Behind The Badge is a series by COPA90 exploring football’s unique crests. These Football Times teamed up with their COPA Collective partners to tell the story behind each one.
There’s so much on Benfica’s badge that you need an afternoon of self-isolation to take it all in. An eagle? Check. Club initials? Check. Latin motto? Check. Bicycle wheel? Check – bet you hadn’t noticed that before. Red and white colours? Check.
First things first, Benfica weren’t called Benfica when they were formed in 1904. Well, the football team wasn’t. The Sport Lisboa group was founded in a pharmacy, which some reports labelled as a drugstore, in the Belém district of Lisbon. The idea of this group was concocted by the Rodrigues brothers, who lived in the pharmacy building, and a couple of its employees. It was decided that Sport Lisboa would play in red and white – hence the colours on today’s crest and kits – but the reasoning behind this is up for some debate.
Some say red and white were chosen as they symbolise bravery and peace; others suggest that these were the colours that stood out most to the players when the kits were put to them. Either way, there they were, painted on a shield with a football slapped in the middle. A banner was draped over the top of the shield displayed the club’s Latin motto: ‘E Pluribus Umum’ (Out of Many, One), with the aim of bringing everyone together to take the club forward. Just to add an ostentatious final touch, an eagle was placed atop the shield.
The eagle is a popular animal to go for if you’re designing a football badge. Just ask Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Lazio and St. Johnstone. According to Benfica’s official statute, “The eagle symbolises the height of the club’s aspirations, that is to say independence, authority and nobility.” Its presence has been part of club tradition ever since it first landed on of the crest in the early 20th century. It’s also, pretty obviously, where the club’s nickname, As Aguias, came from.
Talking of eagles, you may have seen the club’s mascot Vitória (Victory) soar across the Estádio da Luz before matches. The original eagle, which flew at the inauguration of the ground in 2003, was released in 2006, making way for its successor.
Famously, before a match against Vitória of all teams in 2018, Vitória the eagle took off during their pre-match routine – but didn’t return to the stadium until the following day. It wouldn’t have been hard to spot Vitória out and about in Lisbon that Saturday. It was probably the only eagle with red and white tape strapped to its ankles flying around the city. Probably.
In the four years following the club’s foundation, the facilities they played on were driving players away. Benfica’s eternal rivalry with Sporting was sparked in 1907 when seven Sport Lisboa players joined their neighbours over the state of the pitches. It was no secret that Sport Lisboa needed better facilities to play on.
In 1908, they struck a deal with Grupo Sport Benfica from the Benfica district of Lisbon. Together, they became Sport Lisboa e Benfica, with Sport Lisboa incorporating Benfica’s name and bicycle wheel into their badge, while Grupo Sport Benfica would maintain their Campo de Feiteira ground. Grupo Sport Benfica were really into their cycling, hence the wheel on their original badge and the one now surrounding Benfica’s red and white shield.
After bouncing around the dirt and grass pitches of Lisbon, Benfica would finally acquire access to their own stadium in 1925 and, five years later, they remodelled their crest, adding a splash of colour, namely the gold to the eagle and bike wheel, the blue to the SLB sash, and the red and green of the Portuguese flag to the motto banner.
With a sense of authority emitted from the badge, Benfica continued onwards, helping establish a Portuguese top tier in 1934, winning three of the first four championship titles. The league was dominated by the familiar trio of Benfica, Sporting and Porto, with Belenenses the only other side to be crowned champions until Boavista did it in 2001.
By the 1960s, Benfica were beginning to make their mark on the continental game, with Béla Guttmann, Eusébio, Mário Coluna, José Águas and a host of other remarkable talents lifting the European Cup in 1961 and 1962. It was the first time that the legend of Benfica’s eagle, and the remarkable crest it sits on, came to the wider world’s attention.
In the years since, As Aguias have emerged as one of the most iconic outfits in European football and Portugal’s premier club. Legends from Eusébio, José Aguas and Simão to Rui Costa, Luisão and Nuno Gomes have all donned the eagle and bike wheel combination on their chests, representing the outstanding tradition of independence, authority and nobility all the while.