In the world of junior football, Mid Ulster League side Union Lusa are a unique proposition, writes Keith Bailie
In 2010 a group of migrant workers with a mutual love of the beautiful game joined forces to form a Portuguese language football team. The result was Union Lusa, a team of Portuguese immigrants who moved to the Portadown area for work.
Although many people initially doubted the sustainability of Portuguese team in Mid Ulster, Union Lusa are now in their fourth season and they're currently second in MUFL Division Four. If they can continue their good form, promotion to Division Three beckons.
But their manager, Joaquim Correia, has confessed that it's not always easy for Union Lusa.
Correia claimed his side have subjected to unpleasantries in the past.
“It upsets me when people call my players bad names. It can be very tough, but I just tell my players not to worry about it. I tell them not to call them bad names back.
“They only call us bad names when we are winning. I don't know why, maybe it's because we have so many black lads in our team.
“But we enjoy playing football so we don't let it bother us.
“When the whistles goes when all shake hands and everybody is friends again. We don't worry about it.”
While Union Lusa are a unique outfit, they have many of the same problems other junior clubs have. As ever, funding is an issue for Correia and his friends.
“The majority of our team are from Portugal, but we also have players from Timor, Angola and Mozambique. We also have two local Northern Irish lads who come along and play for us.
“It's great for us Portuguese immigrants to have a football team to play for. When we first started, people said, ‘Union Lusa — you will last one year', but here we are four years later and we are better than ever.
“We have about 25 players and everybody works together and enjoys playing football.
“It's not easy running a football team. Last year we had a reserve team, but now we just have one team as it is too expensive to have two sides as you have to pay for kits, referees and pitches.
“We could do with more sponsors, but that's true for all teams, not just Union Lusa. We're lucky because we are very well organised as we have a good secretary and a good chairman.”
Union Lusa are currently locked a promotion battle with league leaders Goodyear and the in-form Knockmenagh Swifts.
Correia believes his side have a good chance of claiming the title.
“We are in second place at the moment and we are only one point behind the leaders with an extra game to play, so I think we have a good chance of winning the league, but it's going to be very tight.
“When we've got our full team available we are a very good team, but unfortunately a lot of my players have to work on Saturday afternoons, so I can't always field my best side.
“Our aim is to finish in the top two and get promoted to the third division. I'm confident we can do it but there is a long way to go.”
Correia is a big fan of the Portuguese national team, but unfortunately he was unable to attend Portugal's sensational 4-2 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park early this year.
He explained: “I was working, so I wasn't able to go to Windsor Park but some of my friends went. Ronaldo was fantastic.
“I went in 2005 when we drew 1-1 with Northern Ireland in a friendly. That was a good day out for me.”
Like all football fans Correia is excited about the World Cup in Brazil this summer. His beloved Portugal, managed by Paulo Bento, have been drawn along side Germany, Ghana and USA. Correia believes Germany are the favourites to win the competition.
“I am looking forward to the World Cup this summer. I think Portugal are like England. They can do well but they are not the favourites. Portugal have a good team but they are not the best.
“I think Germany have the best team this year. Argentina have a good team too, I think it will be a good tournament.”
Joaquim Correia moved to Northern Ireland in 2000 and has since settled and started a family. While he sometimes misses his homeland, Correia is happy in Northern Ireland and believe his family will have a great future here.
“I like it in Northern Ireland. I've been here for 13 years and my daughter was born here. She is Northern Irish.
“I don't have any problems with the local people, we all get on well together, but I don't speak for everybody. Maybe other immigrants have problems, but not me, I like it here. Most of the people are very friendly.”
Name: Union Lusa
League: MUFL Division 4
Ground: Park Road, Portadown
Colours: Red and Black
Gaffer: Joaquim Correia
Skipper: Paulo Rodriguez
Club Man: Secretary Paulo Fonseca