Davide Pita has always been into football, be that through playing or coaching and developing the islands future stars. Now he has helped bring a community back to local football.
Over lockdown he thought of the idea of creating Portuguese United, and by early Septemeber they had played their first ever competitive game.
Sportscast Jersey caught up with Pita about his story and the formation of Portuguese United!
What are you first memories of football?
For me football has always been number one. From primary school, playing with your friends at lunch time and play time, school football. Obviously Jersey has a lot of football teams and it is probably still the number one sport. Everyone in my generation was heavily involved in football and loved it. In terms of my first proper memory of football, it was probably Euro ’96. I remember making a little tent and crying watching England lose on penalties to Germany. It was heart breaking at the time, but as a little kid, supporting your country in a big tournament was special.
Who was your footballing idol growing up, and now?
Growing up I would have to say Brazilian Ronaldo. There was no player close to how good he was. It was magic what he could do, how quick he could get past players. His skills, technique and finishing was amazing to watch and I fell in love with watching him play. Now, I may be very biased, but it has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. I have followed his whole career. I remember being in a bar watching a pre season friendly between Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United just seeing this 17 year old kid going up against John O’Shea giving him a nightmare and the rest is history. He has constantly kept working and working, not getting complacent and has looked after himself so injuries haven’t really been a factor in his career. He is 35 now and he is as good as any 26/27 year old in their prime. At the moment he is my number one.
Who did you play for growing up, and did you play to a good level?
Fortunately for me I did all my junior football at Trinity and at the time the senior side were the best in the Channel Islands. We had really good, well know players locally and it was a brilliant environment to be involved with. When we first started, if I remember rightly, it was U14s and a lot of us had not played for many clubs before, so we were on the backend of 10-0, 16-0 results most weeks. Until all the way through where, at U18s in the second season we moved up to the top division and we played against Brett Pitman who was still at First Tower and Peter Vincenti. First Tower and St Pauls were the top teams in that league back then and we gave all the teams a good run for their money. So there was really good memories in the Junior football, and then having such a good first team, reserves and there was a C team at the time, at 16 I was already involved with training with the seniors. That was a really good experience because they took their football so serious, so it gave us the opportunity to improve quickly. University is the highest level I have played. I was captain and we won the North West league and cup so that was probably the best.
How good was coaching at Brazilian Soccer Schools?
It was an amazing opportunity and experience. I was fortunate to have the chance to be in Jersey, and be in a full time job doing football coaching, literally every single day. I met Will Partington through Beach Soccer at first and from that he asked if I wanted to get involved. It started off with a few weekend classes and moved into a full time job. Obviously, with what Will does at Brazilian Soccer Schools, the syllabus is fantastic, Will’s experience and connections with Brazil academies over there is fantastic. He knows World Cup legends on a personal level so he has an in depth analysis of how they have been brought up playing Futsal, playing in the street and playing Beach Soccer. Will himself playing and training with Brazilian teams on Copacabana and obviously representing England at Beach Soccer. Personally I probably could not have had a better mentor and a better person to really show me the ropes to start off and help the kids develop.
Talk to us about Players Corner. Why did you create that?
I had moved to London for a few years and sort of followed a few results because some mates were still playing, but there seemed to be a disengagement. Obviously people have busy lives, you hit a certain age and you start looking at your career, your family and having children which in turn stops people playing. I also noticed there wasn’t as many younger players coming through. I thought of the idea of trying to engage people and I feel it did help bring people back to life. Just sharing local teams content because sometimes they do need a bit of attention. Yes they get a write up in the JEP but if you are not one of the top teams, your not in the cup finals, you kind of get missed out. It is brilliant to see the work Sportscast Jersey, and a few other individuals getting involved in promoting local sport. I have another baby on the way, so my time is limited on Players Corner but I am going to try and do little bits and engage a little bit more.
When did the very first idea of starting Portuguese United come about?
It was probably late April, early May this year. Obviously we are in lockdown and nobody can do anything, your limited to how many hours you can leave the house. You couldn’t do any team sports. I was having conversations with people I had played 11-aside or 5-aside with about getting back together, and playing together. They knew I was very keen on organising coaching, and even playing myself. We looked into the possibility of getting something going and whether it was possible to when football does resume if entering a team would be possible. It started with those two or three people and it spread through them. The ladies got involved because Veronica has been trying for two, three years to get a group of Portuguese girls together. I said that if she can get eleven players to commit to playing then we will get it done. That is basically how the idea for Portuguese United FC came about.
How difficult was the process, especially with the past incidents in mind?
I have to say thankyou because it was brilliant how welcoming David Kennedy and Jonathon Le Fondre were in the original meetings that we had. Having been away I didn’t really understand the full extent of the history and what happened with Jersey Portuguese. My idea was start something from scratch with the emphasis on respect, fair play and sportsmanship. I will be honest, it was a little bit tricky because I was giving my name and face to a project where it already had a negative light before it has even started. However, everything has gone very well and the JFA have been really good and supportive in helping the whole process happen. The players all understood from the beginning what was expected, the ladies and the men, and we just want to create something where not just the Portuguese community, because we have different nationalities, can all come together and be seen in a positive light, and as we do that, encourage more people to get involved in the game.
How pleased are you that it has gone to plan, and you have teams in the leagues this season?
