When tragedy struck: The story of when Benfica players were electrocuted in the bath

benfica bath luciano

The second half of 1966 was a celebration of football for Portugal. The country was on the rise after their performance during their first appearance at a World Cup, when they finished third in England.

But before the year was out tragedy struck. Their hero, Eusébio, was fortunate to escape with his life in an incident which rocked the country. But one of his teammates, Luciano wasn’t so lucky.

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On December 5 1966 several players suffered a horrible accident at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz. They were relaxing in the club’s jacuzzi when an electrical fault occurred. The players suffered severe electrical shocks. Most of them managed to get out, but 26-year-old Luciano was killed instantly.

It was an appalling tragedy which hit the whole country. The team was so affected they asked to play in black for the rest of the season.

Benfica won the league, their 15th title and sixth in the last eight years. Eusébio ended as top scorer, for the fourth successive season but he nearly didn’t see the New Year.

Luciano Jorge Fernandes was born in Olhão in the Algarve and played for his local team, Olhanese, as a teenager. A central defender, he soon attracted the attention of the biggest clubs in the country. Portugal’s top defender at the time was Germano. Pretty soon they were calling Luciano, Germano II. A pretty big compliment for the young man, and a measure of the heights they believed the kid could reach. He was known for his strong defensive positioning and ability to read the game well.

In 1963 he joined Benfica. He wasn’t going to displace Germano in central defence, so to begin with he was employed as a right-back by Lajos Czeizler. His early days were beset by injuries, though. First he suffered a knee injury which required an operation. Then once fit he was soon out again with torn ankle ligaments.

The start of the 1966-67 season he appeared to be fully fit and ready to go. It wasn’t long, though, before he was injured once again in the derby with Atlético Lisboa.

The club had had a jacuzzi installed by American supplier, Whirlpool at the Estádio da Luz. A new hydro-massage system was hoped to improve the overall fitness and recovery of the players, something which is a common feature of professional clubs these days, but revolutionary back then.

On a Monday morning in December, the players used it for the first time. Within 20 minutes the cabling short-circuited and a huge surge of electricity filled the pool. Seven players were in it at the time and very soon they began to suffer.


Domiciano Cavém, Carmo Pais and Malta da Silva all collapsed unconscious. Jaime Graça began to convulse heavily. But he managed to haul himself out of the pool and cut off the power supply.

This was a real stroke of luck in more ways than one.

Graça had only just signed for the club in the summer when he joined from Vitória. But more importantly, before he became a footballer he was an electrician. His quick thinking and understanding of what was the cause, plus knowledge of what to do, saved lives.

The three players who fell unconscious all later recovered in hospital. Doctors commented that Cavém’s level of physical fitness was the main reason he survived. Graça, Eusébio and Joaquim Santana all escaped with burns.

But Luciano was not so lucky.

He was the only player fully immersed in water at the time and died instantaneously.

It was a significant tragedy in Portuguese football and had a profound effect on Benfica and the country as a whole. His death was a great loss to the community, mourned by fans and players alike.

His funeral had the largest public turnout ever seen in the Algarve. There’s a permanent exhibition dedicated to the player in the Caso do Benfica in Olhão and also a street was named in his memory near the stadium where Olhanese play.

The club and the players were so affected by Luciano’s loss they requested to play the rest of the season in black as a mark of respect. They went onto regain their league title and dedicated it to his memory.

The players were able to use his death as a means of galvanising them, to such an extent they won three league titles in a row. In 1968 reached the European Cup Final where they lost to Manchester United, with Best and Charlton, at Wembley. Graça scored Benfica’s goal in that Final. In 1969 they achieved their fifth league and cup double.

It later emerged a faulty electrical installation was to blame for the tragedy. The country, already reeling from Luciano’s passing, was stunned when it discovered how close they were to losing Eusébio.

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The Black Panther was regarded as one of the greatest players in the world and is certainly considered the greatest player Benfica have ever had.

He was top scorer in the World Cup that summer, as Portugal stormed into the football world’s consciousness finishing third in their first-ever appearance. He scored twice as they beat holders Brazil, 3-1 in a group game. His nine goals that year have been bettered in a finals stage only once since, when Gerd Müller hit 10 four years later.

Much as it’s tragic to lose any life, especially one so young, but when you might lose such an influence as Eusébio people soon understood how precious life is.

Cavém too would’ve been a huge loss. He played in four of the five European Cup Finals the club contested in the ‘60’s. By late 1966 his best days were behind him, having been overlooked for the World Cup. Yet he was still a club legend.

For Graça, it’s unlikely he ever forgot the moment and the fact he couldn’t save his teammate could well have haunted him forever. He went onto have a successful career at Benfica, winning seven league titles and three Portuguese Cups.

It was a tragic incident, and but for the quick thinking of Graça it could’ve been so much worse.