On the day that the "Os Belenenses" Football Club celebrates its 100th year, the club president Patrick Morais de Carvalho agreed to talk with Plataforma Media, addressing various day-to-day affairs of the institution, as well as the complicated relationship with the SAD. And he revealed: "We have won the public tender that will allow us to keep running our bingo hall for the next 20 years"
In year of centennial, would you expect the club's situation to reach this point? A club like Belenenses competing in the District Championships. How did we get here? This certainly didn't start with the purchase of the public limited sports company (SAD)...
The story is long and has been told many times. On December 12, 2012, Belenenses made the biggest mistake in its centenary history by negotiating the sale of 51 percent of its shares for 510 euros to Codecity. A mistake of gigantic dimensions that has brought incalculable damage to the club, including from the reputation point of view. Also at the legal level, the process was very poorly conducted by the club's management at the time, since the fact that the right to repurchase the shares, a fundamental condition of the deal, was not contained in the purchase agreement but in a shareholder agreement that was signed on the sidelines of the club; this eventually dictated a scenario of definitive loss of the possibility of repurchase of capital by the club. As it is known, Codecity tried to terminate the shareholders' agreement based on just cause, and the club board at the time did not immediately made an appeal on the decision and somehow complied with that termination as it later came to consider an Arbitration Tribunal. Following this, we tried to negotiate a new protocol to regulate relations between the club and the SAD in the light of the new reality. After all, being a partner in a SAD whose capital can be recovered is different from being a partner in a SAD that is lost forever. As is well known, the club gave the SAD several months to negotiate this protocol, but has always run into its silence and indifference. The SAD decided to leave Restelo, breaking the bond with Belenenses. From then on we had two hypotheses: either we stopped having senior football or started where we could. And this was only possible in the district championships. We have already risen last year, we will rise this year again, and at the end of next season we will be signaling Belenenses' return to the national championships. At this point we will be two steps from our place, which is the first division. We will get there!
How do you see the positions of the Portuguese Football Federation and the Portuguese Football League in the midst of all this imbroglio? Patrick Morais de Carvalho has been assertive in accusing the two entities that govern over Portuguese football. Have you had the opportunity to talk formally and informally with Fernando Gomes and Pedro Proença?
With surprise and some disappointment. I have a serious and impartial image of the president of the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), and for this reason it is harder for me to understand that the body to which he presides, even more it being a public utility institution, does not enforce court decisions, namely two, which prevent that SAD from using Belenenses' brands. Of course, throughout this process I have talked several times with the FPF president about this and other issues, but as a matter of courtesy I do not think it is the time or place to reveal what has been said. I had already been contacted by Pedro Proença before the end of the protocol that SAD did not want to renew. He came to tell us that he was ready to mediate the negotiations and we accepted, we wanted to sign a new protocol. He never contacted me again, and I am still waiting for him to tell publicly why his effort has resulted in nothing. It will not be for lack of opportunity to talk to the counterpart, since the SAD was in charge of the League on the last season, and Pedro Proença is regularly in Jamor, watching games alongside the administrators of the said SAD. The position of the League, therefore, does not surprise me. The League is making money thanks to the Belenenses' brand, by selling it to trading cards, console games, selling tickets with the Belenenses name, etc...
How to solve the constant abuses of the media when referring to B-SAD as Belenenses? Will the club sue everyone and everything?
We believe that the media should self-regulate, because sentences are public. Sometimes it seems to me that there is no one who wants to read and interpret them. Belenenses is not at war with the world, but as you can imagine it will assert its rights. What media companies have to understand, as well as the FPF and the League, is that they cannot call Belenenses to a SAD that is barred from using Belenenses' brand. And that by doing so are causing serious financial damage to the club. And that these financial losses will sooner or later be compensated. Belenenses is 100 years old, older than almost all those institutions, and will still be here when they all close.
How is the architectural project for the restoration of Parcel 5 of the Restelo Stadium Sports Complex going? Will LIDL be part of a whole change in the complex?
LIsbon City Council has unanimously approved our project, it was approved at the General Assembly of Members, the city council has already approved the LIDL architecture project and so I have faith that very soon the LIDL project will start. It is a dream that will come true. Although it seems like an endless wait, the truth is that the process was unlocked in record time. And the work will advance as quickly as possible. I believe that the machines will be in Restelo soon.
And the Salésias. What is the real situation of that space? Does it belong to Belenenses? Does it belong to the Lisbon City Council? Is it simply borrowed? What is the future in the mythical place? Does EDP still sponsor the complex?
Everyone knows from the outset that Salésias have an owner - Estamo. We have a contract with this publicly-held company in which Belenenses has the management and use of the space. EDP Foundation was a sponsor, bringing in a portion of the amount that was spent to build the infrastructure that is in place today and that trains our younger football and rugby teams.
How is the club's treasury?
The club is in a stable financial situation, but has recurrent cash problems, which in a scenario of lack of bank financing sometimes causes us great asphyxiation. But with resilience and a careful and disciplined management we have succeeded in our goals. The role of our finance vice-president, Paulo Peters, who has the ability to say "no," has been important, which in this type of organization is critical.
