The greatest goalscorer in the history of football.

In the pantheon of the greatest Portuguese goal scorers to have graced football over the years, one man stands head and shoulders above all others. Whilst some would say this must surely be Cristiano Ronaldo, others, with longer memories, may advocate the case for accolade going to Eusebio, Mário Coluna, José Augusto Torres or reaching further back, perhaps to José Águas. But, no. None of these celebrated luminaries have records that can come remotely close to the man who is not only the greatest scorer in the history of Portuguese football, but also has a reputable claim to be most prolific striker in world football across national championships in the history of the game, with 309 goals scored in 189 games.

Take a look at that stat again. No, that’s not the wrong way around. That’s right. No less than 309 goals in less than 200 games. This averages out at a scarcely believable, but entirely verifiable, rate of 1.63 goals per game. In comparison, Eusebio’s strike rate is marginally above a goal per game, whilst Ronaldo averages a comparatively insipid 0.75 per game. Portugal’s – and indeed, statistically, the world’s – greatest goal scorer of all time is, surely unarguably, Fernando Peyroteo.

It would be unduly harsh to condemn anyone reading this who may now be offering up the self-enquiring question of “Who is Fernando Peyroteo?” Well, let me relay a little about this phenomenal footballer who rewrote the goalscoring record books, his exploits, triumphs and disasters. It’s the tale of the Pioneer of legendary goalscoring excesses.

As with Eusebio many years later, Peyroteo was born not in Portugal but in one of their former African colonies. Whilst the Benfica legend hailed from Mozambique, Peyroteo was a native of Angola. Born in the small town of Humpata in the Huila province of the country, he entered this world on 18 March 1918 some months before the end of World War One, and his family name owes much to the Spanish heritage of his paternal grandparents.

Growing up, he was a fan of the Lisbon-based Sporting Clube de Portugal, a fact that SCP would be eternally grateful for in future years, and was introduced to football thanks to his elder brothers playing for Sporting Clube de Moçâmedes. The similarity to the name of the club for whom he would tear up records books playing for, is thought to have influenced his selection of SCP as his boyhood heroes.

Although a follower of football, his physique as a boy seemed ill-suited to the game, and instead he was encouraged to take up a number of other sports. His natural athleticism made him a proficient gymnast as well as excelling in swimming, rowing and basketball. Football was his first love though, and despite progressing other sports, he returned to his first love. In 1932 at the age of 14, Peyroteo would join Atletico Clube de Moçâmedes, the local rivals of his brothers’ club. His siblings had endured a dispute with the trainers at their club. Such being the case, the younger brother looked elsewhere.

During his school years in the town of town Sá da Bandeira, he would first display his ability to find the back of the net with startling regularity at Liceu Diogo Cão, a success that would see him join  Sporting Clube de Luanda, who were affiliated to SCP in Lisbon. The move would lead to the inevitable progression to Portugal and an opportunity to prove that his exploits in Angola were transferable to the big stage in Lisbon, albeit that the journey came by a rather circuitous route.

Peyroteo was 19 when arrived in the capital city, accompanying his mother who had moved there for health reasons. A family friend in the city, Aníbal Paciência who played for SCP was aware of his exploits in Angola and agreed to introduce him to the SCP management. It was hugely significant moment for all concerned. Initially his impressions were hardly favourable. Used to a far more relaxed environment, he considered the noise and smoke in the big city hardly conducive to sporting success, but when offered the chance off an opportunity to join the favourite club from your boyhood, what impressionable and ambitious young footballer could refuse?

In August 1937, he first joined the training regime at the club and immediately impressed coach Joseph Szabo after scoring three times in a practise game. The Hungarian who had also recently joined the cub after a time spent at Braga, as so enamoured of the talents of the young forward that he ensured the impressionable youngster visited training four times a week, whilst most of the other aspiring players were only there twice. It was an astute judgement and the club would reap rich dividends from the perception and time invested by the coach. Szabo saw in the young Peyroteo a precious and precocious diamond in the rough, that when polished would cut through the strongest of opposition defences. He insisted that the club offer him a contract without delay. They duly obliged and football history’s stage was set for the entrance of its most prolific star.

At this time, legend has it that an emissary form Porto approached the young forward telling him that the club would offer substantially more than SCP were offering if he would switch allegiance. Peyreteo allegedly declined the offer, insisting that the deal with SCP had already been signed. It hadn’t. His heart was set on playing for his boyhood favourites. It’s a story that SCP fans delight in retelling at the expense of those of Porto.

The agreement he later signed would give Peyroteo 500 escudos premium and a monthly salary of 700. It was a deal that placed a still yet unproven player among the best paid at the club. That wouldn’t last long. He would soon become the best paid, but reward the club in double-quick time. A debut performance against Benfica in September saw him bag a brace in a 5-3 victory. For the recorders of the game’s outstanding exponents and exploits, a pen, loaded with copious quantities of ink, would now be required. Fernando Peyroteo was on his way to writing out a goalscoring history that will surely never be surpassed.

For any footballer to become a prolific goalscorer, there’s a tendency to have a particular attribute with which they excel. Some are strong in the air, others may have been blessed with a searing pace or a strong physique with which to muscularly dominate defenders. A powerful shot in either foot often helps, as dies the ability to go past players or have a knack of being the right place at the right time. Contemporary accounts of Fernando Peyroteo however suggest that most, if not all of those, traits were characteristics of his. An oft-quoted appellation of ‘The Tank’ speaks of his power, manoeuvrability and powerful shot!

