Martha Gens is one of the main coordinators of Associação Portuguesa de Defesa do Adepto (APDA), the national organisation that is co-hosting the 2019 European Football Fans Congress (EFFC) with FSE. Ahead of July’s event in Lisbon, we spoke to Martha about the challenges and opportunities currently facing the Portuguese supporters’ movement.
FSE: Why did Portuguese supporters feel the need to form a national organisation?
MG: Although the association was born in 2016, its creation was first suggested in 2012. A group of fans from different clubs began to feel that there was a need for an independent body to represent the interests of all Portuguese supporters.
We felt there was a total lack of protection for fans. We were also concerned that there was no institution, either in football or the level of government, that was willing to listen to us. Deep down, we knew that if this was to change, we would need form a single, democratic grouping with a distinct and coherent message.
Who better to speak for the fans than the fans themselves?
In 2016, we brought together a diverse team and legally established APDA as a non-profit organisation.
FSE: What do you think the chances are of convincing the government to back down on its proposed amendments to Law Proposal 153/XIII?
MG: As fans, we know that you have to play to the whistle.
We believe that the proposal, which seeks to curtail the rights of football fans by introducing a fan ID, will reduce the number of people who attend football and other sporting matches, as has been the case in other European nations that have adopted similar measures.
We have done everything possible to highlight the potential negative outcomes of this legislation, that it is not the way forward. We are confident that our participation in legislative hearings – the first-time fans have been heard in Parliament – has had a positive impact on the debate. Even if the final outcome is not what we wanted, we will continue to fight for the rights and interests of fans.
There is still a lot of work to do in Portugal with regards to fan dialogue.
FSE: Have you received any advice or support from other supporters’ groups?
MG: We have taken into account several points of view. Our members include groups, individuals, and clubs (first league, district, etc.), which helps inform our positions.
We are still a very young association, and although many groups and institutions are already aware of our existence, we are increasingly becoming a bridge between all these stakeholders. Changing mindsets will probably be our biggest challenge, but we believe that we will rise to it, even if progress proves to be gradual.
FSE: What other issues does APDA focus on?
MG: Portuguese fans face many problems. Most of these problems arise because the authorities (leagues, the government, etc.) don’t consider fans to be important stakeholders in football specifically or sports more generally. There appears to be no incentive or motivation to work with or cater to fans. The powers that be focus excessively on the fight against violence, and do so in a repressive, marginalising way. In the process, they forget to encourage people to attend games or to create a spectacle. Fans are the heart of the stadium. There is no need to be afraid to admit this.
With a minimum wage of 600 EUR per month, the price of tickets is also an issue; as is the fixture schedule, with leagues shamelessly privileging the needs of broadcasters, often holding games on weekday evenings and forcing some fans to make 400-kilometre round trips. Police violence and heavy-handed legislation on the use of pyrotechnic devices are concerns, too.
The fact that opinions on safe standing are mixed is a prime example of the challenges we face in Portugal. Meanwhile, the sale of low-alcoholic drinks in stadia is still prohibited, even though the experience of other European nations shows that there is no direct correlation between the consumption of low-alcohol drinks and disorder.
We still have a long way to go.
FSE: What has been APDA’s biggest achievement to date?
MG: We believe that our greatest achievement was our intervention in the Portuguese Parliament. Our expectation for the EFFC is also very high. It will be a historic moment for Portuguese supporters.
FSE: What makes Portuguese football fandom special?
MG: The Portuguese are naturally warm people, with a touch of romance and longing in their souls. We have a remarkable history and culture, and we are very proud of that. These characteristics are reflected in our passions.
Of course, we have an equally extraordinary sporting culture and we reflect this in our fandom: warmth and joy, mixed with a hint of fado. This enthusiasm partly explains why Portuguese clubs rank among the biggest membership clubs in the world.
But, of course, every fan group is different.
And, in the end, it is difficult to distil or explain passion. We leave the invitation open so you can see for yourselves.
FSE: What do you think Portuguese fans can learn from their European counterparts during the EFFC in Lisbon?
MG: Sharing experiences and ideas, with both supporters and governing bodies such as UEFA, will definitely motivate Portuguese fans and show that there is a place at the table for us.
Once fans become aware of the good practice that exists elsewhere – that it works – there will be a greater determination to work together to defend our status as legitimate and important stakeholders.
The EFFC won’t just be positive for fans, either – the institutions of Portuguese football themselves stand to benefit. With this event, we hope to change attitudes. We truly believe that the EFFC will be a turning point for football in Portugal.
We look forward to welcoming you to Lisbon!