By Chris Wright [email protected]
2009 started with the passionate fans hoping that Jorge Costa would lead his team back to the Premier Liga for the first time since 1975.
A blend of experience and youth was vying with Santa Clara (Azores) for the top spot in Liga Vitalis. In the Carlsberg League Cup Olhanense was the only 2nd Division side to reach the quarter-final stages where they met the mighty Benfica.
Some 2,000 fans travelled to Lisbon where they joined the legendary Eusébio and Diego Maradona to watch an enthralling game.
Three defeats in late January and early February were a setback but a home win over Varzim and an emphatic 5-1 victory at Boavista got the team back on track.
After victory against Santa Clara the massed hordes of happy fans travelled to the far north knowing that a win at Gondomar would ensure not only promotion but the Liga Vitalis title. A hard fought 1-0 win and the celebrations started.
During the close season, more than €900,000 was invested in ground improvements including new floodlights, hospitality boxes, roof to the main stand, electronic turnstile system and replacement seating.
In July, the prestigious pre-season Guadiana Tournament in Vila Real de Santo António saw Olhanense defeat Anderlecht before narrowly losing to Benfica in the final.
The team started their campaign in the top flight with three draws followed by a hard fought win against Academica.
The visit to Sporting Lisbon saw the Algarveans take a 2-0 lead but helped by an atrocious piece of refereeing the home side came back to win 3-2. A dip in fortunes resulted in the team going over 12 hours without scoring a goal and dropping into the relegation zone.
Porto were the first of the ‘big three’ to visit Olhão and gave the new boys a lesson in controlled attacking football, winning 3-0.
As the year drew to a close Benfica came south with an impressive record, including a 5-0 win over Everton in the Europa League. A 2-2 draw was scant reward for a revitalised Olhanense.
The group of foreign expats, mostly British but with some Irish, Dutch, Swedish and Germans, now numbers more than 200.
Together with their many Portuguese friends they are looking forward to 2010 with renewed optimism. The recent visit to Madeira and the prospect of more trips to away games will ensure that the Algarve’s top football team will receive vociferous support wherever they go.
At a recent Christmas lunch in Olhão, attended by 60 fans, the bond of friendship between the expat supporters and the local community was further strengthened.
A framed Union flag and photo of the group was presented and will take pride of place in Tiago e Inês Café opposite the ground.
So if you like your football and want to join or you are just visiting and want to gain a new experience then why not contact Emily Richardson at [email protected] (Tel. 939 486870) or Christopher Wright at [email protected] (Tel. 916 504903).
Lottery at Leixões
Olhanense travelled north without six regulars due to suspensions and injury for this vital bottom of the table clash.
In the end, a 2-2 draw was a fair result that will have given the visitors renewed optimism as they go into the New Year with two home games against P. Ferreira and Naval.
On a pitch that was waterlogged from the start, and in the second half resembled the marshes of the Ria Formosa, it was amazing that someone was not seriously injured.
Even referee Pedro Henriques had to be replaced by the fourth official at half-time due to a pulled muscle.
Paul Sergio could have given Olhanense the lead early on but his first touch let him down. Leixões went up the other end and only a fine save by Ventura prevented a goal. The resulting corner saw a powerful header from Braga cannon off the bar.
It was end-to-end play as the rain lashed down and any attempt to keep the ball on the ground was virtually impossible. On the half-hour the home side took the lead through Pouga but within a minute the scores were level when Rabiola slid in at the far post to convert Ukra’s left wing cross.
Ukra almost gave Olhanense a half-time lead when his swirling free-kick was tipped onto the bar by Diego.On 65 minutes substitute Tiago Cintra gave Leixões the lead as both teams struggled to stay afloat.
Water wings would have been more appropriate as the torrential rain turned the pitch into a large paddling pool! A long ball forward from defence ricocheted off a Leixões defender and fell kindly at the feet of Castro who made no mistake from 10 metres to level the score.
The remaining twenty minutes were played under farcical conditions.
Olhanense remain anchored at the bottom of the table, level on points with Belenenses, but after two important draws against Benfica and Leixões the Algarveans can look forward to a brighter New Year.
The next match is at home to P.Ferreira on Sunday, January 10, kick-off 3.00pm.