12 matches into the Liga 3 season, newly-promoted Länk FC Vilaverdense sit top of the table and have yet to lose a single game, they are into the Oitavos (last 16) of the Taça de Portugal for only the second time in their history and they recently brushed aside Primeira Liga side Portimonense 2-0. In the stands, a party atmosphere has returned to Campo Cruz do Reguengo, spearheaded by a group of young supporters who devote themselves to the club.
One of the most in-form teams in Portugal, you may know them as Vilaverdense FC, you may know them as Länk FC Vilaverdense or you may not know them at all. We spoke to David Machado, a supporter who is part of Mancha Verde, a claque which aims to generate a fervent atmosphere in the stands on matchday, to get the lowdown on the past, the present and the future of this unique club from Northern Portugal.
This is the story of Länk FC Vilaverdense and their sublime season so far.
A HUMBLE PAST AND A CHANGING FUTURE
Founded in 1953 as Vilaverdense FC, the club quickly established itself as the most competitive club in the Vila Verde district of Braga and has since enjoyed regional success, having won the AF Braga Taça on five occasions. The club has frequently moved up and down through the divisions, spending the majority of its existence in the third, fourth and fifth tiers of Portuguese football.
In September 2020, something happened that would completely change the face of the club going forward. Länk Football Group acquired 90% of Vilaverdense F.C. SAD. The Canadian group strongly emphasised their intentions when acquiring the club, promising to modernise the club’s stadium, Campo Cruz do Reguengo and to invest in a Länk Vilaverdense academy aimed at recruiting and training young talents for a professional career in the game. The associates of the club sat in a general assembly with a representative from Länk for almost three hours, listening to their future plans for the club.
The Länk FC SAD intends to transform and provide Länk FC Vilaverdense with state-of-the-art infrastructure and premium facilities, in a sustainable way in order to provide for the young athletes who are already part of the club, and for all future athletes. It is incredibly rewarding and exciting to be at the genesis of this great challenge, that which we take on with pride, sincerity, and with great enthusiasm! – Länk FC SAD statement.
A month later, Länk Football Group stamped their identity on Vilaverdense in a hugely controversial way, changing the crest to the Länk FC logo and changing the name of the club from Vilaverdense FC to Länk FC Vilaverdense. Some supporters angrily took to social media, blasting the group for removing the original green and white crest and replacing it with a black and white logo.
“Some of us were against their arrival (and still are)” David Machado explained. “Obviously every fan would have preferred if we kept the name and our badge, but the majority of the members voted for it to be this way, and we have to respect that.”
Despite some negative reactions to Länk’s arrival off the pitch, on the pitch things were about to start rapidly improving.
A FOOTBALLING REVOLUTION
In 2020/21, Vilaverdense’s first season under new ownership, the club had a steady if not unspectacular season in the Campeonato de Portugal, finishing in seventh place in a 12-team division, it was a finish that was enough to see them stay up but nothing more. The following season though, the club from Vila Verde had a fantastic campaign – finishing top of Campeonato de Portugal Série A before coming second in the Championship round, thus guaranteeing their promotion to Liga 3, the recently-formed third tier of Portuguese football.
This season, they have continued to defy expectations and currently sit top of Liga 3 Série A.
After drawing 0-0 with Paredes on the opening day of the season, the team went on to win their next three Liga 3 matches, beating SC Braga B 1-0, AD Fafe 3-0 and Anadia FC 4-0. The newly-promoted side were four games into their league campaign and had yet to concede a single goal. In the Taça de Portugal things were also going swimmingly, they brushed past Atlético Arcos before beating Atlético CP in the second round. Their progress to the third round of the cup meant they had set up a clash with Primeira Liga outfit Portimonense. They went into the match as heavy underdogs but when André Silva put Ricardo Silva’s side 1-0 up in the first half, the supporters were beginning to dream of a historic cup run. Substitute Edmilson wrapped up the victory with a goal in the 92nd minute which sent the supporters into raptures.
When they faced Liga 3 Série B side Oliveira do Hospital in the fourth round of the cup, Ricardo Silva’s side were rampant from the first whistle, scoring twice inside nine minutes. They added three more goals and went in at the break with a 5-0 lead. Two more goals in the second half rounded off a very impressive 7-0 victory and secured their passage into the last 16 of the Taça for only the second time in the club’s history.
As things stand in Liga 3, they are one game into the second round of fixtures. Their most recent match was against USC Paredes, who came into the match as one of the five sides to take a point off Länk FC Vilaverdense this season (0-0 draw on the opening day). This time around though, Vilaverdense weren’t as forgiving, hammering their opponents 5-1.
“This great season that we are having didn’t come out of nowhere. First of all, we have a really good and balanced team that we were able to keep, for the most part from last year.” Machado explains. “We kept the best players and our coach and added important additions to the squad, especially in the defence and in midfield. There was no major loss from one season to another and the core of the squad has stayed the same. That, I think, is one of the main factors in our success.”
SUPPORT IN THE STANDS
The Mancha Verde member reiterated the importance of the crowd on the recent success.
“Another reason is obviously the support from the fans. There hasn’t been a single game this season, either at home or away, where we were not present and making noise. Especially at home, we are able to create a great environment that makes it really hard for the visiting teams. We even have a chant where we say “e no Reguengo ninguém passa”, which means that in our stadium no one can beat us.
The atmosphere at the Campo Cruz do Reguengo has been electric this season, with supporters bringing instruments, banners and most importantly, their voices. However, Machado explains, it hasn’t always been this way.
