LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Casa Pia

From the orphanage to Portugal’s Primeira Liga

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

When Casa Pia gained promotion to the Primeira in 2022, it was after an 83-year absence. This doesn’t quite tell the whole story, as Casa Pia’s single season in the then eight-team Primeira Divisão in 1938-39 featured resounding defeats to Porto and Benfica, who both hit ten, and a solitary win over Barreirense.

But Casa Pia aren’t a football club in the conventional sense. Born of a charitable orphanage founded by Diogo Inácio de Pina Manique in the 1700s, Casa Pia were early pioneers in the Portuguese game. Players from Casa Pia were involved in the setting up of Sport Lisboa, joined in name and heritage with Benfica since 1908.

When another generation of students emerged two decades later, they created their own club rather than feed young players into Benfica’s. The two teams remained close, however – in their first major fixture in 1920, Casa Pia beat their former benefactors to win the Bronze Herculano Santos. The match was refereed by co-founder of Sport Lisboa and one-time Casa Pia student Cosme Damião, commonly acknowledged to be the most important figure in the early history of Benfica.

His fellow pupil and Sport Lisboa co-founder, Cándido de Oliveira, handed over to the Casa Pia institution as a nine-year-old orphan, was team captain of the new club. Under his guidance in their first year, the Casapianos won the Lisbon Championship, the season before a national Portuguese Cup overshadowed the city trophy in importance.

Gaining the nickname of the Geese because of how the students looked when parading in their uniforms outside the historic monastery of Jerónimos, Os Gansos were prominent members of the local sporting community. When Benfica opened their new stadium, the Estádio das Amoreiras, in 1925, it was Casa Pia they chose for their curtain-raising opponents. 

Yet within a few years, this old-school institution had been overtaken by the new professional clubs springing up around Lisbon and Portugal. Casa Pia took part in only one National Championship in these early days, the disastrous campaign of 1938-39, before their ground at Restelo in Belém was taken over for exhibition grounds. The site was then used by Belenenses.

Casa Pia remained homeless until the building of their own Estádio Pina Manique in 1954, named after founder of the original orphanage back in 1780. It stands on the fringes of the Benfica, close to a modern-day motorway, relatively inaccessible by public transport. Here, a community club was gradually created, with facilities and training pitches for several youth teams.

Long in the doldrums of the local Lisbon league, the seniors rose from the fifth level to the fourth in the Portuguese football pyramid in 2008, then up to the third in 2012. As Casa Pia aimed for the Segunda, they came under the expert scrutiny of Tiago Lopes, at the time looking after the business interests of Sport Lisboa e Benfica in North America.

Before he was taken on by Portugal’s most successful club to expand the brand abroad, this Harvard business graduate had gained vital experience working with his close associate Carlos Queiroz on youth development at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. This in turn led to grassroots outreach projects in Portugal and India, and Lopes overseeing the Harrisburg City Islanders of Pennsylvania, a leading club in America’s second tier, the USL.

Given the linked heritage of Casa Pia and Benfica, and Lopes’ many contacts in the States, it wasn’t long before he became involved in seeking an investor for the venerable Casapianos. He soon found one in Robert Platek. An American entrepreneur of Polish extraction, this Rutgers graduate earned his fortune in corporate finance but never lost his passion for football.

Looking at the European game for new ventures, like so many US tycoons, Platek cherry-picked his investments based on their potential: SønderjyskE in Denmark, Spezia in Italy… and Casa Pia in Portugal. 

In September 2020, having just survived a first season in the Segunda, the savvy new management headed by sporting director Diogo Boa Alma hired coach Filipe Martins. Then 42, the former left-back had spent most of his playing career at Lisbon’s lesser lights, his native Estrela Amadora, Oriental and Atlético Clube.

Familiar with Casa Pia and this level of football, and given a reasonable budget, in his first days on the job Martins quickly spotted the young talent of Jota Silva, the striker who made his professional debut for Leixões in a 2-2 draw against Casa Pia.

Signing the forward during the next transfer window, Martins oversaw his new charges climb the Segunda table to a creditable ninth place. Veteran keeper Ricardo Batista, once on Fulham’s books and loaned out to Wycombe Wanderers for a few games, was another main factor in this transformation, Martins rescuing the former Portuguese youth international from an unhappy spell at Gaz Metan Mediaș in Romania. With Jota’s goals and the best defensive record in the division by far, Casa Pia led Liga 2 for several late rounds of the 2021-22 campaign before gaining promotion in second place. 

