Split between fans and owners rips apart historic Portuguese club
Lisbon, Nov 10 (AFP) It is the story of a group of supporters who have had their club taken away from them and launched a new team in Portugal's sixth tier, leaving a professional outfit to play in a deserted stadium with a new name and logo.
Nearby, up the hill in leafy Restelo, the 20,000-seat stadium of the same name plays host to a Sunday amateur game in the Lisbon district league.
There wearing his scarf sporting the cross of the Order of Christ -- the symbol of the club in reference to the navigators who set off from Belem in their Caravels on voyages of discovery -- Fernando Nunes struggles to hold back the tears as he discusses the club's collapse.
He is 82 now and remembers when Belenenses won the league in 1946, one of only two occasions when the title went to a club other than the three giants of Portuguese football in Benfica, Porto and Sporting.
- 'Love of the club' -
"Those who support the professional team don't have a love of the club, they don't represent Belenenses," insists Luis Pinheiro, one of the veterans of the 'Furia Azul 1984' ultras who have remained faithful to the historic club that will celebrate its centenary in 2019.
Two separate teams called Belenenses have existed since 84 percent of "socios" (members) decided to split from the owner to whom they had ceded a majority shareholding in 2012.
As a result, the professional outfit were forced to move in the summer to Portugal's run-down National Stadium, the venue where Celtic beat Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup final and which still hosts the Portuguese Cup final.
This version of Belenenses is backed by a set of young ultras, although the group's leader Rita Louro says some of the old "socios" have come on board as well.
"It hurt me to leave Restelo, but here we are still Belenenses. There is no reason for us to stop supporting them," says Louro, 25.
- No hot water -
Selling the club to a company called Codecity was a way for Belenenses to bring down debts of nine million euros ($10.3 million). The club then hoped to buy back its shares via an agreement negotiated beforehand.
But that agreement was nullified in 2017, denying the "socios" any control over the team's future destiny.
The situation is symbolic of changes to how Portuguese clubs are run -- they were once the property of their members but are now equivalent to limited companies after a reform intended to better supervise club finances.
Meanwhile, Codecity director Rui Pedro Soares believes he saved the club from bankruptcy.
"I don't want to talk any more about the amateur team. My sponsors and economic partners don't allow me to say any more," he said, irritatedly, in an interview with AFP.
However, a Portuguese court recently gave the professional club one month to change its name and logo, a decision perceived as a victory for the historic team who are desperate for the "fake Belenenses" to disappear.
And to one day return to where they feel they belong. AFP KHS
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)