“Purely out of passion”
“Mancha Verde was officially born in 2006. I was still a kid back then so I can´t tell you exactly how or why it started. However, I can say that, as the years went on, fewer and fewer people were attending the games. The project never “died” in an official capacity, but there just weren’t enough people to support it and eventually the atmosphere in the games crumbled with no chants and very little support or presence from the fans.”
Machado and his friends wanted to do something about an atmosphere that had grown stale, they sensed that there was an opportunity to create something special at the club.
“A few years ago, a group of 5 neighbourhood friends (Machado included) decided to start going to the games and inviting some friends to come with us to support our local club. At this time, Vilaverdense was in the distritais (district leagues) so this idea for us to show support didn’t come about because of the club’s good form, it was purely out of passion for our team. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, at some games it was just seven or eight kids, but we still tried to make as much noise as we could. We were starting to get some momentum but then the pandemic hit and the project was put on hold for a while. Last year was a turning point, this is when things started to become a bit more serious as more and more people joined in. Fast forward to today and here we still are, a bit older and more experienced, but still with the same passion, and with a lot more folks in the stands.”
Does a good atmosphere help to bring good results on the pitch or do good performances on the pitch help create a good atmosphere? At Vilaverdense, the supporters in the stands and the players on the pitch are working together in perfect harmony. The ball is fully rolling now and as the club continues to perform at a high level, more and more people will become invested in this project, as the Mancha Verde member explains.
“We are the future”
“Great performances combined with the amazing results means we have a lot more people in the stadium than usual and thus we are able to create a better atmosphere. One thing that we take great pride in, is having a lot of young people in the stadium supporting the team. If you check out some of our videos on Instagram, you can clearly see a lot of young people there and that’s really important for us because we are the future, especially in a country where unfortunately the culture of supporting your local club is almost absent due to the support of the big three. When we played Varzim away, we took around 100 people to their stadium for an 11:00 AM kick-off. For a club our size, this was something that made me very proud.”
We asked David to pick three standout players this season for Vilaverdense, players who have been instrumental in the club’s meteoric rise.
“The whole team has been performing at a really high level!” explains Machado. “If I had to pick three of them, it would probably be: Yannick Semedo, who is the heart of our midfield. I honestly don’t think that man can get tired, he even reminds me of (Ngolo) Kanté in a way because he just doesn’t stop running and he can still deliver the ball with a great pass to his teammates or even go inside the box and score. Our captain, André Soares, is 32 years old and still delivers his plays with absolute class, he is a really gifted footballer and is absolutely crucial in our attacking play. Then we have Brian Cipenga, who is probably the fan’s favourite and rightfully so! He is one of the most exciting players I´ve ever seen play. His ability in 1v1 situations is incredible, and that aligned with his speed makes him a nightmare for the opposition right-back. These 3 players, and probably a few others too, have more than enough quality to play in a higher division than Liga 3, in my opinion.
The opportunity to play in a higher division than Liga 3 may not be too far away for these Länk FC Vilaverdense players. We are past the halfway point in the season and they are still riding high at the top of the table. After the jubilation of getting promoted from the Campeonato de Portugal to Liga 3, the supporters are dreaming of yet another promotion celebration come the end of this season.
“When the season started, the goal was simple, to collect enough points to stay up as quickly as possible. Nobody was expecting us to do as good as we are doing but that’s the beauty of it.” explains Machado. “In my opinion, we have more than enough quality to win or at least get close to winning the league and with a bit of luck perhaps even advance to the semi-finals of the Taça de Portugal, but perhaps my opinion might be a little bit biased!”.
“A sense of community, almost family”
Machado adds “The more realistic expectation is to finish the season in the first four places in this first phase of the league and then try to gain promotion in the second phase and perhaps reach the quarter-finals of the cup. Even if we don´t achieve these aims, this season has already exceeded our expectations.”
The coverage in the press hasn’t all been positive though, a couple of news outlets in Portugal recently shared a story that the Länk FC Vilaverdense players had gone on strike due to not receiving wages from the club. The situation was reportedly blown well out of proportion and is now resolved.
“Obviously the supporters don’t like to see those kinds of rumours being shared, because that’s exactly what they were, rumours. It damages our image. There were no strikes from the players like it was reported in the press. Yes, there was a delay in payments, possibly because the money is paid from Canada – but it was not for two months like it was reported. This situation has already been fixed as the club stated. What I will say is that I think the club should have reacted a lot earlier, because by the time they did, the rumours were already considered to be the truth, and so the damage had already been done. But that’s in the past now, our focus is on our next game.”
We asked David to give us his thoughts on what it means to be a supporter, to have a strong attachment to a club and to feel part of something bigger than yourself – his answer was one that millions of football supporters around the world can resonate with.
“It’s difficult for me to put my feelings for this club into words. Like a lot of people here in Portugal say, “those who don’t feel it, don’t understand it”. Yes, right now everything is going the right way, but even if in the next game or the next season we start to crumble on the field, it would still be worth every penny that I waste to watch the games. Just the sense of community, almost family, that you get when you’re there supporting the team makes every sacrifice worth it. Plus, I’m actually the guy that plays the drums, and I really love to play instruments, so that alone is more than enough for me! It feels amazing to be a fan right now, there is a positive atmosphere around the club and the supporters, but as I’ve said, if tomorrow they start to lose every game, we will still be there to support them, because that’s what true fans do.”
A big thank you to David Machado for his insight into the club, you can check out Mancha Verde on Instagram at – @ManchaVerde2006.