Allow Jose Lourenco to take you down memory lane as he recalls the days when Vasco da Gama’s fighting spirit resembled the Manchester United of the Alex Ferguson era.
How would you describe your time as a player at Vasco?
I had the best footballing days of my life while at Vasco Da Gama. I joined the club aged 20, after completing my two years national service, and actually played against Vasco whilst at the Defence Football Club in Wynberg.
I was fortunate in that so many of my friends were already at the club when I joined and, having played with them for Portugal on Sundays, the transition was very easy.
In those days the club was a meeting place for so many Portuguese youngsters and adults alike and in truth, we were a very big family – players, supporters, staff and committee members.
It was also the club’s most successful footballing years with a great deal of very talented Portuguese players coming of age at the same time. We had a great amount of fun together, but very importantly, took our football extremely seriously.
I, like so many players at the time, left Vasco to join the then professional Cape Town Spurs, which, although an exciting opportunity for all involved, never felt like the ‘home’ we all had at Vasco da Gama.
I returned to the club after a few years and once again tasted success with a new generation of players – young, keen and eager to emulate the many successes that the club had forged into the history books.
It was an unfortunate serious knee injury at the ‘young’ age of 28 which put an end to my football career. Although operated on, my knee never fully recovered and I eventually had to resign myself to the fact that my career was over.
What set you guys apart from other teams?
As mentioned earlier, the players at the club were highly skilled, but what really set us apart from any other team from that generation, and probably from generations that followed, was our will to win.
I remember so many occasions where we had our backs to the wall, either having to defend a lead or having to come from behind to equalise or to win a game.
And on most occasions, our never-say-die attitude would get us through, and so often in the last few minutes of a game, very much like the Manchester United of recent years.
What are some of the best memories you have at the club or shared with some players?
My greatest memories at Vasco centre around the many successes we shared as a club and for me, on a personal level, spending so much time with an amazing group of people who won together, lost together and partied together.
Winning the Premier League three years in succession and twice by record margins was an unbelievable achievement for a club that was still in its infancy.
Also we were invited to participate in two National Club Championships and we won the competition on both occasions – once in Johannesburg and once in Cape Town.
Interestingly enough, the favourites to win the Cape Town competition was the local Defence Team which included many ex-Vasco players who had been called up to complete their National Service. They were duly knocked out and Vasco went on to win the final at a full Hartleyvale Stadium.
What did you achieve on a personal level?
I was fortunate enough to win the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ award on two occasions, which was extremely satisfying. At the end of the day, though, everyone involved with the club made it such a special place.
Yes, the success we enjoyed made it sweeter, but you will hear everyone from that generation say that it was a very special time to be part of Vasco.
What was the team like which you played in?
I was fortunate enough to play alongside many naturally talented Portuguese players and others who, through sheer hard work and commitment, went on to achieve great things.
Players such as Carlos Das Neves and Sandro De Gouveia were extremely talented and stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
If times were different and they had the opportunities that are given to today’s players, there is no doubt that they would have forged a career for themselves overseas.
Other Portuguese players such as Johnny De Sousa, Gus Rafael, Ricardo Custodio and Richard Ribeiro also contributed greatly to the success of Vasco at that time.
I also had the privilege of playing alongside many ‘local’ players who represented Vasco with great distinction. Players such as Andre Arendse and Shaun Bartlett both fulfilled their dreams of playing overseas and representing our country on the international stage.
Who else made the team?
We were a very well balanced team in that we had players of great ability such as Carlos and Sandro, but also players who would die for the cause on the field like Gus Rafael.
We also had so many leaders at the club at that time, like Gus Rafael, Manu Janssens and John O’ Connor, great natural athletes such as Sebastian Rodrigues and many wonderful team players who performed so well week in and week out without getting the plaudits that others received.
We were also very lucky to have a great coach such as Sergio Dos Santos at the helm for so many years and the club’s committee, which included die-hard members such as Marcie De Nobrega, Johnny Fernandes and Jose Francisco.
They looked after the player’s needs and ensured that Vasco was run as a professional club even in those amateur years.
How have things changed since?
Today’s players are in some ways extremely fortunate in that the opportunities that they have are far greater. In our day, we could strive towards representing our province and, those that were good enough, perhaps even a professional local club such as Hellenic.
Today’s young players have the football world at their feet and if they are talented, hungry and committed enough, they can hope to play for an overseas club and even for their country in a World Cup.
Football, too, has changed in that today’s successful footballers must be athletes. The pace of the game has increased incredibly and it is therefore no surprise that the true greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are not only naturally gifted, but also have pace in abundance.
The fundamentals, however, remain the same – the great players all have the right attitude, are totally committed to the game and work very hard at improving their game, even once successful.