Football Travel: Belenenses

Belenenses sunset

We visit one of the most scenic grounds in world football, Restelo, the home of Os Belenenses, and its privileged view over the Tagus estuary.

 

Here’s a question for you: The ‘Big Three’ of Portuguese football – Benfica, Sporting and FC Porto – between them have won all the country’s league championships since its inauguration in 1934-35 season, except two. Who won the other two?

 

You could have said Boavista in 2000-01, or you could have said Belenenses in 1945-46. That’s how unequal Portuguese football is. In my previous two matches in Portugal, I’ve witnessed Benfica dispatch Académica 3-0 and some years ago a Sporting team featuring Manchester United-destined Nani and Anderson destroy Naval 4-0. Boring.

 

In search of the ‘second class’ of Portuguese football – those scratching around for a Europa League spot or maybe a cup run – and hopefully some form of contest, I went along to Belenenses versus Vitória Setúbal, from Jose Mourinho’s home town. [Continues]

Monument of the Discoveries Belem

The Monument of the Discoveries, Belém

About Belém

The Lisbon district of Belém translates to English as ‘Bethlehem’ and it’s from here that Vasco da Gama set sail to find a route to India. His success is marked in stone in the Monument to the Discoveries. Belém – pronounced very nasally as ‘Ber-layn’ – is also home to the impressive Torre de Belém and Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a great white edifice of a monastery.

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Follow up the hill from these monuments and you arrive at the 20,000-capacity horseshoe of the Estádio do Restelo, home of Football Club Os Belenenses (literally, the people of Belém).

The bench where Be

The bench where Os Belenenses was formed.

The ticket office is a tiny block beyond the stadium where I parted with €20 for a seat on the halfway line. Vitória fans had come in good numbers – Setúbal is only 30 kms south of Lisbon – but the drums and flags certainly added vibrancy to a largely deserted stadium.

 

Neither curve was populated, and even in the main stands on either side weren’t full. I haven’t managed to find the attendance but it can’t have been more than 3,000, I imagine. The club is a stone’s throw from thousands of tourists on the riverside, I can’t help thinking it could market itself better. [Continues]

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 20.34.29

 

Being an athletics stadium, supporters are far from the pitch, but it does retain a level of intimacy. And the view to the south – the silhouettes of monkey puzzle trees, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the passing ships – must be one of the best views from any ground anywhere in the world.

 

The visitors were far more accomplished and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners to go fifth. As in Spain, when home fans are disaffected with the management they wave their white hankies, so the sight of that happening around the ground in the closing minutes must make Belenenses coach Sá Pinto a little nervous.

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You can watch the highlights here:

How to get to Belenenses

Belém station is just three stops and around seven minutes’ travel from Cais do Sodré station in the city’s dockland heart. From there it’s a few minutes up the hill from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

 

Care to share?

3 Comments

  1. Because of the not so large crowds that come to matches the two curves are generally closed (exceptions were the EL group matches due to UEFA and safety – read Lech supporters).

    The west stand (Bancada Poente) is reserved for the home sòcios (the club – apart from the company running professional football – is community owned like in many places in the Iberian Peninsula) and the people they can take with them. The east stand (Bancada Nascente) where you sat is for the general public.

    The view from the West Stand is even more awesome because you have a perfect San Francisco-like view of the Ponte 25 Abril facing south east.

    You watched the game that was probably the nadir of the season 😉

    • Thanks for your comments, Marco. I really enjoyed the trip to Os Belenenses – incredible setting and so close to all that tourism. I am certain the club could tap into that tourist market.

  2. You’re seeing different realities with the eyes of today. You think that football in Portugal is monolithic.

    The truth is, many things have changed.

    Belenenses was a big Portuguese club in the 1940’s (note that i’m not a clubs supporter by any means but i know the history of the sport in Portugal).

    Here’s an interesting fact for you: Did you know that the expression of “Big 3” was actually a common reference to the big 3 clubs of Lisbon, and not related to FC Porto at all in the 1940’s? Only later this changed.

    Benfica and Sporting were usually defeated at Belenenses home ground, and the club was a serious contender to the national title. Did you also know that in the first 26 years of the championship, up until the early 1960’s, Belenenses was the 3rd club with the most top-3 final classifications? Having only one national title doesn’t explain everything.

    Belenenses was enough respected at the Iberian Peninsula to be the adversary club of Real Madrid when the Bernabeu was inaugurated, in 1947, for instance.

    The downfall of Belenenses began really in the 1960’s, when the club didn’t have the economic power to maintain great teams. One of the main reasons for this was precisely the construction of the Restelo stadium some years before. They had brief superior teams in the 1970’s (vice-champions in 1973 and 3rd in 1976) but nevertheless their bigger fall was more or less obvious and in 1982 Belenenses went down to the 2nd division for the very first time.

    So when you see “not so large crowds” today, you would easily see full crowds in the past.

    Nevertheless, considering Belenenses history at the championship, they are still easily the 4th best team, regarding presences, victories, goal scoring, and final classifications.

    Here’s a better view of things: There are only 4 teams in Portugal that finished the championship more than 10 times in the top-10. Poor Braga only finished at top-3 2 times in 61 years (and this only happened in the last 6 years). There’s not even comparison.

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