Guerrilla Fado Club / by Justin Salhani

A concept club presented by Guerrilla FC

 Street art and graffiti is ever present on Lisbon's storied walls. Photo by Justin Salhani.

Street art and graffiti is ever present on Lisbon's storied walls. Photo by Justin Salhani.

Words Justin Salhani
Edits Ben Wolford, Stephanie Saad Thompson

Guerrilla Fado Club is a concept football club designed by Guerrilla FC and is the manifestation of the Portuguese cultural and artistic influence on Guerrilla FC. The sorrowful lyrics of the Fadistas; the vivid graffiti masterpieces; the classical tiled buildings; the rolling hills and panoramic rooftop sights; the thousand-year-old churches adorned with gold; the scent of bacalhau (dried fresh salt cod), spicy Portuguese sausages, and olives dripping with oil; the mosaic of European and Moorish heritage with a modern influence of African and tropical culture… Guerrilla Fado Club attempts to encapsulate the influence of these themes and use them to create pieces of art from an admiring outsider’s perspective.

Guerrilla FC is a Washington, D.C.-based creative community and football club. Guerrilla merges art, fashion, and football to bring a holistic football culture to a city where it does not yet exist. Guerrilla FC captain Justin Salhani recently traveled to Portugal. Here, he found the creativity in Lisbon mirrored the artistry of Portugal's foremost football stars. Beauty on the streets is reflected by play on the pitch. Inspired by this fusion of culture, Salhani created Guerrilla Fado Club.

Intricate colorful tiles line the façade of Lisbon’s historic buildings. Bland walls are replaced by spray-painted messages or drawings by many of the city’s imaginative street artists. The bustling crowds outside the city’s trendy bars drink and chat merrily while inside the melancholic lyrics and guitar strumming of Portugal’s famous Fado music can be heard. The city juxtaposes with old and new complementing each other to form a holistic culture that boasts characteristics of vibrancy, artistry, and inspiration.

I arrive in Lisbon two weeks after Portuguese national team forward Eder held off France’s Laurent Koscielny and fired a long-range shot past Hugo Lloris to clinch the European Cup in France—Portugal’s first ever major international championship. Copa America had ended a few weeks before in the United States, but the excitement in D.C. was barely noticeable.

Classical meets modern. Some members of Guerrilla climb a staircase straddled by traditional tiles and trendy street art in Lisbon's Bairro Alto neighborhood. Photo by Justin Salhani.

In Lisbon, balconies throughout the city flew the flag as a sign of post-victory pride. Some parts of town, like the storied Alfama neighborhood, are papered with posters of international superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, mercurial winger Ricardo Quaresma, and goalkeeper Rui Patricio—a player whose appraisal improved tremendously over the course of Euro 2016.

Sinners and saints

Many of Portugal's leading talents have values instilled in them by cities such as Lisbon. Like the city’s street artists who dress the city with beauty while avoiding the authorities, Portuguese footballers boast a passionate mix of inventiveness and guile.

“We’re like kids. We love the ball. We want the ball. The ball is the thing. We give names to the ball. We say a redondinha, the rounded one, the little round thing. We nickname the ball. This is our love,” Portuguese poet Jacinto Lucas Pires tells Howler Magazine.

The Portuguese team that won Euro 2016 did so by playing pragmatic, defensive football—a squad with more lumberjacks than poets and characteristics less traditionally appreciated by the Portuguese youth systems that feed the national team. If artistry in football is Catholicism, then this team was filled with sinners.

Pepe, the team’s standout defender and man of the match in the final, is a naturalized Brazilian with a mean streak. He almost retired in 2009 after repeatedly kicking a Getafe player on the ground. Jose Fonte, Pepe’s partner in central defense, went overlooked most of his career. He plied his trade in England’s League 1 as recent as six years ago and received his first call up to the national team just shy of his 31st birthday. Ricardo Carvalho, who began the tournament as a starter before being replaced by Fonte, is more prone to in-your-face-tackles than clever flicks. Defenders in Portugal don’t receive the same adoration as scarred British center-halves like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand, but Pepe and Fonte were deemed as, if not more, crucial to Portugal’s victory than the more celebrated stars in Green and Red.

The 2016 team clearly had its share of technicians—Joao Moutinho is an elegant passer of the ball, William Carvalho an effective destroyer of opposition attacks, Nani a dribbler and athlete of exceptional quality, Quaresma a terrorist of tricks on his day, Renato Sanches a player whose all-around game is incredible despite his tender age, and that’s without even mentioning Ronaldo—but it might be said that the last Portuguese squad to reach a final loved the ball more than the current squad.

We’re like kids. We love the ball. We want the ball.

Of course, the squad of 2004 boasted the luminous talents of some of the best Portuguese to ever play. This side was bursting at the seams with so much ability that head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari benched legendary playmaker Rui Costa for an up-and-comer by the name of Deco—another naturalized Brazilian who paved the way for players like Pepe.

