LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Nacional

Alma mater of CR7 stuck high up in the mountains

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

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs might best describe a visit to Clube Desportivo Nacional. Way, way, way up in the verdant slopes above Funchal, so far up it’s above the cloud line when storms roll in, CD Nacional’s Estádio da Madeira, referred to by the surrounding hilltop district of Choupana, sums up Funchal’s most distinguished club, a world apart from the dockworkers of Marítimo.

Across the road from the stadium stands the contemporary edifice of the academy that Cristiano built, Ronaldo himself having played here as a young boy before being whisked off to Sporting Lisbon.

Alongside the stadium is the Alfredo bar/restaurant, where friendly staff serve simple Portuguese dishes and a history of the club in photo form lines the walls.

Estádio da Madeira/Peterjon Cresswell

Though football in Madeira got a headstart on the mainland, Funchal’s main clubs weren’t founded until around the time of Portugal’s Republican Revolution in October 1910. A group of schoolboys had seen English sailors and merchants playing the new sport and had started playing pick-up games on the Campo do Brás, Funchal’s main square. These players would form the nucleus of Nacional, founded that December.

They were also sons of the professional classes, of the kind of wealth and influence that could buy a substantial plot of land near the seafront and build a modest football ground on it.

All this happened in 1927. The new club members soon realised that they had overreached themselves with the Estádio dos Barreiros and were forced to invite their city rivals, Marítimo, to move in and share costs.

Alfredo/Peterjon Cresswell

For many years, decades, in fact, Nacional were the second, even the third team in town, winning a Madeiran Championship here and there but without the drive or popularity of their working-class tenants. Even now, more than 40 years after the Portuguese League allowed in Madeiran clubs in 1973 and the likes of Camacha and even Andorinha could nip in to win the island title, Nacional’s tally in regional league and cup is way behind even that of União.

The change came in 1994, the start of the 20-year reign of Rui Alves as club president. First addressing the issue of the groundshare, he raised enough capital for the club to be able to build yet another stadium, this one up in Choupana. Capital wasn’t easy to raise – a 12-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo had been sold to Sporting for £1,500 and Nacional had fallen into the third tier.

The opening of the Estádio Engenheiro Rui Alves in 2000 coincided with Nacional regaining the second tier. Within two years they reached the Primeira and a year later, had qualified for Europe in fourth.

Estádio da Madeira/Peterjon Cresswell

Key to their success was the astute positional play of Brazilian defensive midfielder Paulo Assunçao, later to play for Porto and Atlético Madrid, as well the strike rate of his compatriot, Adriano, also later to go to Porto.

With old boy Ronaldo now able to send some of his hard-earned sterling back to his alma mater, the club expanded and modernised their stadium, renamed the Estádio da Madeira.

Whereas the home legs of previous short European campaigns had to be staged at the Barreiros, come 2009 Nacional could host Europa League group-stage games against Athletic Bilbao, Werder Bremen and Austria Vienna at their own improved stadium.

Estádio da Madeira/Peterjon Cresswell

In 2011, Birmingham City made the most of a rare jaunt in Europe with an exotic visit to the leafy heights of Funchal – and all for a 0-0 draw.

Having reached Europe five times and three Portuguese Cup semi-finals, Nacional seem to have run out of steam, finishing outside the top ten in 2016 and struggling in 2016-17. The situation was seen as serious enough for Rui Alves to return as chairman – though perhaps a touch of experience on the pitch, in a squad of early twentysomethings, might just help, too.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The neat, modern, functional Estádio da Madeira comprises two stands that run along each sideline, the main Poente (West) partly roofed and nearest the bar. You’re way up in the clouds here and rain is often a factor.

Bizarrely, the stadium map on the back of your ticket gives stands behind each goal but this isn’t the case – steep greenery rises past the fences behind each goal.

The few away fans are placed in the open Bancada Nascente (East Stand), in the cheaper side (Lateral) seats.

Overall capacity is just over 5,000.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Football by cablecar is always a delight – although it’s only partly possible in the case of poorly connected Nacional. The upper station of the Teleférico at the Botanical Gardens is relatively close to Rua do Clube da Choupana, on the route for the only bus that goes close to the stadium. But the 94 to Choupana T-94 only runs four times a day, so you’ll find yourself either cutting it fine or having hours to spare before kick-off.

Two other services run relatively close: the relatively frequent 7 and 29, both from the downtown seafront bus hub at Rua Artur Sousa Pinga. The 7 to Travessa do Pomar then requires a steep, steep climb up Caminho do Terço – do not attempt to do this in the dark – while the 29 goes to Choupana Hill frustratingly not-close-enough to the Choupana Hills Resort & Spa and stadium still a trek away. Again, not in the dark.

If you’re determined to do this by bus, and you have to be determined, then the relatively regular 47, again from Pinga in town, terminates at CAM São João Letrão. From there, to your left, rises the Caminho dos Petros, which leads you all the way up and round to the little roundabout that overlooks the stadium. For daylight hours only.

All in all, this has to be a taxi job, €15 from the east side of town. Taxis wait outside the stadium after the game, but not whole fleets of them, and you may ask someone in the Alfredo bar to phone one for you. For an evening kick-off, it’s your only choice. Cars weave slowly down the hill so don’t be ambitious with any post-match arrangements.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are sold at the club office (Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm, 2pm-6pm, Sat & match days vary) at downtown Rua do Esmeraldo 46, a narrow street that leads up from Rua da Alfândega and on match days from the ticket windows opposite the Cristiano Ronaldo Academy.

Unless the opposition is Benfica, Sporting, Porto or Marítimo, prices are set at €10 for the central (Centrais) seats in the main Bancada Poente, €7.50 in the Bancada Nascente opposite and €5 for seats near the corner flags in either, Laterais. Cash only.

Prices rise by about €5 for big matches.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Black-and-white souvenirs are sold at the club office in town (Rua do Esmeraldo 46, opening times above) and at the neat Nacional shop (Mon-Fri 3pm-8pm, Sat 10am-1pm, match days) behind the main Bancada Poente.

Merchandise is pretty standard, the usual replica shirts, scarves and pennants.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The main venue at the stadium is the excellent Alfredo beside the Bancada Poente, one half regular Portuguese bar, with €1 glasses of Coral beer, sandwiches, snacks and simple dishes. The other half is given over to a restaurant, impressively lined with photos illustrating Nacional history – note the one with returning star Ronaldo. These tables are by reservation or for members only, but no-one stops you having a look around.

Opposite is a steaming bifana van, providing slaps of pork in a sandwich – there’s food at Alfredo if this doesn’t strike your fancy.

The modest bar one floor up in the office building of the stadium doesn’t sell beer before the game.