76 years ago Félix Bermudes, the 8th president of Sport Lisboa e Benfica, asked the same question. He began his answer like this: “I am a benfiquista because I have my sights set on that North Star which guides me towards the dawn of fraternity, which will teach souls how to construct a better humanity. That spirit of fraternity united the benfiquista family into one whole, where the rich and the poor, the illiterate and the cultured, the powerful and the humble shed the differences that separate them, and where all are equal in their devotion to a flag, to an emblem, to symbol, to an ideal!”
To the modern ear, of an adepto or even sócio, who has grown up in the era of commercialized modern football & one could add, modern society as well, this is not only a strange answer but, an unnecessarily complicated - even perhaps offensive- one. For most of us, the simple question is deserving of a simple answer: “I am a benfiquista because my family were benfiquistas” Or “I was born a benfiquista.” Indeed for many, if not most, of which I include myself, this is also my answer. Bermudes’ discussion of fraternity, building a better humanity, of equality, of unity- all of this, to the modern ear sounds strange and inappropriate. It is the stuff of politics; of morals and utopias. To which the modern tongue adds- “What does all of this have to do with futebol?”
A Complicated Answer to a Simple Question
António Calado was born on July 15th 1927 in Cabeção , in the province of Alto Alentejo. Born into a poor family of petty day traders of wares, in a poor country ruled by fascism, futebol was a popular sport not only to be played- with his older and younger brother and his classmates- but also to be followed, intensely. And intensely did António Calado follow futebol, in particular Sport Lisboa e Benfica.
His grandson knew this one by heart. How could he not? So many times he had heard the stories told to him by his grandpa of this man, Eusébio.
By the mid-30’s Sport Lisboa e Benfica was already a club with a national dimension and arguably the largest club- of sócios and adeptos- in Portugal. Its numerous victories in the Campeonatos de Lisboa, the early versions of the Campeonato de Portugal and the victorious exploits of Benfica cyclist José Maria Nicolau had taken the águia of the Lisbon based club to the four corners of the country thus contributing to the national popularity of Benfica. But it was futebol- and the stars of the Benfica squads of the mid to late 30’s that contained players like Vítor Silva and Espírito Santo- and it was these players that the young António Calado and his brothers emulated on the streets and pelados, as they kicked their ball made of trapo.
In 1939 Sport Lisboa e Benfica founded their 15th affiliated Casa do Benfica in Cabeção- which became known as Sport Cabeção e Benfica. While by that time António had left Cabeção with his family to go to Montijo, in search of better economic opportunities as so many would be forced to do, Sport Cabeção e Benfica became a reference point whenever he returned, as it was for many natives of Cabeção. Not only did they find at the club a place to practice different sports−fishing, futebol, table tenis etc− but they found a place to socialize, to drink, to discuss, to read the paper, to take part in cultural events etc. They found a space where, regardless of their economic background and occupation- sócios and adeptos and sympathizers, could participate in and support an institution as equals. To put it more directly, in the Casas do Benfica that were peppered throughout the country, they found a social space in which even poor people of low economic standing, such as the Calado family and many others like them, could engage in forms of social participation-whether of a