When the Panthers of Boavista briefly ruled Portugal's football jungle

Team 33's Raf Diallo on why we remember the team with the famous kits on The World Is A Football

BY Raf Diallo 14:30 Wednesday 9 December 2015, 14:30 9 Dec 2015

Manchester United's Dwight Yorke and Boavista's Nuno Miguel Frechaut clash in mid-air in 2001 (Picture by: Tony Marshall / EMPICS Sport)

There's a pattern when you look at certain second tier European football leagues beyond the big ones like the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga.

Often times there is a traditional Big Three. Take the Netherlands for example, where for the most part, trophies have been dominated by Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, aside from occasional blips like a few years ago when FC Twente and AZ Alkmaar challenged and won titles.

Turkey and Greece are similar with the Istanbul triumvirate and Olympiakos, Panathanaikos and AEK Athens respectively regarded as the big clubs.

Italy, historically, has seen the majority of post-war Serie A trophies going to AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, even if other big clubs like Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina can briefly build teams to take them on toe-to-toe.

On this week's Team 33, we looked back on the legacy of Portugal's international golden generation with World Soccer's Portuguese football correspondent and Portugoal.net founder Tom Kundert:

Which brings me to Portugal and its Primeira Liga where Benfica, Sporting Lisbon (better known as Sporting Clube de Portugal to the locals) and FC Porto have ruled the roost.

Indeed, just to show how utterly pointless it often is for other clubs to take them on for the league, only twice has the Portuguese league trophy ended up in the hands of a non-Big Three club - and even Sporting have been enduring a lengthy league drought as the other two hog the well (this season might see the end of that with Sporting narrowly top of the table).

The only time it happened before the Millennium was when Belenenses won the league in 1946. For those, who have been to Lisbon for a tourist visit, that club is based in the Belem district where the famous Belem Tower has been standing for 500 years.

But before I digress, the second time the trophy left the Big Three was at a time when Portugal could be said to have something closer to a Big Four.

And Liverpool and Manchester United will probably remember the club in question having sparred with them in the Champions League and also because of their unique kits.

Of course, I am referring to Boavista and their eye-catching chess-board home kit which were a welcome sight at European's top table for a few seasons:

Boavista's Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool's Sami Hyypia (Picture by: Neal Simpson / EMPICS Sport)

Boavista share the city of Oporto with FC Porto and having been founded in 1903 as a sports club, they are 10 years younger than the two time European Cup/Champions League winners, winning the Portuguese Cup three times in the late-70s and twice more in the 1990s.

Their rise in the late '90s and early 2000s is like those of many unheralded clubs who reach prominence with a confluence of factors playing their part.

One is their current president João Loureiro, who was voted Portuguese football chairman of the year in 2001, and manager Jaime Pacheco who arrived in 1997 and remained at the club throughout the golden period until 2003.

They also happened to enjoy their peak at a time when Benfica were in major crisis. Between 1999 and 2002, the Lisbon giants failed to finish above third in the Primeira Liga, with a low point of sixth during Boavista's title-winning campaign.

Sporting Lisbon and Porto were not foolproof either, with the former losing 10 league matches in that campaign and the latter drawing eight times - which proved crucial as they only lost out on the league title to Boavista by a single point.

Noticeably, Boavista also had the best defensive record in Portugal in both the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, conceding just 20 goals in the latter, which certainly aided the cause, and also enjoying a powerful home record in 2000-01 which saw them lose just once at the Estadio do Bessa.

Watch Boavista beat Benfica on the way to winning the league: 

Plus there was the youth academy, which produced a fair chunk of the players who formed part of the famed Portuguese Golden Generation which we spoke to Tom Kundert about on Team 33 this week.

International stars likes of Nuno Gomes, Petit and Joao Pinto were produced by the club in late-80s, early '90s period, even if Petit was the only one still at the club when they won the title in 2001.

Long-time former stalwart and fellow youth product Martelinho, who never won a Portugal cap, is also credited with a great number of assists from the wing during the league-winning season. 

Added to that, the foreign stars at the club proved influential, particularly Bolivian captain Erwin Sanchez - the club's current manager - Brazilian forwards Duda (who weighed in with 10 league goals in 2000-01) and Silva who notched the same tally.

For some reason a hotel in central Lisbon had the statue of a panther in its lobby (Image: Raf Diallo 2008)

But they also enjoyed the limelight for a couple of seasons because of their involvement in the bright lights of European football at a time when the competition had two group stages.

While Celtic fans will remember that Boavista were their semi-final opponents in the 2002-03 UEFA Cup campaign, Boavista managed 1-1 home and away draws against Gerard Houllier's Liverpool in the 2001-02 Champions League first group stage and then faced Manchester United with less success in the second group stage.

But as with the clubs who challenge the Big Trios in Europe, they are never able to sustain their meteoric rises.

In Boavista's case, the redevelopment of the Estádio do Bessa XXI for Euro 2004 hit the club in the pocket around the same time that the club endured a tough 2002-03 domestic campaign which saw them drop down to 10th and without the lucrative income from European football.

Since then, they have never returned to European football and if that was the worst to happen, that would have been acceptable.

However, 2007-08 saw the club relegated because of a corruption scandal, president Loureiro depart in '07 (he was later charged as part of the scandal and then later acquitted before he returned to take over the club again two years ago) and the accumulation of debts which led to a downward spiral which took them all the way down into the third division from 2009 to 2013.

But while the heights of the Millennium era are unlikely to return in the medium-term, Loureiro is back in charge and a court decision to overturn their 2007-08 relegation means the Panthers were back in the Primeira Liga last season where they still are at the moment - albeit just above the relegation zone.

But for a casual observer, it's the kit that will be most memorable in the mind's eye.

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