Based at the historic port of Vila do Conde north of Porto, Rio Ave are a relatively modern phenomenon as far as top-flight Portuguese football is concerned.
Founded in 1939, based at the Estádio da Avenida from 1940, the Vilacondenses spent 40 years in the regional and lower leagues before promotion to the I Divisão in 1979.
Félix Mourinho, father of José, as coach, moulded Rio Ave into a top-tier unit. Midfield destroyer Quim gave the team steel. In goal, Mourinho placed his trust in fellow keeper Alfredo, a locally born teenager whose performances later earned him a 15-season stint at Boavista and three Portuguese caps. Rio Ave finished fifth place in the top tier then made the Portuguese Cup final in 1984, losing 4-1 to a superior Porto side.
That same year, the club moved into a new stadium, the Estádio dos Arcos, but failed to gain any further foothold in the I Divisão after Mourinho senior left for local rivals Varzim.
Carlos Brito, a centre-back who ended his playing career by helping the Vilacondenses return to the top flight in 1996, then became coach, one of three stints on the Rio Ave bench. His first ended in relegation and cup semi-final defeat, again to Porto, in 2000. His second saw the breakthrough of local boy Fábio Coentrão, whose spectacular goal in the Portuguese Cup at Sporting Lisbon soon saw him move to Benfica, then Real Madrid.
Brito returned in 2009 and made Rio Ave hard to beat if unspectacular. His replacement, Nuno, in his first coaching post, went one better, taking the club into the top six for the first time since Félix Mourinho. Rio Ave’s run to another Portuguese Cup final, despite the 1-0 defeat by Benfica, earned them a European debut in 2014.
Though Nuno was snapped up by Valencia, taking defensive midfielder Filipe Augusto with him, attacking midfield captain Tarantini remained, and Rio Ave gave a reasonable account of themselves in the Europa League. Narrow wins over Swedish teams IFK Gothenburg and Elfsborg saw Rio Ave get through the knock-out stage, a stoppage-time goal at the Estádio dos Arcos by later St Mirren and Hearts winger Esmäel Gonçalves the decisive strike. Low crowds then witnessed a group-stage campaign marred by an early 3-0 home defeat to Dynamo Kyiv.
Under former Sporting midfielder Pedro Martins, Rio Ave again qualified for Europe in 2016. His replacement, former Porto and Rangers winger Capucho, proved less impressive, Rio Ave bowing out to Slavia Prague in the qualifying round. With nearly 20 years of managerial experience, incoming coach Luis Castro then reversed a poor run of form and led Rio Ave back to the top half of the table.
After 30 years of service, the Estádio dos Arcos is showing its age. Comprising one partly roofed stand and an open one opposite, the stadium was a step up from the basic Estádio da Avenida and suitable for the 1980s. Now, with Rio Ave looking forward to a tenth straight season in the top flight in 2017-18, its limitations need to be addressed.
In January 2017, owner António Silva Campos announced the building of a new East Stand (Bancada Nascente) and improvements to the main West Stand (Bancada Poente). Though there will still be no seats behind either goal, the idea of some kind of pavilion behind the north end is being considered.
For the time being, capacity is 9,000, average gates filling just over a third of the ground. Away fans – usually only Porto’s and Benfica’s arrive in any numbers – occupy a far end of the Bancada Nascente.
The stadium is close to Vila do Conde station on red line B of Porto’s metro network, direction Póvoa de Varzim – you’ll see the floodlights ahead of you to the right as the train pulls in. From central Porto, it’s about an hour. Trains run every 8-15min, the last one back to Porto is after midnight.
For most games, pay-on-the-day is the norm, admission prices an across the board €15-€20 depending on the opposition. The ticket windows are behind the main stand nearest Vila do Conde metro station. For the visits of Benfica and Porto, admission usually rises to €30 and even higher if the game is a crucial one for the title.
The club shop, Loja Espaço Verde (Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm, 2pm-6.30pm), behind the main stand deals with any advance sales. For big matches, this is reserved for club members only.
There is no online service.
A modest selection of green-and-white merchandise fills the boxy club shop, Loja Espaço Verde (Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm, 2pm-6.30pm), behind the main stand.
Replica shirts and tracksuit tops come in plain white and plain green as well as the familiar striped variety, and you should also find the third-choice red-and-yellow stripes.
With no bar at the stadium, the shiny MC caffé at Rua do Aqueduto 172, on the corner of Avenida da Liberdade by the metro station, has to suffice as a pre-match pitstop. With the day’s sports papers spread out on the counter and a TV above, it’s not a bad spot for all that, and it serves alcohol. Like the Padaria Metro nearby, its main function is to provide coffee to Porto-bound commuters first thing in the morning. The Padaria also offers burgers and various grilled meats-in-a-bun.