In addition to the creativity and vision of Rui Costa and Deco’s crafty passing, the team was led by the drive and intellect of Luis Figo. It was complimented by a young Ronaldo who pushed his way into the side at the expense of another technically excellent Portuguese winger in Simao. The central midfield belonged to Maniche, whose box-to-box prowess was complimented by his knack for long-range goal scoring. Miguel rampaged down the sideline from his position at right back and goal-poacher Pauleta led the strikeforce.

The team of 2004 had artistry, beauty, and guile, but it left Euro 2004 without a trophy. Two years later in Germany, many of the same players would be sent home by a Zidane penalty in the World Cup semifinals. The Euro 2004 squad can be personified by the Portuguese term Saudade—an untranslatable word often associated with the melancholic Fado music that sings of tragedy and irreconcilable loss.

Thus there will be those who argue that the defensive approach of Portugal’s current manager Fernando Santos vindicates the perspective that art is overrated in football. Pragmatism conquers creativity and risk-averse organization trumps the aesthetic of risk-taking attacking football. It was another Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho, who brought these methods to the forefront of club football, constantly stifling ideological rivals like Arsène Wenger—a cardinal in the church of aesthetic football.

 It would be naïve, however, to discount the invention and artistry in Portugal’s run to the championship. Portugal was involved in many drab games and hence the plaudits went to Pepe and Rui Patricio, but Portugal would have gone home sans a brilliant mid-air heel-flick against Hungary by talisman Ronaldo. This is the identity that cannot be suppressed by defensive football. When salvation was needed it was the saints answering Portugal's hallowed prayers.

Street-made champions

Such flicks and tricks were encouraged in the Sporting Lisbon youth academy that produced such talents as Ronaldo and Quaresma—a player whose game is built on an aesthetic that even at 32 can be as beautiful and stimulating as Lisbon’s tiled walls, and the scorer of a crucial game winning goal against Croatia.

Lisbon also raised the hero of the European final Eder, who grew up playing football in the city’s streets. Portugal is renowned for creating wingers: Figo, Simao, Ronaldo, Quaresma, Nani; but apart from Pauleta, there are few Portuguese strikers who have left a recent legacy. This was most apparent as Santos chose to start Nani and Ronaldo as forwards throughout most of Euro 2016. Portuguese strikers don’t share the cutthroat characteristics you see in German poachers like Miroslav Klose or Gerd Muller or Italian goalbox stalkers like Pippo Inzaghi.

If artistry in football is Catholicism, then this team was filled with sinners.

Portuguese forwards “feel like they want to have the ball for awhile and then find a way to get space and score,” Pires says. Portuguese stars get these skills from the cultured streets. When a ball lays at their feet, the country's music guides their hips. It's colorful walls recall their heritage and responsibility to the stars that played football before them. The fragrance of salty, dried fish and sausages inspires their crafty passes that manipulate each surface of their foot.

This identity flows through the veins of every Portuguese footballer. But in Washington, D.C., this culture is lacking. Football in the district is focused on recreational leagues where teams play on oversized fields in mismatched kits. This city of transience knows nothing of football culture, but Guerrilla FC wants that to change. 

Football and art

On July 10 one of the Portuguese national team's few out-and-out strikers, Eder, entered the European final against France late in regular time. The matched seemed destined for penalties, but six minutes before the referee brought the whistle to his lips, Eder picked up the ball in midfield. He exemplified the prototypical Portuguese striker by holding off opposition defenders, keeping the ball close, feeling the ball at his feet, letting the anticipation grow, and, finally, releasing a wicked, low shot. Here’s how Pires describes the goal:

“You saw he kept the ball, he was alone, he kept the ball, he got his space. He looks once, like this. We’re not sure he’s even looking at the goal, really. He sensed that the thing was there. And then, when he gets some time… he had this little time with the ball, like, he was building the moment. And then, okay, nobody’s here, you know—wham, I shoot.”

That goal, that piece of Portuguese artistry, sent the country into raptures. The Portuguese nation demands its football resemble art. The collective tournament was disappointing, but in the moments that mattered the creative soul of the city manifested itself through its foremost stars. Now, in the capital of the United States, Guerrilla tries to put in place a foundation to release our own footballing artists.


 Original art created for Guerrilla Fado Club. Original Guerrilla design by Khoi Bi Phan. Fado design by Justin Salhani.

Original art created for Guerrilla Fado Club. Original Guerrilla design by Khoi Bi Phan. Fado design by Justin Salhani.

This artistic vibe of modern Lisbon, the flair and skill of their modern team, as well as the Saudade of the 2004 artists inspired Guerrilla to design the concept club spinoff—Guerrilla Fado Club. Fado is a form of music represented by mournful lyrics about heartbreak, poverty, or life at sea. The most respected singers of Fado do not necessarily have the strongest or most beautiful voices, but it is art, and the soul emanating from the Fadista’s voice deeply resonates with listeners. In that way, it closely resembles Portugal’s first major international championship.