Fulham. The panther waited…

Craven Cottage had prepared diligently to receive royalty. ‘Riverside Royalty’, marked the program made available to the public by the direction of the FulhamFootball Club, a club founded in 1879 (with the initial name of St Andrews Cricket & Football Club) in the neighborhood of the same name, West London, there on the edge of Charing Cross, on the north bank of the Thames, bordering the finer areas of Chelsea, Kensington and Hammersmith. They proudly fly the flag of London’s oldest club.

In 1967, Fulham’s management felt they owed the fans who filled the stadium every game a significant improvement in the condition of Craven Cottage. Even forced to divest in the team, which fell to Division II, the work went ahead. And, in February 1972, officially opened to the public. It needed a grand opening, just as it deserved.

On the 29th of February, the party took place. The fact that Benfica has an English coach, Jimmy Hagan, may have influenced the choice of the guest of honor. On top of that, he had once been capped by England and the England coach, Sir Alf Ramsey, was also keen to be present. But let’s remember that, in 1972, Benfica’s fantastic appearances in the European Cup, reaching five finals in eight years and winning two, were still bubbling with the excitement of those passionate about association. And, looking at it, Eusébio’s diatribes in England’s stadiums at the time of the World Cup were not long ago, just six years ago. And so Eusebius entered Craven Cottage like a king followed by his escort of princes. One of them would stand out in order to force the audience who watched the game to spend the ninety minutes practically standing: Rui Jordão.


Here’s one of the words the English like to see associated with football: “Exciting!”. They know why and, by the way, so do we. If there’s an adjective that fits like a kid’s glove to the show that Fulham and Benfica offered to the approximately 17,000 people who flocked to Craven Cottage, it’s this one. «Exciting!».

From the first minute, both teams launched themselves, in turn, on the opposing midfield, always with the goal in their eyes. Because that is the philosophy of all the teams that play on the Big Island beyond the Channel, in what they call «glorious mud», and because that was the philosophy of a Benfica that conquered Europe at the expense of offensive football and not, like the grumpy Italians from Inter, who followed him as European champions, clinging to a defensive addiction called catenaccio that caused yawns and stomach flutters.

Steve Curry, journalist for the Daily Mirror, wrote: “Fulham fans wildly cheered as their team overshadowed their more illustrious counterparts, even though it was Jordan who had stolen the limelight”. Yes, Fulham happily won 3-2, with goals from Steve Earle, Roger Cross and Humberto Coelho, in their own goal, but it would be the young Rui Jordão, the Gazela de Angola, with only 18 years old, who would take over the stage, letting yourself be illuminated by the limelight.

The movement at speed, followed by a dribble and a counter-dribble, with which he has bent the legs of a disgraced Fulham defender to this day before offering Diamantino a goal highly acclaimed by the populace, made that, from hence, each of his feline and dazzling movements made the spectators of Craven Cottage open their eyes until they almost burst their sockets, yearning not to miss a second of the magical art of the African of Benfica. Curry again: «It was the young Jordao, an 18-year-old son of a post office worker from Angola, rather than the great Eusebio who caught the eye for the visitors, and he set up a goal for Diamantino on the stroke of half-time». Jordan instead of Eusebius? Yeah, yeah… Maybe because he was always more active, more at stake; because his shots were adorned with refinements that are not practical in England football; because it was, quite simply, a total and extraordinary novelty that was presented to the London public.

Calmly, Pantera waited her turn to participate in the show. Having just turned 30, Eusébio suffered as never before from the meniscus operations he had been subjected to and the excruciating pain of his martyred left knee. But, suddenly, a ball rejected by the Fulham defense, found him loose at the entrance of the opposing area: at first, his kick was unstoppable! «How! What a brilliant volley by Eusebio to set up an exciting finish!». There it is: exciting. The word that served to define the first game between Fulham and Benfica.

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