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Lisbon in London

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


The Portuguese community in London has arranged themselves around the fierce loyalty to their country’s top clubs, but what happens when Portugal plays as a nation?
"I am a supporter, not a fanatic," stresses Luis Uceda Sampaio, aware that 'fanatic' is often used to describe someone with excessive or misguided enthusiasm. Luis is a fan, not a fanatic. Living in West London you might expect him to be a fan of Chelsea or Queen Park Rangers. But no, Luis supports Benfica, the famous Portuguese side from Lisbon.
"I was born in Lisbon and have followed Benfica since I was a boy. I moved to London years ago and will never change team," says Luis.
Club allegiances are strong in Portugal, as they are in most Western European countries. The rivalry between Benfica and Sporting Lisbon is fierce, and both have enjoyed periods of dominance. In recent years Porto and Boavista have also been successful.
It's around this club allegiance that the Portuguese diaspora community in London has organised itself. Luis, his friend Salvador Machado and Salvador's son Charley are settled into the warm and friendly surroundings of the Benfica Club. This club, like countless other Benfica clubs around the world, "provides the social hub to the local Portuguese community away from our homeland," says Salvador.
Within half a mile of here there is the Sporting (Lisbon) Club. Porto and Boavista are represented by similar clubs in the South London areas of Stockwell and Brixton.
Charley, who, unlike his elders, speaks English as a first language explains further "I've been coming here since I was a kid." Children are everywhere, playing with toys on nearby tables as well as running around, and women dominate some of the huge tables. "It's a social thing, the football gives us the focus but the club is for everyone. I'm football mad and will be going out to Japan, but this place isn't just about that as you can see, it's for the whole family."
But what about Japan? If these clubs are set up around the loyalty to their team what happens when Portugal play as a nation?
The two older men are engrossed in the Benfica Vs Boavista game being played on one of the two giant screens, but Charley continues "the community is set up around these clubs, but that doesn't mean we don't all get behind the national team. Portugal played well at the 2000 European Championships and this place was crowded for every game - but not just with Benfica fans, we had Sporting, Porto, all Portuguese fans." So despite the club allegiances, country comes first.
Salvador, who runs a local Portuguese bakery, has provided some lovely delicacies from his shop, sums it up nicely "In Lisbon now we would be Benfica only, but here, in our new home, we are Portugal. We are proud of our community here and proud of our heritage. It is our national identity that must come first. But it's great to be in a country where the people love football too."
So when the World Cup kicks off on the 31st May club allegiances will be put to one side and the men and women and children of the Benfica Club will be flying the Red and Green of their national flag.



Jon Wilkinson, May 2002

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