What about club arrangements? Are they healthy? Howare, for example, futsal and rugby?
Futsal is managed by the vice president of sports, Pedro Lourenço, and by a number of club directors, with special mention to Nuno Lopes who has been with us for many years. Belenenses' rugby section is historically managed with autonomy, and this autonomy has been respected by all club directorates. Specifically, there is an agreement with Associação XV, which manages the sport, but the rights to participate in the championships belong to the club and the representation in the rugby federation is also ensured by the club. Now, it is normal that the sports and organizational aspect is managed by experienced sportspeople. Moreover, our personal and institutional relationship is fantastic with all the elements of XV.
With most members and supporters on the club's side, there are still a few who follow B-SAD. People who feel sad about Belenenses being in the lower championships, which are not consistent with its history. What is your message to these people? Would you not receive them again at Restelo?
All are and will be welcome at Restelo. It is not for me to accept anyone, everyone's heart should dictate their actions. If someone takes sides with a society that takes actions in court to damage the club, stealing its history, asking for compensation, trying to prevent it from having football teams, not paying training rights, it's easy to see which side they are on. But all of them, at least all of them who are for Belenenses, are always in time to reevaluate the situation and, if they want to defend the club from those who want to hurt it, return to Restelo. I always said that this way is not easy, that we would lose some Belenenses supporters. But that loss would not be final. Belenenses will return and will be able to distinguish the club from a company that just wants to profit from our identity.
Belenenses still owns 10% of B-SAD. How is this issue solved? Is it because of this percentage that the League and FPF consider that the team that plays in League I is still Belenenses?
Belenenses still has 10 percent of SAD shares, but the sale is approved and will be finalized by the end of this year, as indeed is public knowledge. We are in the phase of analyzing proposals and the sale will be finished soon. I do not understand how the League and FPF can consider that there is a team called Belenenses in the League, because the courts already said that it does not exist.
What can be done to modify the current SAD Law?
The club tried to inform parliamentary groups that the current SAD law does not defend Portuguese football. And it does not defend it because it does not penalize investors who cannibalize them. What is needed is the political courage to move a dossier like this. Today there is no point in making it mandatory to have SAD, as these were made to hold leaders accountable for non-compliance. But club leaders are far more scrutinized and accountable than any SAD officer. And then, I believe it will soon be possible for a club or sports association to be able to participate with that status in professional competitions.
If Belenenses is unable to divest 10% of its shares of B-SAD, will it be free to compete in professional championships and supposedly in the same divisions of the team led by Rui Pedro Soares?
Belenenses will sell their shares and will compete in the League when it achieves this right. We have no doubt of that. Doubt is a weapon that has been used by enemies of the club, but this doubt only exists for those who do not know the dossiers, laws and regulations thoroughly. Belenenses will return to the league and will play against all teams that at that time are in the league. Moreover, this season already, in some of the youth football teams there will, of course, be official matches between the "Os Belenenses" Football Club and B-SAD, which will play in the same championships and in the same divisions.
When you arrived in Belenenses, did you ever think you would go through all this? Are you sorry? I certainly aged faster with all this. What does your family say when they see you as the helmsman of all this change in the Belenenses family?
My family encourages me to fight for what is right, for what is fair. And they do so, even though they are undermined due to the time I steal from them to devote to this cause. We started a path chosen by the members, fighting only for the emblem we love. We are fans and we are in this out of conviction, without wages and undermining professional activity. It is done with our daily efforts. Without friends, without family, and without the overwhelming support of members, I would no longer be in this fight for the truth.
This year, will Belenenses rise again in division with the same ease as last year?
In football we can never expect easiness. I believe we have a team able to win the championship and I feel that in a 30-run race we will be able to rise. But for this the players, coach, leaders and members will need to help. Sweaters, even very beautiful ones like ours, don't win games on their own.
In the various social media channels, Belenenses members and supporters speak in Miguel Rosa's name in the team. Certainly, the player would like to have other plans for his 30 years, but Miguel never hid his love for Belenenses, even after going wrong with the SAD. Have you ever talked to the player about whether he could play for the club again or at least finish his career in there?
I have a close relationship with Miguel Rosa, I am his friend. We talk regularly and Miguel is a Belenense at heart. If life's paths cross, he will take a place in our team whenever he wants. Who knows if he won't be on the field the day we celebrate the climb up to Division I again?
How is the situation with the bingo?
I can announce that we have won the public contest that will allow us to keep running our bingo hall for the next 20 years. We also have a guaranteed lease contract for the hall, for the next 20 years. This is great news for all members and fans of the club, and it is a gift for everyone that I can anticipate in the Centennial celebration time.
What message would you like to leave to all Belenenses members and supporters at this time when the club is about 100 years old.
Be persistent and courageous, because when we believe in what is right, our prize is justice. Belenenses is taking a historic course and, retaining it's grandeur, demonstrates this by the way the team currently plays with honor and dignity with opponents of the lower echelons of football. It has been a path of humility, friendship, sportsmanship. Our club is not where it belongs, but with everyone's strength, it will be there very soon. Always remember that our hymn teaches us that Belenenses' path is forward and sure to win.