Joaquim Emílio da Silva Pereira joined the Portuguese football club FC Penafiel in 1956.
When his father signed the contract on his behalf – he was still a minor then – it was the start of a very long career.
Pereira, a month shy of his 76th birthday, is still part of FC Penafiel’s veterans squad and from what was seen during a brief photo session, he hasn’t lost the technique that made him famous in Portuguese football.
The number 10 played just three matches with the juniors, his talent catapulted him into the seniors squad. He had signed for $5 a month which, in 1956, was a very good salary in Portugal.
But money was never his main concern. In all the time he has been playing for FC Penafiel, he has never signed a new contract. His salary has increased several times, but based only on verbal negotiations.
“I would tell club presidents how much I needed and they would oblige,” Pereira tells Al Jazeera. “Your word was enough in those days.”
I could have earned a lot of money. Obviously not as much as footballers today though. The wages are crazy now
FC Porto, Benfica, Sporting, Boavista and Vitória de Guimarães have tried to hire him but Pereira has never broken his “eternal connection” with FC Penafiel, the small team from the city where he was born.
The refusal has also meant a lost opportunity of going from a lower division to the top league. His motto has always been to play for the love of the game and FC Penafiel repaid his love by not selling him, even when there were tempting offers.
Rival clubs had a hard time approaching the player. Some fans almost beat up an FC Porto director who tried it. Four years later, Vitória de Guimaraes tried its luck but fans organised an extraordinary assembly to stop Pereira from leaving the club.
He lost out on a better wage which would have assured his “financial independence”.
“It’s a farce nowadays,” Pereira adds. “I could have earned a lot of money. Obviously not as much as footballers today though. The wages are crazy now. I can’t even calculate how much they earn. When I see players who have just joined a team score a goal and kiss the club’s logo, I think it is a farce. They only think about money.”
As a kid, Pereira used to help his father, who worked as a tailor, and his mother with household chores. But whenever he had some free time, he would play football with his friends in the streets – barefeet and with a ball made of rags.
He was the second oldest of five and could only manage to study until the fourth grade.
His childhood was not trouble-free, especially as he grew up during WWII. But later, he would escape to play football close to the river. He was punished for that but it was in that very place that FC Penafiel discovered him.
Money or fame was never Pereira’s ambition. His connection with the club was so strong that when the team lost at home, he would take a different route home because he would feel ashamed of going through the city centre.
Pereira’s professional career ended in 1986 but he did sign off with a tremendous record and a special distinction from the Portuguese Football Federation. During his 20-year career, he scored 600 goals and never got a yellow or red card.
Next month, Pereira will be 76. The secret of his fitness seems to be his healthy lifestyle and love for the game.
“I exercise on my own. I run and jump for at least an hour. I play football with my grandson, who also plays in a club but who has not put my surname on his shirt to avoid comparisons.”
Apart from representing the club as a player, Pereira has coached all of the FC Penafiel teams – from the school team to the professional one. Now, he has a new challenge. He has been appointed coach of the veterans team where he still plays.
“I am not going to teach them anything, because they know everything. They have to play like veterans. A veteran has to play with a ball on his foot. We cannot run like when we were 18 because we’d be dead after a few minutes.”
Pereira does not quite know when he will hang up his boots. But he does know that he wants to go on until he can – for the love of the game and FC Penafiel.