Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FC Porto and Manchester United: two parallel paths (part 1)

  • Portugal and England: The Background 

The historical relations between Portugal and England (later the United Kingdom) go a long way back. In fact, the alliance between the two countries (the Anglo-Portuguese alliance) is the oldest one in Europe and dates back to 1373. During most of this allegiance, Portugal was something of a protectorate of England, with the English helping Portugal several times - including the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century - and Portugal going into (I World) war for England, among many other examples.

During that period, Portugal and England celebrated numerous other (mainly economical) treaties, including one of the most important ones: the 1703 Treaty of Methuen that stipulated "English textiles and Portuguese wines were exempt from custom duties". It was one of the most innovative treaties between nations.

But a lot more than just economical agreements has endured the test of times and brought both nations a bit closer; while it is generally accepted that the Portuguese Catarina de Bragança introduced tea to the Brits, she was also critical to England's geopolitical ambitions, as her dowry included Tangiers and Bombay. In Portugal, the English presence is felt everywhere: the name of Port Wine companies line the shores of the river Douro, "snack-bar" is just another Portuguese word and the Portuguese tea-time snack (the Portuguese-spelled "lanche") is inspired by the English lunch.

On the other hand, the UK remains one of Portugal's key investors, focusing primarily on financial services and tourism. In fact, the Algarve (something of a British enclave) still accounts for nearly 70% of all destinations from the UK - so much so that anyone sitting at a restaurant in Portugal's southernmost region will probably be greeted in English and handed a menu in the same language.

  • Porto and Manchester: The Common Thread

Steeped in centuries of history and tradition, the cities of Porto and Manchester have been somewhat accustomed to playing second fiddle to capitals Lisbon and London, respectively. The latter's economic and political power was (and still is) a factor in the former's dwindling influence in some spheres, which has lent itself as a perfect excuse to harbour some less positive feelings towards the South.

The similarities don't stop there. Even though Porto played an important role in terms of intellectual leadership (such as spearheading the Liberal Revolution of 1820), both Northern cities became even more important with the advent of Industrial Revolution. With it, they suddenly became densely populated areas as the city's factories drew virtually everyone from the surrounding towns and villages.

To this day, there remain in Porto numerous "ilhas" (Portuguese for islands) - a street door that opens into a group of subpar quarters with a common bathroom and kitchen for factory workers - near ruins of old factories.

Shorn of their roots and family, these workers often found themselves stranded. As the 20th century made its way, football clubs took the place of religion - still offering a place of weekly worship and a sense of belonging. Identities were forged and allegiances were made among many a football stand. It is absolutely no coincidence that one of the features both Mancunians and "Tripeiros" most take proud on is their resilience against all odds.

  • Manchester United and FC Porto: Losing and Finding The Way

Up until a few years ago, the strongest football teams tended to hail from these sorts of places - industrial cities with clubs that had become so important that there was barely any space for any other teams of similar dimension (FC Porto, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munchen, etc.). The local support was immense and the identities of these clubs and cities often blended together.

In fact, clubs from capitals often floundered, with the obvious exceptions of Benfica and Real Madrid, sides that clearly benefited of being standard bearers of dictatorial regimes (the difficulties both clubs went through when the Portuguese and Spanish regimes were overthrown should not be overlooked).

The fates of Manchester United and FC Porto have sometimes seemed umbilical tied to each other over the past decades. However, while FC Porto's history mirrors the country's political events (the club's drought took place between 1921 and 1976, an almost perfect parallel to the fascist dictatorship that ruled the country between 1926 and 1974), Manchester United were rather more successful during Sir Matt Busby's years.

The end of the both clubs' lean years was virtually simultaneous and coincided with the arrival of the two figureheads that have left their mark over the past 30 years: Pinto da Costa on the Portuguese side, Sir Alex Ferguson on the English side.

Both men were able to steer their clubs in the right direction and transform the clubs they lead into their country's dominant footballing force. During that time, the two clubs have won numerous domestic titles and twice conquered the Champions League (formerly European Cup) and one Intercontinental Cup - effectively imposing a new cycle on the national scene. Manchester United became one of the richest clubs in the world while FC Porto went from regional minnows to a force to be reckoned with on the international scene, albeit to a far lesser extent when compared to the Red Devils.

(to be continued)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another interesting article. I am too an adept of the Historical perspective of things and it is something not usually found in a football blogs.

However, I must comment on some of your claims.

For example, I disagree with your claim that the Treaty of Windsor more or less worked as Portugal being a de facto protectorate of England.

For quite some time Portugal was stronger, richer and more important than England in the global scenario. You name but a few examples of how Portugal "opened the doors of India" to England.

The Treaty started in the late 14 century and by the turn of the 15-16 century, Portugal established itself as the first Global Empire in History.

An Empire formed and maintained essentially by trade, "talk" and sex. Perhaps it was because of this it was also the last (1415-1974).

For an ample period, Lisbon was the richest capital in Europe and Portugal´s power is well represented by The Battle of Diu (1509) or names such as Afonso de Albuquerque.

In the 16th century, Goa (Rome of the East) had roughly 10 times more portuguese than Lisbon, the capital.

The post-Reform period marks the beginning of the Portuguese decline, well represented by the Dutch-Portuguese war.

After the dutch took over in Asia, Portuguese (the language) continued as Lingua Franca for some 2 centuries, in South America, Asia and Africa.

The case you mention (french invasions) happened at a time in which Portugal had already declined considerably and the british naval support was essential for Portugal.

Perhaps as essential as the financial injections Portugal provided to England. Some claim without them the Industrial Revolution might not have taken place, nor the rise of England to become europe´s financial centre.

Curiously, the english support in transferring the Portuguese Crown to Brasil resulted in frustrating any ambition the french might have had concerning Brasil, with all its economic implications.

So, contrary to now, Portugal could difficultly be called a protectorate in that period.

Given the links between Porto and England you establish, you will probably find interesting that when Infante D. Henrique ("Henry the Navigator" as the english like to call him and the son of an english mother) was born, in Porto, it happened as a necessity.

At that time, and for a long time, nobles were not allowed to stay in Porto for more than a few days. Including the Royal Family.

Portugal had several capitals in the course of almost 900 years, including Salvador (Brasil). However, Porto was never one of them.

I would not be surprised if the interactions with our northern friends (trade, etc) would go back to before the birth of both Portugal and England. Particularly in Porto.


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