We all remember 1986, when Diego Armando Maradona used the Hand of God to score against England in the World Cup quarter-finals, but in my home town, a handball goal has been part of the history of Grupo Desportivo Serra da Vila since 1972.
In a country dominated by the Salazar regime (a populist right wing dictatorship which only ended in 1974), football was one of the ways to (re)unite people. Football tournaments could be found in every county, with the teams of each village competing. Torres Vedras (best known for the Lines of Fortresses that halted the Napoleonic Invasion at the start of the 19th century) was no exception.
The town’s big club is SCU Torreense, who in their 1950’s and 1960’s heyday competed in the Portuguese First Division, only making it again once in 1991/92. But the County Tournament had more than 20 teams, in a weekly rivalry to get the highest prize: a place in the final at the Manuel Marques field, the arena of Torreense’s First Division glories.
It was a time when grass pitches were only used by the big teams from Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Setúbal, and most of the players only had the chance to play on them once or twice, during the Youth championships. The Torres Vedras County Tournament was played at small grounds, with an enthusiastic audience composed mainly of working-class men, from the small industrial pockets around the City and, mostly, the rural fields and vineyards that dominate the natural surroundings.
In 1972, there was no televised football in Portugal, and most of the people preferred to stay in their villages, watching their local side and following the victories of Benfica and Sporting on the radio. They drank homemade red wine and talked about their plantations, or the bailarico (popular music parties organized by local associations).
Each village presented their local boys in the team. The best ones were called to play for the Torreense Youth side, and usually had dual registrations: one with Torreense, to play in the Federation games, and another with their village teams, to play in the Council tournament. This system allowed to some teams to retain their best prospects.
Playing for Torreense’s Youth teams was a passport to local celebrity status. Torreense usually participated in the Taça de Portugal, competing against Benfica or Sporting, if the draws were kind. Even if it was virtually impossible to beat them, the prospect of playing at the Luz or Alvalade dominated the dreams of Torres Vedras kids.
In 1972, Grupo Desportivo Serra da Vila had what was perhaps the best team of their history, combining some very experienced players along with some Torreense youth-teamers. The brain of the side was Carlos Alberto, a box-to-box midfielder who today would be a Primeira Liga player, if many of those who saw him do his thing are to be believed. He was also one of the more mature players on the team.
Two youngsters, Martinho and Luís, were also key figures. Both had interesting careers at youth level but would rather play for pleasure in Serra da Vila, than strive for uncertain success with bigger teams. Luís had a glimpse of that at Nacional da Madeira and Torreense, but he wasn’t prepared to abandon his friends and County Tournament glories.
1972 was the year. A strong defensive midfielder (Martinho), a visionary passer, (Carlos Alberto), and a left-footed goalscorer (Luís), were complimented by a powerful group of defenders and good runners on the wings. They also had a fantastic goalkeeper, Jordão, who made almost impossible to score any goals against the yellow and black team.
They faced Casalinhense in the Manuel Marques final. The game was balanced and some expected to see it end with a penalty shootout. But destiny wanted it another way. After a long pass from the midfield, Luís positioned himself to the rear of the defenders and jumped with the opposition goalkeeper. The crowd only saw the ball in the net. Goal!
Neither the referee nor his assistant saw what was clear to the keeper. Luís had scored it with his hand. As the rules and regulations wouldn’t accept the participation of God in a football match, the hand that gave Serra da Vila the cup didn’t stay in history as a divine gesture – just an optical illusion.
Almost 40 years have passed and this story still is discussed in Serra da Vila and Casalinhos. Somehow, people never forgot that final, that goal, that hand. There is no longer a County Tournament; Serra da Vila hasn’t even got an official football team. But as I grew, I kept hearing this story again and again from Luís, the Serra da Vila number ten, my father. Saying: “I am no Maradona, but the first one to score a hand goal was me”.