Across the next dozen seasons, SCP wallowed in the warm glow of the goals their forward would score for them. As part of a frontline that also included Jesus Correia, Vasques, Travassos and Albano the club’s fans would hail the line-up as the Cinco Violinos (Five Violins) and if their strings produced a symphony of success for the club, Peyroteo was surely the Stradivarius and leader of the quintet.

During his time with the club, SCP would secure six Primeira Liga titles, being the country’s top club in 1940–41, 1943–44, 1946–47, 1947–48 and 1948–49. They would also secure the Taça de Portugal in 1937–38, 1940–41, 1944–45, 1945–46 and 1947–48, adding the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira in 1944. As an individual, Peyroteo would be rewarded with individual acclaim. The Bola de Prata title for the country’s top goal scorer fell to him in 1937–38, 1939–40, 1940–41, 1945–46, 1946–47 and 1948–49. He would also score 13 times in 20 international outings for Portugal at a time when international opportunities were limited by World War Two. Goals were the currency that Fernando Peyroteo dealt in and, in his boots, he had a bank account overflowing with them.

Amongst his treasure trove of strikes, particularly of note are the nine goals scored in a single game against Leça and a mere eight notched against Boavista. He would score six goals on no less than four occasions, five goals nine times, four in 18 games, and garner no less than 42 hat-tricks. I can find no record of a goalkeeper and defensive unit who shut him out for a game. There were surely some, if not that many perhaps. On such rare occasions though, there must have been an aura of disbelief and wild celebrations in equal measures.

Amongst such exploits, it’s difficult to isolate what would be the ‘signature’ performance. Those games with nine and eight goals would have given the opposing goalkeepers backache in fishing the ball out of the onion bag on repeated occasions, but Peyreteo was certainly not only a ‘flat track bully’ capable of taking lesser teams to the cleaners. He would often save his best performances for the major games, and local rivals Benfica were among his favourite victims.

The opening goal in the Imperio Cup, that opened the new National Stadium, led to a 3-1 victory over the Eagles and also won him the ‘Stadium Cup’ awarded by the government to the s first goalscorer there. There could hardly have been a more apt winner. He would also score all four goals in the ‘Derby’ game of August 1948 when SCP triumphed over Benfica on the way to the league title. In all, he would score 64 times against Benfica, who must have become sick of the sight of him. Such resentment and frustration boiled over in another Derby game when Benfica defender Gaspar Pinto tussled with the forward in a forlorn attempt to foil his attack. A disparaging comment by Pinto trailed after Peyroteo. A swift turn punch to the defender’s chin, and one of only three dismissal from the field across his whole career, showed that the forward’s striking prowess was not limited to the ball.

In what somewhat of a surprise – and probably to the great relief of any number of goalkeepers of Portuguese clubs – in 1949, at the relatively young age of 31, Fernando Peyroteo decided to hang up his boots and retire. Some theorists have suggested that the move was prompted by a desire to access the money available at the time to players from farewell parties. A sports shop owned by the player in Lisbon had been experiencing financially troubled time, and the money gained from the club and others’ largesse at the ‘farewell’ would help to pay off debts. Whatever the truth of that, Peyreteo played his last official game for SCP on 25 September 1949.

His farewell was marked by a match with Atletico Portugal, and afterwards Peyreteo made a farewell speech to the SCP fans who had adored him, rejoicing in his goals for twelve long and bountiful years. “I have been a soldier in the ranks of national sport, and a soldier does not escape from his duty, no matter what the circumstances! But today I recognize that I am an old soldier… I can no longer meet the demands faced by a football player who wants to stay in shape and be useful to his club and to the sport. When I enter the field, I am filled with enthusiasm, but after half a dozen kicks on the ball, an inexplicable tiredness falls on me.” On 5 October 1949, the curtain came down on the career of football’s greatest ever goalscorer.

Despite the money gained from his farewell helping to assuage the losses of his shop, it failed to stem the tide of problems there and he would later return to Angola for a brief period, before finding that the world had changed about him and he once again arrived in Lisbon unsure of the future. He would be granted the honour of managing the national team, but his success in that role was in stark contrast to that when scoring goals. His tenure lasted a mere two games. The second saw a 4-2 defeat in Luxembourg. It was the sort of result that would doom any manager, and this was no exception. There was a hidden irony in that game though. As the great goalscorer bowed out, another aspiring African-born player made his international debut. Peyreteo had selected the young Eusebio for his debut to face Luxembourg. No-one knew at the time, but the game marked the passing on of the baton from one great African-born Poruguese striker to another.

Fate also had an unusually harsh twist in store for Peyreteo. In a ‘veterans’ game in Barcelona, the now aging former forward suffered an injury requiring surgery. Things went amiss on the operating table though, and one of the legs that had carried Peyreteo from Angola to unparalleled success was amputated.

On 28 November 1978, following a heart attack at the age of 60, Fernando Peyreteo died. Forty years later, SCP would decide to ‘retire’ the number nine shirt that he had worn with such distinction whilst scoring so many goals for the club. It may have come too late for the former hero to appreciate, but it was a fitting tribute nonetheless. Surely no other forward at the cub would have been able to fill out the shirt as Fernando Peryreteo had.

In a similar way, it seems immensely doubtful whether any players present, or to come, of any nationality, will ever eclipse the goalscoring exploits of the man whose achievements would cast all others into the shade. There’s often a debate raged on social media between fans of Messi and Ronaldo as to who is the greatest of all time. Perhaps such advocates should take a moment to reflect on matters and consider the record of Fernando Peyroteo before making such calls.

(This article was originally produced for the ‘Pioneers’ series on the ‘These Football Times’ website).

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