Covering the walls of the redeveloped Estádio Pina Manique, huge photos of the team celebrations show other key players, swift Nigerian striker Saviour Godwin persuaded to stop treading water in Belgium and join the Casa Pia project, and much-travelled defender Vasco Fernandes, a team-mate of Ricardo Batista’s in Portugal’s international youth set-up 15 years before.

When Vitória Guimarães offered serious money for Jota Silva before the 2022-23 season, Godwin stepped up to the plate at Casa Pia, his stellar form earning the previously overlooked forward a first Nigerian cap in September 2022. Also integral to Casa Pia’s surprisingly successful top-flight return after 83 years has been Japanese midfielder Takahiro Kunimoto, whose tireless work for top-flight clubs in South Korea earned him a transfer to Europe. Casa Pia’s astute recruitment policy meant that ‘Kuni’ opted for the modest Estádio Pina Manique instead of Germany, where so many of his compatriots now ply their trade.

Given their ground’s capacity of 2,500, Casa Pia had to move home matches in the Primeira Liga to the famous Estádio Nacional, otherwise used for cup finals and other major events. Steeped in Celtic mythology – it was here that the Hoops became the first Scottish club to win the European Cup in 1967 – this open bowl of a stadium surrounded by the greenery of Jamor lies west of Lisbon, closer to Casa Pia’s spiritual home of Belém. 

Tipped for relegation, Casa Pia surprised everyone by sitting in the top five of the Primeira for half the 2022-23 season. For a while, there was even talk of Europe.

For 2023-24, Casa Pia decided to switch home games to the cheaper (and far smaller) Estádio Municipal de Rio Maior, whose regular tenants folded in 2010. Set in the district of Santarém about 40km north of Lisbon, it was home to Vilafranquense before the Tagus Piranhas relocated to Aves. 

On the pitch, Casa Pia can still hold their own, performances by teenage loanee midfielder Samuel Justo demonstrating the enduring quality of Sporting Lisbon’s youth academy.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

For the time being, Casa Pia are playing home games at the Estádio Municipal de Rio Maior, a functional, multi-sports stadium in the town of Rio Maior some 40km north of Lisbon. Surrounded by a running track – Rio Maior is more known for its athletes, its football team having folded in 2010 – the ground consists of one main stand and a horseshoe of covered seating lining the remaining three-quarters of the arena.

A total of 6,925 individual seats surround a grass pitch, where Portugal’s U-21 team and former Segunda side Vilafranquense have played in recent seasons.

A visit to Casa Pia’s own Estádio Pina Manique, with its club shop and murals of Ganso history should give you a sense of what this venerable club is about. The ground consists of a row of open stands, two either side of the main one, to provide an overall capacity of 2,500. Opposite, a complex of training pitches sees regular activity by Casa Pia’s various youth sides.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

To reach Rio Maior from Lisbon, take a Rede Expressos bus which runs every 2-3hrs, single ticket €10-€12, journey time 1hr 15mins. It leaves from Sete Rios, the bus station close to Jardim Zoológico metro on the blue line.

The bus drops you in the somewhat disjointed centre of Rio Maior – carry on walking up Avenida Dr Mário Soares and you’ll reach the stadium in 5-10mins further up the same road.

To visit the Estádio Pina Manique, look for the bus 729 stop among the many dotting the concourse by Colégio Militar/Luz metro station near Benfica’s Estádio da Luz. You need the one heading for Algés, not B Padre Cruz, the stop nearer the shopping mall.

Estádio Pina Manique is about ten stops/15 minutes away, the bus also calling at Benfica train station. Alternatively, a taxi from either Colégio Militar/Luz metro or Benfica station should be quick and inexpensive. Walking there (or back) is out of the question, the stadium is by a major motorway.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Casa Pia sell tickets online, in person through the club shop at the Estádio Pina Manique and on the day at the Estádio Municipal de Rio Maior.

Availability is never an issue but check with the club at info@casapia-ac.com if Benfica or Sporting are the opposition.

You’ll pay €10-€15 for a seat, depending on how attractive away side are.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

At the Estádio Pina Manique, the Loja do Ganso opens most weekdays to sell first-team tops in black with white trim, second-choice shirts of white with red collars and black adidas shoulder stripes, and third kit of pink with black sleeves.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The bar/restaurant at the Estádio Pina Manique, Dom Leitão, specialises in suckling pig and various traditional Portuguese pork dishes. There’s plenty of Sagres beer to go with it, if that’s all you’re after.