Football City Guide: Lisbon

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The Portuguese capital Lisbon is home to two of the country’s ‘Big Three’ football clubs, but there are other teams worth visiting in Lisbon aside from SL Benfica and Sporting.

The winding streets of Lisbon’s Alfama district come alive after dark with the wistful sound of Fado, expressive songs of saudade – yearning. Lisbon is a melancholy town; facing the sea as it does, many a fadista laments their love’s ship disappearing over the Atlantic horizon.

The metaphor remains acute for Portugal’s best footballing talent.  More than half the current national squad (selecção) ply their trade elsewhere in Europe. Yet the selecção are European champions and Portugal’s top teams have become tough away opponents for Europe’s top teams and always with a shout of a good cup run, although the football may be workmanlike and not always pretty. Rather like Stoke City.

Lisbon’s football is like many of its buildings; faded glory.

In short, the quality isn’t great, but what quality may be lacking on the pitch is more than made up for in the enthusiasm of the crowd, so well worth a visit. 

Fans head down the tunnel to Benfica’s Estadio da Luz

The stadium experience in Portugal

Widely recognised as one of the most iconic cities of football, a trip to Lisbon is one of the most popular pilgrimages for fans across Europe. The atmosphere in the stadiums is usually good, however the local fans really take it to the next level during derby matches.

While you cannot drink alcohol in Portuguese grounds, fans can still smoke. So expect to passively smoke or vape, depending who you sit near.

Pre-match is a big deal. At Benfica, the club’s mascot eagle Victoria who swoops over the stands before kick-off. I’ve seen similar in France at OGC Nice, a nice touch.

Lisbon’s football clubs

Portuguese football is dominated by three teams: Sport Lisboa e Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal from Lisbon, and FC Porto from eponymous northern city. Between them they have won all but two of the national championships since its inception in the 1934-35 season.

On your approach to Lisbon’s Portela Airport you may well fly over both Benfica’s Estádio da Luz (Stadium of Light) and Sporting’s José Alvadade, identifiable by their respective red and green roofs.

Belém, pronounced ‘buh-layng’, in the city’s west, is home to Os Belenenses – winners of one of the championships that the Big Three didn’t win, albeit back in 1945-46.

Another top-flight club within striking distance of Lisbon is Estoril Praia, a 30-minute train ride and uphill trudge away.

Each club’s compere aims to whip the crowd into a frenzy before the match with chants of their name, be it ‘Ben-feeeee-keh!’, ‘Shpoooor-ting’, ‘Buh-layng-seeesh!’ or ‘Sto-REEEL-er!’

Let’s tick the clubs off one-by-one.

Visiting Benfica

Benfica’s old Estádio da Luz used to be Europe’s biggest with a capacity of 120,000. Rebuilt for Euro 2004, where it hosted the final, the stadium now holds just more than half the original – 66,000 – and has more than a passing resemblance to Arsenal’s Emirates.

Champions League blockbusters and Big Three derbies aside, tickets are easy to come by for Benfica matches. Its average attendance was only 46,000 in season 2014-15.

Take the Linea Azul (Blue Line) Metro up to the Colégia Militar/Luz stop. It’s only around 20 minutes from the centre of Lisbon.

Then it’s a short walk through a shopping centre following the signs to Estádio. The ticket office – or bilhetería – is on the main drag towards the station just before an underpass that leads to the ground. It’s pretty unassuming but watch for guys pinching your arm and offering you their season tickets. You can get a pretty good seat high up and central for €25 from the official vendor.


“Benfiquistas” – Benfica fans – pre-match

Visiting Sporting

The English-language press often refer to Sporting Clube de Portugal as ‘Sporting Lisbon’, much to the chagrin of its fans.

The 50,000-capacity Estádio José Alvalade is only 2kms from Benfica’s ground, but the Metro stop you need is Campo Grande (not Alvalade) on the Linea Verde (Green Line).

Like the Estádio da Luz, the new Alvalade replaced the old oval for Euro 2004.

Expect to pay anything from €15-35, depending on opponent and location.

Visiting Belenenses

Belenenses’ Estádio Restelo is a short walk uphill from the world famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Follow the right hand side of the ground a short way to find the ticket office – a small blue box. Tickets cost €20.

Given how close Belenenses is to thousands of tourists in a city of 2.8 millions people its frustrating that its 19,000-capacity stadium averaged just 3,164 in 2014-15 season.

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.

To get to Belém, take the train from Cais do Sodré in the city’s docklands (seven minutes, €2.50 return). Cross the bridge on the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos side and follow Rua dos Jerónimos for about 400 metres to the stadium.

The wonderful setting of O Restelo, Belém.

Visiting Estoril Praia

Estoril, a 30-minute ride west from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré station, has many claims to fame. Its casino is reputed to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale from the time he spent here as an agent in World War II. Even in sporting terms it can hold its own: a tennis open, a golf open and – until 1997 – its Grand Prix was a regular fixture on the Formula One calendar.

Perched atop a steep hill 20 minutes walk from the sand and surf beach of Tamariz is the Estádio António Coimbra da Mota. Like Rayo Vallecano in Madrid or Braga in the north of Portugal, it only has stands on three sides. The stadium can host 8,000 people but I suspect it is rarely asked to.

Estoril Praia’s average attendance was just over 2,000 in season 2014-15 but it has a colourful set of fans, clad in their blue and yellow and beating their drums.

Entry cost €12.

Estoril Praia

Estoril Praia at home

Lisbon essentials

If arriving by plane, the airport is less than 20 minutes cab ride (around €15) to the centre of the city. There is also the AeroBus (every 20 minutes 0700-2100 – €1.35 one-way) and Metro, for which it’s worth getting a €6 day pass.

More information here.

Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK and Ireland, so CET -1 hour.

All data accurate at the time of writing (December 2015)

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