CANELAS, Portugal: A Portuguese football team branded “thugs” and “butchers” have risen to the top of their amateur league after a string of default wins because opponents are too afraid to play them.
The club, Canelas, from the suburbs of Porto, field three members of the “Super Dragons” ultras, an infamous fan group of Portuguese giants FC Porto, including their team captain who goes by the nickname “Ape.”
Other clubs in the fourth-tier amateur league are outraged at the tactics of the club but none have as yet filed an official complaint.
The president of a rival club Grijo said Canelas players regularly intimidate opposing players and referees.
“Canelas does not respect the rules, they are thugs, butchers and our players are afraid to face them,” Manuel Gomes told Agence France-Presse.
But their tactics are paying off. Canelas have won 19 matches so far this season as of the end of January — 13 of them by default because their opponents preferred to pay a fine of 750 euros ($800) rather than play.
That has taken the club to the top of their league, 14 points ahead of their nearest rivals.
Their antics went viral last year when a video posted on YouTube registered more than one million views and showed Canelas players decked out in their white and blue outfits turning a match against opponents from Vila FC into a martial arts exhibition with high kicks to the chest and head, tackles off the ball and dangerous lunges from behind.
After facing Canelas at the start of the season, rival club Padroense refused point blank to show up for the return match with the notorious amateur outfit.
“Canelas players seek conflict, to make threats, even against referees,” said the president of Padroense, Germano Pinho.
Canelas Captain Fernando ‘Ape’ Madureira says they play tough but fair.
“We are an aggressive team that plays with passion. But no one is stepping on the pitch with a gun or a stick,” said Madureira, who has a masters degree, as he lay stretched out on a massage table before a home game gainst Candal, the first team that agreed to play Canelas in over two months.
“In the beginning we just wanted to score some points, now we want to be promoted because no one wants to play against us,” said the 41-year-old.
If Canelas win the league they will have a chance to enter a playoff to enter the third tier, where they could play in the Portuguese Cup — potentially against FC Porto.
Corridor of death
“Having ultras among us magnifies our reputation as a violent team, when this is not the case,” added Canelas president Bruno Canastro.
At the bar of Canelas’ modest stadium the players joked around with each other before greeting members of the opposing team in a relaxed atmosphere.
“The idea of forfeiting never crossed our minds. They are not more violent than others,” said Candal president Alberto Ribeiro.
Canelas striker Marco Goncalves, whose huge biceps bulged under his tight t-shirt, joked about the club’s bad reputation.
“This is the corridor of death for our adversaries,” he said pointing to the dark tunnel that leads to Canelas’ pitch.
The grass of the field was in top shape since it has only been used for three matches so far this season.
About 300 supporters watched from ageing stands as Canelas were defeated 2-0, in a match where their opponents outran them and showed they had more technique.
Exhausted after their first match in over two months, the Canelas players walked dejectedly to their dressing room.
Canastro, the club’s president, said he was “disappointed but proud” and stressed his side is not violent.
“In the images on YouTube, you see only two or three players lose their cool. A big deal was made out of five minutes from a whole season,” he said.
“But there is an advantage to all of this. Canelas in the only amateur club in Portugal, maybe in the world, with a global reputation.”