The following post was submitted by Sergio Rodrigues from Toronto CA, it is with great honour that we share his story of bonding, saudade, and the love for Benfica that he inherited from his father.
10 years ago today – May 24, 2009 – my father Antonio passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. The Portuguese have a habit of honouring departed souls with a missa in their name. Benfica Independente has given me this opportunity to honour him and give our story, and the story of thousands of immigrants, a voice.
Having immigrated from Portugal, my father followed the path of his brother and settled in
Toronto, Canada. A small but growing Portuguese population greeted him and although some of the customs from back home could easily be found on Dundas Street West, this was pre-internet, pre-satellite, pre-IPTV. Following his beloved Benfica meant paying $10 a head at the Casa do Benfica to watch the closed-circuit satellite feed. But my father, like many immigrants, worked 12 hour days and watching live was an occasional Sunday luxury. The only option was to listen to the relato on the radio from RDP Internacional on Asas do Atlantico or CIRV 88.9 FM. I was 9 years old when I listened to my first relato, the infamous Mão de Vata Semi-Final vs. Marseille. Weeks later, I would watch my first Benfica match on TV, the 1990 European Cup final against AC Milan.
Bonding with a Portuguese father can be weird and awkward at times, but my dad and I instantly connected when it came to all matters Benfica. Rui Aguas, Ricardo Gomes, Valdo, Mozer – all names that I started to idolize alongside the names of famous hockey and baseball players.
But given this was still pre-internet, getting any Benfica content was hard to come by across the Atlantic. We were limited to days old A Bola newspapers and a weekly program on the multicultural TV channel CFMT, Bola Ao Centro. There was no twitter, no youtube highlights of your favourite player. Soccer rarely featured on TSN, the only Canadian sports network at the time. We were more likely to watch a week old broadcast of Norwich – Queens Park Rangers than anything else. When the only soccer program on Canadian television - Soccer Saturday - expanded its content and started to feature matches of the week from around the continent, I was ecstatic. Benfica-Sporting, Benfica-Porto, Porto-Sporting were always regular features, albeit one week delayed.
As the content started to role in, my love affair with Benfica would start to grow. My dad was
my source, feeding me constantly with newspapers, taking me to the club for Sunday morning matches. When Benfica came to Toronto for a summer friendly match against AC Milan, a “rematch” of the 1990 final, I was overjoyed to finally watch them live. 20,000 Benfiquistas and Milanistas mixed together on the old stands of Varsity Stadium –this 10 year old was in heaven. My dad, ever eager to pass along many decades of knowledge, told me stories of the old Estadio da Luz, of players, like Eusebio, Bento, Nene, and Chalana. One thing my dad never taught me was the words lagartos and porcos. It was a matter of respect for him. He never felt the need to disrespect FC Porto fans or Sporting fans, my tios Antonio and Jose, included. In his mind, Benfica was above this and we needed to set an example of respect and humility.
The summer of 1994 was peak-Benfiquismo. We travelled to Portugal and visited the Cathedral
for the first time. Sacred ground he said as we waited for Claudio Caniggia to arrive. Meeting Joao Pinto was euphoric, even for the adult filming the encounter on our camcorder. But there’s no better feeling than watching your first Benfica match with your dad at the Luz. It being the Supertaca match against Porto was the cherry on the cake. Joao Pinto would leave the match with a busted nose after a clash with Paulinho Santos but nothing could ruin that night.
Things went south for the club after that fateful night. That summer ushered in a long period of suffering for many Benfiquistas. Damasio was hated. My teenage years were long and painful, sometimes watching Benfica as that rare teenager in a smokey Portugal Billiards on Dundas St West. Losing to the likes of HJK Helsinki, Bastia, and Celta de Vigo were low points during the lean years. But for whatever reason, my dad kept the faith. Relato on every week, the bar came calling on Sundays when he was free from his work schedule. I thought he was mental but he kept supporting from afar, doing his part. When we won the title in 2005, he was the happiest man alive. Little did he know it was going to be the last league title he’d ever celebrate.
In a 15 year stretch between 1994 and 2009, my dad would only witness Benfica lift 1
Portuguese title, 2 Tacas de Portugal, a Taca de Liga, and a Supertaca. Didn’t matter, his faith in this club was solid. Um dia o Benfica do passado vai voltar. Um Benfica ganhador. Um Benfica demolidor.
When my father passed, everything was a blur. I remember hearing that four days after his
death, Jorge Jesus was appointed our manager. Didn’t care. Nothing really mattered. I could have easily sunk into a depressing state with the weight of world on my shoulders. But Benfica was that coping mechanism, that link between the past I didn’t want to let go and a future to live for because for me, it was a continuation of a love affair with a club. When Cardozo scored those two goals against Rio Ave, clinching our 32nd title, a sense of bittersweet happiness came upon me. He may have not been at my side but I knew my dad was watching and celebrating.
10 years later, Benfica has returned to the summit of Portuguese football. 6 Liga NOS titles, 2
Tacas de Portugal, 6 Tacas de Liga, 3 Super Tacas, & 2 European finals. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t get asked “That’s Benfica right?” by a curious stranger when I wear the jersey on the street. The last 15 years of his life may have been a suffered one as a Benfica fan but my dad would be the first to point out that the lows are followed by the highs in life. A decade later, um Benfica ganhador has returned and I know my father is watching from afar with a smile on his face.