"We want this club to be great, as great as Europe's finest," said a young and enthusiastic Jose Alvalade prior to founding Sporting Clube de Portugal in the early 20th century. And his words which would turn out to be no hollow boast. Over 100 years on, and having stayed true to the same multi-disciplinary focus of the club's founding members, the Lisbon outfit are currently behind only Barcelona in terms of European titles won in all sporting disciplines - not to mention the lengthy list of Olympic, World Championship and international medals won by sportspeople who have worn the famous green-and-white hoops.
Birth of an institution
All of this success can be traced back to 1902 and a group of Lisbon youngsters holidaying in Belas, on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital. After playing the sport then known as "foot-ball" as part of the Sintra public festivities, their interest in the game continued to grow, leading to the founding of Campo Grande Football Club in 1904. However, differences soon emerged between those wishing to use the club for primarily social purposes and those determined to focus on sporting success. As a result, some two dozen members of Campo Grande, including Alvalade, took their leave and vowed to set up a new institution.
Backed by Jose's grandfather, the Viscount of Alvalade, 18 of these youngsters founded Sporting Clube de Portugal on 1 July 1906. The raging lion from the coat of arms of founder member Fernando de Castelo Branco was taken for the club crest but, at the Viscount's behest, the blue background was exchanged for a green one symbolising the group's collective hopes for their new undertaking.
The first episode of Sporting's fierce local rivalry with Benfica took place on 1 December 1907, Os Leões (The Lions) winning that match 2-1 wearing their original jersey consisting of just two thick vertical stripes - one green and one white. Their neighbours would prove decisive in Sporting's adoption of the green-and-white hooped shirt they wear today. On a tour of Brazil in 1928, the football team temporarily wore the hooped shirts of the club's rugby wing - which were more suited to the balmy Brazilian temperatures. In October of that year, during a match against Benfica played in stormy conditions, Sporting changed their sopping shirts at the interval for the rugby jerseys and went on to win the match - thus cementing the shirt's place in the players' favours.
The making of a legend
The 1940s and 50s were a golden era for Sporting, with the club claiming ten of its 18 national league titles as well as four Portuguese Cups during the period. It was also the era of the forward line of Jesus Correia, Manuel Vasques, Fernando Peyroteo, Jose Travassos and Albano dubbed Os Cinco Violinos (The Five Violins) by respected coach and journalist Tavares da Silva. Indeed, such was their artistry that in the 1949/50 season the team scored a record 123 goals over the course of the then 26-match campaign, an average of nearly five per game.
In the mid-50s, footballing achievements would coincide with success in a variety of other sporting disciplines, with the club firmly establishing themselves as a force on the domestic stage. On the international front, Sporting were the first Portuguese team to take part in the European Champions Clubs' Cup, hosting the first ever fixture of the inaugural competition in Lisbon on 4 September 1955. In a 3-3 draw with Partizan Belgrade, it was a player in green-and-white stripes, Joao Martins, who scored the first goal of the fledgling European Cup.
Followers of Os Leões would have to wait until 1964, however, to celebrate a footballing triumph on the continent: a 1-0 victory over MTK Budapest in the European Cup Winners' Cup final replay, which followed a 3-3 draw two days earlier. The victory was the culmination of a campaign that included a record 16-1 first round first-leg victory over APOEL of Cyprus and the 5-0 quarter-final second-leg win over Manchester United which cancelled out a 4-1 first-leg reverse. With this competition having been wound up in 1999, Sporting will forever be the only Portuguese club to have won the trophy.
The 90s were lean years by Sporting standards, with only a Portuguese Cup and Super Cup to show for their efforts, but the new millennium brought a considerable change in fortune. The capital side have since claimed nine domestic trophies including league title wins in 1999/00 and 2001/02, the first of which ended an 18-year championship drought. The Lions' faithful were also able to cheer on their heroes on home turf in the final of the 2004/05 UEFA Cup against CSKA Moscow, a fairy-tale which ended unhappily when the Russian team fought back to claim a dramatic 3-1 win.
Currently under the steady hand of head coach Paulo Bento, Sporting remain a part of the country's established big three along with Benfica and northern powerhouses Porto, winners of the last three Portuguese league titles. Bento's charges also made it safely through to the Round of 16 of this season's UEFA Champions League, where they will meet Bayern Munich.
On 10 June 1956, Sporting unveiled their brand-new stadium named in honour of their founder, Jose Alvalade. In 1983, under the presidency of Joao Rocha, the ground was made fully-enclosed with the completion of a new stand, but a complete overhaul would begin some 15 years later. Even before Portugal was confirmed as hosts of UEFA EURO 2004, work began on a state-of-the-art arena designed by the Portuguese Tomas Taveira and able to host 50,500 spectators, a venue which was officially opened on 6 June 2003.
The stadium is at the heart of the huge Alvalade XXI complex, which, aside from offices and the club museum, also includes a vast shopping and entertainment centre, a medical clinic, health club and day centre - part of Sporting's Leões de Portugal social project. As well as the UEFA Cup final of 2005, the stadium hosted five matches at EURO 2004 including Portugal's 2-1 semi-final victory over the Netherlands.