Eusebio celebrates after scoring against Bulgaria in a 3-0 win in the 1966 World Cup. *AFP photo
Eusebio celebrates after scoring against Bulgaria in a 3-0 win in the 1966 World Cup. *AFP photo

Many islanders will still vividly remember the day they saw Eusebio play in Bermuda.

Well into his forties and with shaky knees, the great man still left around 5,000 fans in awe with an eye-catching cameo when Benfica took on the Bermuda national team at BAA Field on June 16, 1987. 

The star’s mazy run into the penalty area earned the talent-laden Benfica team a penalty, which Eusebio politely declined to take, on their way to a 5-1 victory.

The game was the centrepiece of a week-long tour for the Portuguese giants.

And now, after the death of the legendary striker, the memories of the trip organized and sponsored by the Vasco da Gama Club have come flooding back.

It cost over $50,000 ($25,000 plus expenses) to bring their heroes to the island and treasurer of the club at the time was Ed Correia, who flew to Lisbon and later New York to sign  contracts and finalise the details.

The star turn in the Benfica party, a team that had won the Portuguese double and would win the European Cup the following season, was still undoubtedly Eusebio, whose place as one of the world’s greatest ever players and as a Portuguese national icon was already secured.

Correia, now 55, of Smith’s, remembers an unfailingly polite man with time for everyone.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “He was definitely a human being that would talk to everybody, his fame never got the better of him. He was a very nice person who took time for pictures and sign autographs. Of course, he drew a lot of attention when he was over here.

“He managed to play about 10 or 15 minutes. For a guy who had five or six knee operations on the same knee, it’s amazing what he achieved throughout his career. You look at him and Pele… there’s not too many people at that level!

“He was fouled for a penalty [at BAA]  — and gracefully declined to take it. The Bermuda players were like ‘we’re not going to hurt an old man’ and gave him a little space but he still weaved his way into the box. Great memories.

“It was a great time but the buzz that it created was not just from the Portuguese community – everyone knew who he was and the whole Bermuda public came out to support the event. He liked Bermuda and loved the boat trips, where of course you get to see so much of the island. And coming from Africa, I think he appreciated the mix of cultures that Bermuda had.”

Helping to bring a club as big as Benfica to the island was no mean feat and something Correia rightly remains proud of.

He recalls how he got involved after a friend had seen they were touring the States that year.

Correia said: “He called and said I think we can bring Benfica over to Bermuda. I think I said ‘you’re out of your mind, it’s never going to happen’.

“He sent a telex, there were no emails back them, to Benfica and they got back and said ‘why not, we’ll look into it’.”

Before he knew it Correia, who was travelling a lot anyway because of work at the time, was meeting club officials in Lisbon and helping bring one of the most famous footballers in the world to Bermuda.

The money raised exceeded the $50,000 required but all of it was ploughed back into the tour.

“We did it for the love not business,” said Correia. “It was not about the money, it was about fulfilling an ambition.” He added: “It was something of a party atmosphere. There was a big party at the club and we made sure they visited all the tourist attractions because we knew it was probably not going to happen again.” 

Five things you may not know about Eusebio...

1. Kidnapping threat

The battle for Eusebio’s signature between Sporting Lisbon and Benfica was fierce and controversial. Sporting Lourenço Marques, who he played for in Mozambique, was a subsidiary of Sporting and the two rivals disputed the legality of the transfer.

According to Eusebio, Benfica offered the best deal, which was then agreed. By the end of 1960, he arrived at Lisbon but was immediately sent to the  Algarve because Benfica feared a kidnapping operation by Sporting.

During his transfer he was codenamed Ruth Malosso and remained there for 12 days, until the transfer furore calmed down.

2. Sporting gesture

In the 1968 European Cup final, with the scores 1–1, Eusebio almost won the game for Benfica but saw his shot saved sensationally by Manchester United keeper Alex Stepney.

Despite this, Eusebio stopped to applaud Stepney as he threw the ball back into play.

3: Toronto magic

His most successful season in the NASL was in 1976 with the Toronto Metros-Croatia. 

And he scored the winning goal in their 3–0 victory at the 76 Soccer Bowl to win the NASL title.

4. Real pace

He could run the 100m in 11 seconds.

5. National treasure

Reports suggest Inter Milan offered him 40 times his salary to move to Italy.

But he was declared a national treasure by the Portugal leader Antonio Salazar — the country was then under his dictatorial rule — so the player was not allowed to leave the country.