José Manoel Soares (30 January 1908 – 24 October 1931), known as Pépe, was a Portuguese footballer. During his brief career, he played as an inside forward for CF Belenenses and the Portugal national football team, and was considered by many to be Portugal's best player of the time. Despite the young age at which he died, Pépe won two Portuguese Championships (Taça de Portugal) and three Lisbon Championships (Campeonato de Lisboa).
At the age of 18, Pépe Soares made his first appearance for Belenenses on 28 February 1926 against Benfica, entering the match in the 75th minute with Belenenses down 4-1. In the subsequent 13 minutes, Belenenses scored three goals, tying the contest at 4-4. In the final minute, Benfica were called for a foul in the penalty area. With none of the Belenenses players stepping forward to take the penalty, Pépe, the rookie, was called in by his captain to take the shot. He did not fail. Belenenses won 4-5, giving birth to the expression "a quarter-hour to Belenenses," an expression still used in Portugal today.
Soares played 140 games in his club career, all with FC Belenenses. In the 1929/30 Lisbon Championship season, Pépe played 14 games, scoring 36 goals (a stunning average of 2.57 goals per game). This included a single-game record of 10 goals scored in a 12-1 victory over Bom Sucesso (a record that stands to this day).
Pépe Soares made his international debut for Portugal at the age of 19, in a friendly against France played in Lisbon on 16 March 1927. Pépe scored two goals in his national side’s 4–0 victory. In total, he played 14 games for the Portuguese national team, scoring 7 goals. Pépe also played for Portugal at the 1928 Olympic Games football tournament in Amsterdam. Portugal defeated Chile (4-2) and Yugoslavia (2-1), but subsequently lost to Egypt (1-2) in the quarter-finals. Egypt later lost to Argentina in the semi-finals and to Italy in the match for the bronze medal. Pépe's last appearance for Portugal was in Porto on 23 February 1930, a 2–0 win over France.
On 23 October 1931, Pépe Soares collapsed at work (he worked as a lathe operator, in a time when playing football in Portugal was often not a sole source of income). He was taken to the Naval Hospital in Lisbon with severe abdominal pain, and died the next day. He was just 23 years old.
There is still no consensus as to the specific circumstances behind Pépe’s death, which was due to food poisoning. The best-known story tells of a tragic mistake made by his mother while preparing a meal on 22 October, two days before his death. Pépe’s mother, who could not read, mistakenly exchanged caustic soda for salt during the preparation of chorizo. The next day, Pépe took a sandwich containing the chorizo to work with him and consumed the corrosive compound. Of note, other relatives who had eaten the meal had also been hospitalized, but survived, and a cat that had consumed the chorizo died.
Pépe's funeral was an event of mourning on an almost-national scale. Thirty thousand people attended to pay their respects to the young star, whose loss shook the Portuguese sports world. Attendees also came from outside Portugal, including one of the greatest goalies in the history of football, Spaniard Ricardo Zamora.
In 1932, the year after his death, Belenenses erected a memorial to Pépe at the Salésias Stadium in Lisbon. The stadium itself was later re-named in Pépe’s honor. When CF Belenenses moved to Restelo stadium in Lisbon in 1956, the memorial to Pépe was placed at the stadium entrance. It is a tradition that whenever FC Porto visits CF Belenenses for a match, the team always leaves a wreath in front of the statue before the game begins.
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