I will be honest when you look back at the last twelve to fifteen weeks since the initial contact with the JFA about entering a team, not know who is going to sign, it has gone really quick. We are grateful so many local businesses have supported us, which included a lot of time for the meeting, explaining the plan both short and long term. It is great to see more people getting involved in the team too be that through coaching, or even off the pitch supporting both the men’s and women’s sides.
How good is it to coach the players as well?
I know a lot of them from having played with them before and we have a lot of talented players who have played for a lot of clubs on the island. It is the case of trying to emphasise the style that I want the players to play, which is a very technical game and attacking, whilst keeping good shape. A lot of these players haven’t been coached for a long time. They used to turn up on a Tuesday for a kick around and then have a game on the Saturday so it has been interesting. They are full engaged but we are still on the learning period where from here to the end of the season they are going to evolve and adapt to training.
How has it gone so far on the pitch?
In pre-season, to see where we were at we gave ourselves some really difficult games. Half the players hadn’t played for three or four years competitively. For some it was even their first times playing in Jersey as they haven’t played since playing in Madeira. We started off against St Peter’s and for half an hour we did alright but then the legs got tired and we lost 9-0. They were disheartened but it was the way that they carried on. Next training session they were back at it giving 100%. The second game we played was a mix of St Clements reserves and first team. They beat us 4-1, but it was a close game and it was 2-1 until around half an hour to go. They were that little bit better than us. Organised. A bit fitter, a bit stronger. Then we played St Ouens where we introduced some 16 year olds. That was a big win for St Ouen’s, but then they are a team that nearly won the Premiership last season. We then had a friendly with Jersey Athletic and drew 2-2. Credit to the rugby lads, they had players who could play and their whole team were non stop for the whole game. Fantastic attitude and a really enjoyable game. We are hopefully going to get a few more games against them during the season to give more players some game time. The season then started. We played Accies and beat them 5-0 which was a very comfortable victory. We played some good football and kept a clean sheet, which for me was more important than the result. The second game we came up against a very strong and young St Paul’s side. We beat them 1-0 but they will have a good season, and if we are being honest we were lucky to take all three points.
Dragoes De Jersey have also formed. How good is that for the Portuguese community?
I think it is great. Previously the Jersey 5-aside league at Fort Regent was heavily involved with Portuguese people but it is great to see that we have three teams involved in 11 aside. For me personally, it is lovely to see the Dragoes because I played for FC Porto of London, which of course is the London branch of FC Porto’s fanbase. I know Stephen Pires myself so it is great to see him a new team in, and again more people playing football which is the important thing.
All Portuguese sides in the same league too. How good will those games be?
Especially because it is Division One, so we are talking the third tier of local football where usually it is young kids coming through or older players coming to the end of their career. We have three competitive teams. So far, there has been no issues. Obviously in the game there are tackles but that is normal. Sportsmanship is there, respect is there. Good football being played. Yes there is that ‘rivalry’ that comes from family, friends and people from outside football, but we all have a mutual respect for each other so it will result in entertaining football, especially with Portuguese being passionate, we are all going to want to do our best. It will raise the level of the league because other teams will raise their game playing against us. It is all positive.
What is the long term goal? Is there going to be an academy?
Definitely. That is the plan. We have already had a lot of interest from sponsors who want to get behind the project. Now it is just a case of finding a venue, a suitable time on a specific day. The key is that we are not going to have Junior teams to start with, but to get as many kids playing as possible. Our aim is to get 100 kids a week coming to training through various age groups, and then encourage them to join a team if they have never played. Encourage them to get involved in the school teams. It won’t just be for the Portuguese community, but for everybody.
And for the ladies team – what are the goals there?
We have a handful who have played locally before. Then we have such a widespread of players. We have one lady who is 52 years old who has never played football before but she keeps herself fit and active through running so she has got involved through knowing a few of the girls. Obviously football is competitive, but enjoying it, and learning is part of it too. Long term, we hope to attract players and become stronger to make the league stronger too, as if all five teams were equal then it would make for great entertainment. Credit to all the girls who play for Wanderers, Rozel and St Lawrence as some of the football they play is brilliant. It is a shame the Guernsey teams aren’t involved, but I think the future of ladies football is exciting.
What is next for you?
For the moment, I am fully focused on Portuguese United and trying to get it to a good level where I can take a back seat by getting more people involved. For me personally, coming up to my 35th birthday in two years, I am looking to get an O35s team. We have walking football coming soon as we have just confirmed that we want to put a team into that. Possibly in the future, having played beach soccer before but nationally and locally, maybe get something set up here in Jersey. I also just want to carry on coaching and stay around football as much as I can.
Finally, is your boy going to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo?
Well, I don’t think there is going to be a next Ronaldo! However, if football is something he is passionate about, he loves kicking the football about, then I am going to help him as much as possible through the connections that I do have. A good friend of mine is involved with football in London, and he has a big link with Tottenham. If football is something that my son loves then I will speak to as many people as I know that can open the right doors and help him through. With that said, it is great to see so many local footballers in the last 5-10 years play professionally. Peter Vincenti, Brett Pitman, Cav Miley, Lorne Bickley and Marlon Fossey just to name a few. If Leo, my son, is interested and does like it then I will help him all I can. We shall see what the future holds.