Estádio Nacional

1967 and all that – where Celtic made football history

The field of dreams and the story behind it

A marvellous curiosity in a city full of them, Lisbon’s national stadium is like no other. Set deep in the pinewoods of Oeiras, designed for public displays as well as sports events, the Estádio Nacional is where nearly every Portuguese Cup final has been held since the 1940s. It forms part of the Jamor sports complex of swimming pool, tennis courts and other outdoor activities.

It is also a place of pilgrimage for every Celtic fan, as it was here in 1967 that the Celts became the first Scottish club to lift the European Cup. Breaking the Latin monopoly on Europe’s premier trophy, the Glasgow side pioneered all kinds of firsts that warm day in May, their entire XI born within 30 miles of Celtic Park.

Before the game began, the players gave a rousing rendition of the Celtic Anthem that echoed round the tunnel and bemused their elite opponents, Internazionale. After a late winner touched in by Stevie Chalmers had put the game beyond Inter’s reach at 2-1, hordes of Celtic supporters invaded the pitch, clambering over the surrounding moat to share this moment in history.

In the tumult, in the middle of this bizarre amphitheatre cut into the forest, a visiting Bill Shankly turned to Celtic manager Jock Stein to shout the words: ‘John, you’re immortal!’. The trophy was eventually presented to club captain Billy McNeill high up on the lofty podium, and the legend of the Lisbon Lions was set in stone.

More than half a century later, on any given day, rain or shine, gaggles of followers in green-and-white hoops will head this way from Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon, and roll up to the stadium gates.

Given that they will be locked, the intrepid pilgrims, perhaps adding yet another sticker to the many plastered on every lamppost, will then walk round to the main office. There, up a winding driveway, a security guard will be waiting for them in the courtyard.

Well versed in his daily duty, he’ll first gesture the visitors towards the plaque dedicated to the Lisbon Lions and then lead them through a little thicket, down a path and into a tunnel. The tunnel.

So modest and basic is the passageway when compared to today’s mural-lined, camera-filled players’ entrances that the first-time visitor may not twig where they are. Certainly the constant chirping of budgerigars, obviously kept by an ornithophile cleaner, gives few clues.

But as you climb the steps, fenced off by an iron railing, you realise the significance of the location. It still feels like a huge amphitheatre, immediately recognisable from the  footage of that day in May ’67, though individual plastic seats now cover the stands, steep white slopes offsetting the green turf and surrounding foliage. They really don’t make stadiums like this any more. 

As he leads you away, the security guard will offer to phone you a cab, while indicating with his body language that some kind of remuneration might be appreciated. After all, it’s not every day that you touch so closely upon football’s rich past.

For Torino fans, the stadium has less happy connotations. This was the venue for the last game played by Il Grande Torino before the Superga air crash of 1949. The likes of Loik and Valentino Mazzola would never grace a football pitch again.

The ground had been opened five years before, in June 1944, partly designed by architect Miguel Jacobetty Rosa, also responsible for several other buildings of note in Lisbon and surroundings. It is said he took his inspiration from the Olympic Stadium in Berlin – although its verdant surroundings are entirely different.

The current capacity is 38,000 – the 2019 humdinger of a cup final between Sporting and Porto was a sell-out, while league fixtures recently involving the unfortunately named B-SAD and current top-league tenants Casa Pia have brought crowds in the low thousands, if that. The latter, dissolved in 2023, were the doomed offshoot of Belenenses, who appeared for four seasons in the Primeira while based here at Oeiras. 

While playing not so far from Belém as the crow flies, Belenenses SAD (later renamed B-SAD – why didn’t anyone tell them?) were a world away from the dazzling surroundings of the Estádio do Restelo, where the original club, its badge and its followers, remained. Result? Relegation to Liga 3 and a sheepish merger with Cova da Piedade.

Casa Pia, meanwhile, are another story altogether. Historically tied to an orphanage and nearby Benfica, the Geese enjoyed a successful debut campaign in the Primeira in 2022-23, tailing off to finish respectably mid-table. With the Estádio Pino Manique unsuitable to stage top-tier football, home games have been played here at the Estádio Nacional.

The wooden seating doubtless ignored in 1967 has long gone. The old-style loudspeakers remain, though, perched over turnstiles of similar vintage. A revamp has been promised, though it’s not only the heritage committee that the authorities will have to deal with were the renovation to be insensitive to history.

Getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

From Cais do Sodré station, also terminus of the green metro line, a suburban train runs to Cascais every 20-30mins, stopping at Cruz Quebrada after 25mins. From there, with the ocean lapping underneath the rail bridge, cross over and under the tunnel to steep Travessa Pinto Correia, which leads you to a little crossroads dotted by cafés and an old English-style bright-red pillar box.

Veer left into Rua Sacadura Cabral, that becomes Avenida Pierre Coubertin and leads to the Jamal sports complex. It’s still a good stroll to the stadium, walking past tennis courts through pleasant greenery. Alternatively, infrequent bus 1106 climbs from Cruz Quebrada right to the stadium – in fact, comes from Algés 10mins away, terminus of the regular 15 tram from Cais do Sodré.

Coming back, you might be lucky and hop on a bus going downhill from the stadium downhill to Cruz Quebrada, and then on to Algés.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Currently, the only club that uses the Estádio Nacional on a regular basis is Casa Pia, which distributes tickets online (Portuguese-only). Expect to pay around €15-€20, and the view is pretty much the same wherever you sit, although a seat over the halfway line in the main stand topped by the podium will be premium.

For 2023-24, the Geese may fly to pastures new for some home games, or play lesser fixtures at their home of the Estádio Pina Manique – check the website for details.

The Jamor sports centre also announces upcoming events on its Facebook page. For the Portuguese FA Cup final, tickets should be available from the Portuguese FA site (English version available) or from the individual clubs involved.

where to drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Walking up from Cruz Quebrada station, you reach a junction dotted with cafés on facing corners. The first is the smartest, a neat eatery called Villa Cruz that serves decent coffee, nice cakes and natural fruit juices – though not pre-match beer.

Alongside, O Maia is far more down-to-earth, a tiny bar with a downstairs dining area where cheap Portuguese lunches are served. Beer is poured by one of the lovely husband-and-wife team who’ve been running the place for 50 years – you can see how they once looked, young and carefree, in a huge photograph that covers the back wall. 

Behind the bar, commemorative clocks and crockery depict the badges of Portugal’s top clubs – note the one of Casa Pia, recent tenants of the Estádio Nacional a 15-minute walk away.

Across the street, Os Molas Partidas is also local in feel, a standard Portuguese café with a TV and seats outside, handy for a quick beer before you trek up to the stadium or hop on a bus from the stop nearby.