side. People talk about Ronaldo but you think about the amount of talent that’s come out of the country. Part of its a testament to the academies these clubs have built. Look at the EPL and the amount of talent that’s come from, not just Portugal, but if you look at Benfica alone there’s guys playing for Liverpool, Wolves, City, United, Arsenal there’s Benfica products everywhere.
If you were to describe Portuguese football to someone who had never watched it what would you say?
It can be fast paced but the biggest problem we have right now is that referees stop the game too quickly. You’ll get it end-to-end. If it’s mid-table or lower you’ll get a really good game. You also get the opposite where any of the Big three line up against a bottom table team and they just park the bus. It has a bit of a flair to it because we have so much Latin American connections. Portugal has always been a country that goes to Africa or Latin America that you begin to see that influence in the football itself.
I can see that you have a few scarves on the back of the wall is there any memorabilia you are really proud of?
My biggest thing is when I visit a club I like to collect their scarf. One thing I have which is very cool, it’s the coolest bit of memorabilia which I have that I don’t physically have it’s in Portugal. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Estadio da Luz but outside there’s a massive statue of Eusebio. Years back they were doing some project round the statue. My name is at the base of the statue. My name, my wife’s name, my son’s name, we only had one kid at the time, my daughter wasn’t born. That’s the coolest thing I ever got myself on still to this day.
It was just dumb luck how it happened. I went to visit Portugal and it just happened they were doing that project at the time. I was at the club and I was updating my personal details. I went in and the guy just said ‘this stuff we are working on’ I though it was really cool so asked how much it was to get my name on it. The black squares were for former legendary players, there was only a certain number of them and I got my name on it which is cool. It’s like I have a piece of me always at the ground. Everyone asks how I got my name on there and I always say if I could get my name on there 10 more times I would.
As a Scotsman and a Dundee United fan I have always kept an eye on Ryan Gauld. Currently seems to be making a storm in Portugal. Since you watch the league regularly what’s your take on him?
He looks really promising. He did really well against Benfica. His stats are looking good. Ryans good, he’s interesting. I will be surprised if he is with Farense next season because Benfica, Sporting, Porto and Braga fish a lot domestically within the leagues. The other clubs don’t have the capacity to retain talent that long. When you have a kid like Ryan killing it you are going to see another one of these clubs bite at him. The fact he is performing well as consistently as he is is a huge sign (of promise). The other Brit doing well is Marcus Edwards that kid is very good. I’m actually surprised more guys (from the UK) don’t come.