Until Benfica’s recent reconquest, FC Porto were the Portuguese club of the modern era. However, after 14 domestic titles in just over two decades, Porto have only picked up one crown, in 2018, since 2013.
In Europe, the Dragons won the all-Portuguese Europa League final of 2011, and were surprise winners of the Champions League under José Mourinho in 2004. All set for a semi-final appearance in the Champions League in 2015, they blew a 3-1 home-leg lead against Bayern Munich by being stomped 6-1 in Bavaria.
The class of 2004 was the last really great Porto side, with players such as Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira poached by Mourinho for Chelsea. This same team also beat Celtic to win the UEFA Cup in 2003. Paulo Futre, Fernando Gomes and Rabah Madjer, author of a cheeky back-heeled goal in the final, were the stars of the previous great Porto side who won the European Cup in 1987.
Founded in 1893, FC Porto were an inaugural member of the first Portuguese league 40 years later. Although the Dragons moved into the impressive new Estádio das Antas on the eve of the European era, 1952, the club remained firmly in the shadow of giants Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.
It wasn’t until former player Jorge Pedroto took over as coach in the late 1970s that things picked up. With former bank clerk Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa as chairman and Fernando Gomes scoring almost a goal a game, Porto won two titles and the groundwork was laid for three decades of unprecedented success. Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa remains in place despite a serious corruption scandal, nicknamed the ‘Golden Whistle’.
Heavy-hitting goalscorers were always Porto’s stock in trade. After Gomes came Domingos Paciência – ironically Braga’s manager in the 2011 Europa League Final against Porto – then Mario Jardel. Almost scoring as many times as he played, Jardel dominated the late 1990s, winning three consecutive league titles. Equally effective at Galatasaray and Sporting Lisbon, Jardel finished his career at a strange array of lesser-known clubs from Australia to Bulgaria.
Fellow Brazilian Hulk was the next iconic forward, a bullish striker who arrived in Portugal by way of Japan. Hulk terrorised Portuguese defences for four years before his transfer to St Petersburg in 2012. His reign coincided with the briefer but spectacular sojourn of Radamel Falcao, whose European reputation was established here. Notching a record 17 goals in Porto’s successful Europa League campaign of 2010-11, the Colombian then left for Atlético Madrid.
Recent goalgetter is Jackson Martínez, another Colombian, has since been sold to Atlético Madrid, though Porto keep faith with Julen Lopetegui as coach for 2015-16. His compatriot Iker Casillas was the most notable close-season signing, after nearly two decades at Real Madrid.
Near the site of the former Estádio das Antas, the Estádio do Dragão was built to host Euro 2004. Housing 52,000 fans in all-seated comfort, the Dragon Stadium is typical of the purpose-built stadium of today, with sponsored stands, an adjoining shopping mall and an upscale hotel alongside.
A recent addition has been an excellent club museum, complemented by a tasteful café, FC Porto history decorating the walls.
The real boon is a metro station with a direct connection to Porto Airport, one stop from Campanhã train station and three from the city centre.The stadium’s inaugural match in November 2003 was notable for being the first-team debut of Lionel Messi for Porto’s losing opponents, Barcelona. It then hosted the curtain-raiser for Euro 2004, a surprise victory for Greece over hosts Portugal, and one semi-final.
Home fans occupy the Super Bock Bancada Sul nearest the metro station and the right side of the Coca-Cola Bancada Norte, the left corner reserved for visitors through gate 21 where there’s also a left luggage. The tmn Bancada Nascente and meo Bancada Poente stands along the sidelines contain the VIP boxes.
Four metro lines call at Estádio do Dragão station between gates 8 and 12: light blue line A, red line B, violet line E and orange line F, all following the same route through the city centre. E runs all the way to the airport (€1.85). Several buses also serve the stadium, Nos. 401 and 806 stopping opposite gates 19-24.
The main ticket office (bilheteira) is at street level close to the metro station, by gates 12-18. Tickets may also be purchased from the club website and picked up from ticket office No.9 at the stadium.
The most expensive seats are in the tmn Bancada Nascente and meo Bancada Poente stands, the cheapest behind the goals in the Super Bock Bancada Sul and Coca-Cola Bancada Norte, partly occupied by visiting supporters.
The Loja Azul (daily 10am-7pm) is by the museum as you walk up from the metro station. Along with a range of nifty coffee cups and the Porto-emblazoned espresso-maker for €65, you might be tempted by the club’s own wine and, naturally, port. It might be a while before they shift a one of the silver-plated scale models of the stadium, priced at €1,000.
Tours & Museum
A signature blue star guides you around the contemporary Museu Futebol Clube do Porto. Trophies centrepiece the collection, the glittering European Cup of 1987 and Champions League from 2004, of course, but also the lesser-known Arsenal Cup dating back to 1948. Weighing 250kg (!), half of which is solid silver, it’s a shade smaller than Santi Cazorla and marks the club’s 3-2 victory over the Gunners during a post-season tour. Perhaps influenced by the installation depicting the Archie Gemmill run at the Scottish FA Museum at Hampden, an entire area is dedicated to the Rabah Madjer backheel from 1987. Another display is a replica of the dressing room in Seville where Mourinho rallied his team before the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.
With museum admission set at €12 and the stadium tour + museum €15 (over-65s €10-€12, 5-12s €8-€10), most go for the full monty and have a good look around the Estádio do Dragão.
The museum is open Mon 2.30pm-7pm, Tue-Sun 10am-7pm. Stadium tours take place Mondays on the hour from 3pm, last tour 6pm, Tue-Sun on the hour from 11am, last tour 6pm. No tours on match days.
Your first port of call should be the Museu Caffé (daily 8am-8pm, until kick-off on match days), the tastefully themed café-restaurant attached to the equally new club museum. Its terrace clearly visible as you climb from the metro station to the stadium, the museum cafe displays the history of FC Porto – note the photo of a passionate Bobby Robson – on the walls and embedded into the seating dividers. There’s standard bar food, too.
On the other side of the stadium, by gate 4, A Cascata offers Dragão hamburgers, Dragão breakfasts and the Porto speciality of francesinha sandwiches ‘à Dragão’. A fan mural and stripy seats with players’ names and numbers on the back enhances the theme.
As in the old das Antas days, fans still gather at unpretentious bars along Avenida de Fernão Magalhães such as the Confeitaria Satélite (No.1556), adjoining O Braseiro das Antas, and nearby Café Estádio. These are a fair stroll from today’s stadium that now lies down an equally new boulevard east of Magalhães.
One friendly neighbourhood spot close to today’s arena is the restaurant Portas de São Roque along Rua São Roque de Lameira (closed Sun), opposite a garage a five-minute walk as you turn left out of the metro station.