Promoted to the top flight in 2013, and enjoying their longest European run in 2015-16, Belenenses have the rare distinction of being only one of two clubs outside Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ to have won a league championship.
True, their one-point victory in 1946 is barely remembered outside of Belém, the historic setting-off point for Vasco da Gama and the great Portuguese explorers of the 15th century.
What might be more attractive to the casual foreign visitor – and there are literally hundreds of casual foreign visitors every day – is the location. Set on an incline overlooking a magnificent sweep of the Tagus (boats cruise up and down regularly to Lisbon and back from the nearby quayside), the quaint Estádio do Restelo also overlooks the finest building in all Lisbon, the Jerónimos Monastery.
A daily influx of tourists makes the easy journey from Lisbon hub Cais do Sodré without even realising there’s a football stadium here, too.
There’s also history. By the venue’s main office, the large carving in a stone wall is of José Manuel Soares, the hero of Os Belenenses. His glory days were shortly before the introduction of the national league in 1934 but his goals took Belenenses to three local Lisbon titles before he died in mysterious circumstances in 1931. Blue-and-white flowers embellish the large dedication, while a much smaller plaque marks the Pope’s visit in 1991.
Back in the day, the ‘Azuls do Restelo’ were considered one of the country’s Big Four. Such was their fame that they were chosen to face Real Madrid in a curtain-raising friendly to unveil the Bernabéu stadium in 1947.
With occasional forays into Europe, one year thanks to a cup win in 1989, Belenenses were a respectable presence in the top flight, only to drop down a division.
Now they are back up and taking on the likes of Benfica and Sporting, it may encourage a few of those tourists to take in a game even just out of curiosity.
Few grounds in Europe bask in such a magnificent setting as the Estádio do Restelo, a blue-coloured bowl backdropped by the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tagus beyond.
With a capacity of around 25,000, the venue would grace any mid-table, top-flight Portuguese team. Sadly its hosts, Os Belenenses, are currently struggling their way out of the Segunda Liga.With a capacity of around 25,000, the venue would grace any mid-table, top-flight Portuguese team. Sadly its hosts, Os Belenenses, are currently struggling their way out of the Segunda Liga.
Ironically, the ground was only opened in 1956, just as the Blues were on the wane. Since then, it has rarely been able to fill to capacity – except when used as rock venue for the likes of Pearl Jam and Queen.
Often bathed in sunlight, easy to get to and reasonably cheap to enter, the Estádio do Restelo should provide the weekending neutral a thoroughly pleasant match-day experience. And these days at least, a top-flight one.
From the waterside hub of Cais do Sodré at the terminus of the green metro line, take any of several trams running parallel to the river to Belém – there are several. The No.15 is the most frequent. Alighting at the Jerónimos Monastery 10-15mins away, you can either take a bus (Nos.714, 727, 728) three stops from the foot of Rua dos Jerónimos, or do the short but steep incline on foot, looking back for those wonderful views.
The ticket offices are on the river-facing side of the ground and open 2hrs before kick-off. Prices are €12 for the best seats in the Central Stand, €10 for the South End, €8 for the North End and, the cheapest, €4 for the Lower Bancada. Os Belenenses members gather in the Bancada Puente.
The Loja Azul (Mon-Fri 11am-1pm, 3pm-7pm, 10am-1pm Sat, 2hrs before kick-off Sun) is the club shop, set on a corner below the Varanda Azul, at the club offices by the José Manuel Soares mural.
There are two standard bar/restaurants at the stadium, both on the upper floor: the Restaurante Os Barriguitas do Restelo on Rua dos Jerónimos; and the Varanda Azul by the club offices in the main stand on the other side of the ground.
There’s also a hub of tourist-friendly cafés at the bottom of Rua dos Jerónimos, patronised by foreigners checking the images they’ve taken of the Jerónimos Monastery next door.