Sheffield United: Blades and Maritimo have more similarities than differences despite being 1,600 miles apart

Blades boss Chris Wilder
Blades boss Chris Wilder
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One thousand six hundred miles separate Sheffield United and C.S. Marítimo, who meet in a friendly later tonight.

Culturally speaking, they boast plenty in common though. Both enjoy fanatical followings, both are proud of their working class roots and both have faced calls to band together with a rival on the misguided premise it would help them compete.

"The fans of Maritimo are very passionate," Gonçalo Vasconcelos, of the Record newspaper, said. "Not only about the 'A' team but also the 'B' teams and the new under-23's. They have around 20,000 official supporters who are very proud of everything connected with the group."

Although their game with United is being staged in Parchal on the Portuguese mainland, Maritimo hail from Funchal, the capital of Madeira. The archipelago, closer to Morocco than Lisbon, is also home to União and Primeira Liga rivals Nacional; purportedly the club of the island's elite.

Sociology and sport clashed in the Nineties when Alberto João Jardim, the region's former governor, proposed all three merge to create a footballing powerhouse. Despite pledges of support from their neighbours, Maritimo's socios rejected the idea. It was a gesture which cemented their status as Maderia's leading club and an act of defiance United fans will admire, having rubbished similiar suggestions involving themselves and Sheffield Wednesday in the past.

"All of Maritimo's teams have the spirit and character of the Madeira people," Vasconcelos continued. "And Maritimo is the people's club. The three major teams, Maritimo, Nacional and União, are all centenary clubs. Maritimo was founded in 1910 to play and win against the many English teams who arrived by boat on the island."

Maritimo, who finished seventh in Portugal's top-flight last term, have become one of the country's best supported teams since entering its national competition in 1973. Initially excluded on the basis they were not a continental territory, they have inevitably become a vehicle for expressions of regional identity.

The Madeiran diaspora has also seen them establish strong followings in places such as Angola, Brazil and Caracas where Maritimo de Venezuela, founded by Portuguese immigrants, play in the same green and red coloured shirts.

"The island of Madeira lives and breathes football," Vasconcelos explained. "Yes, it is true Maritimo have fan bases across the globe with South Africa and Cape Verde being among the most recent."

Bramall Lane, United's home stadium, is steeped in history having staged international fixtures, Test Match cricket and the world's first football tournament. A short drive away from Maritimo's ground, the Estádio do Marítimo, lies the village of Camacha where, 143 years ago, Portugal's first organised game of football took place.

Managed by Claúdio Braga, Maritimo's eclectic squad reflects their geographical links. Twelve Brazilians, including former Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Charles, could face Chris Wilder's team this evening.

Mozambique international Zainadine Júnior and Argentine Jorge Correa, previously of Vélez Sarsfield, are also expected to feature at the Bela Vista Estadio, located half an hour's drive from the resort of Albufeira.

"Maritimo has a new manager in Claudio Braga," Vasconcelos said. "He was working in Holland and I think he has a philosophy more attacking than his predecessor, Daniel Ramos."