Vitória Setúbal

O Velho Senhor sink further down the league pyramid

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

One of Portugal’s most enduring and endearing clubs, Vitória Setúbal had their heyday from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, competing with and beating Europe’s best.

At the forefront of this success was the iconic figure of Jacinto João, the Luanda-born winger who resisted the lure of nearby Lisbon. Fate dictated that João would play in the same era as Eusébio – they even shared the same birthday. Failing to establish himself in a national side top-heavy with Benfica players, João is little known outside Portugal.

Estádio do Bonfim mural/Peterjon Cresswell

At Vitória’s quaint Estádio do Bonfim, though, ‘JJ’ has his own statue – he was still working at the club in a coaching capacity when he died of a heart attack in 2004.

Founded in 1910, Vitória won two Lisbon titles before dominating the Setúbal regional league from the late 1920s onwards. The Vitorianos didn’t really establish themselves in the all-Portugal national league until the early 1960s, when Félix Mourinho, father of later Chelsea and Manchester United manager José, kept goal.

With Fernando Vaz in his third spell as coach, and Setúbal-born Jaime Graça in midfield, Vitória won through to the final of the Portuguese Cup in 1965, beating Sporting after a replay in the semi. Taking on the all-conquering Benfica of Eusébio and Torres, the Vitorianos went 2-0 after half-time before holding out for a famous victory, tempers flaring and boots flying by the end. Hero of the hour was goalkeeper Mourinho, whose fearless display brought the club’s first major silverware back to Setúbal.

Statue of Jacinto João/Peterjon Cresswell

A year later they were back, but lost out to a late goal by Braga. In 1967, with Graça sold to Benfica but Jacinto João on board, Vitória again won the trophy in a bizarre game against Académica Coimbra. Coming out in the blazing heat in their signature cloaks, the Coimbra side took Setúbal to extra-time then equalised close to 120 minutes. Rather than a replay, the teams played on into twilight until the next goal, scored by João – in the 144th minute.

With João practically unstoppable, Vitória were a formidable force at home and abroad, four times finishing in the Portugal’s top three, once as runners-up, and beating strong Lyon, Fiorentina and Internazionale sides in Europe. Often drawn against English opposition, Setúbal usually gave as good as they got, giving eventual winners Newcastle a run for their money in a 6-4 aggregate thriller in the Fairs’ Cup of 1968-69, beating Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Don Revie’s Leeds, and only losing on away goals to Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham.

Estádio do Bonfim mural/Peterjon Cresswell

João bowed out from the Estádio do Bonfim in 1978. Vitória have never won a European tie since. Relegated five times, always bouncing back, the Vitorianos rarely finish in the top ten these days. With crowds now averaging under 5,000, the club hasn’t the budget to compete with the likes of Braga or Guimarães, let alone Benfica, Sporting or Porto.

One last hurrah came in 2005. Facing favourites Benfica and 1-0 down in four minutes, Vitória roared back to win a third Taça de Portugal at the Estádio Nacional, stirring memories of Félix Mourinho 40 years earlier.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

With its dinky flags fluttering around the top, the Estádio do Bonfim looks for all the world like the ground where Roy Race’s comic-book Melchester Rovers took on Argavo Rapido in the early 1970s. In those days, Vitória Setúbal were in the public imagination, playing Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle, filling the Bonfim with 30,000 crowds, even a record 43,000 for the visit of Spartak Moscow in 1971-72.

Today, the official capacity is under 20,000 and average gates a quarter of that. Opened in 1962 but built from the mid-1950s onwards, the Bonfim is feeling its age and a plan to sell the land – near the city centre and even closer to Setúbal station – and move to Vale da Rosa was motioned. The prohibitive cost has since seen it shelved indefinitely.

Estádio do Bonfim/Peterjon Cresswell

The stadium is laid out in a classic bowl shape, home fans in all areas except for sector 386, accessed by gate 5 beside the partly closed-off north goal. For the lucrative visits of Benfica and Sporting, Vitória allow an area behind the south goal, the Superior Sul, to visiting supporters, as well as sections of the Bancada Lateral and Central, the dearer sideline seats.

For the rest of the season, away fans are thin on the ground. As, sadly, are home ones.

It’s a far cry from the days of Jacinto João, whose statue stands facing Bonfim Park, gently catching the afternoon sun. Also nearby are the two mainstays of Portuguese society: a church and a bingo hall.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Arriving by train from Lisbon, walk straight out of Setúbal station and down Avenida República da Guiné-Bissau, past the Snack-Bar Portugal, to the junction with Bonfim Park – the stadium is on the right, a 5-7min walk in total.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are available on the day from the hatches opposite the park. Availability never a problem. The cheapest seats are behind the south goal, Bancada Superior Sol, around €8-€10, €12 for the visit of one of the Big Three. It’s €15-€20 on the sidelines, the Bancada Lateral Sul Nascente/Poente, €25-€30 for the best seats in the Bancada Central Lateral.

Transactions are cash-only. There are no online sales.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Opposite the park, the Loja do Vitória (Tue-Sat 10am-1pm, 3pm-7pm, match days) is the club’s modest outlet for green-and-white merchandise.

Replica shirts, tracksuit tops, scarves and chinaware hardly stretch the brand, but this is a modest, community club and all the better for it.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Coming from the station, the first bar you come to at Avda República da Guiné-Bissau 10 is the football-friendly Portugal – run by a Benfica fan. Vitória also get a decorative look-in and there’ll be a game/football news on TV.

The ground is surrounded by little bars, ideal pre-match, particularly along Avda Independência das Colónias that runs right-angles to Avda República da Guiné-Bissau.

The little Café Becas (No.4C) displays the same poem engraved under the statue of Jacinto João. On the stadium side of the road, O Novo Intervalo (No.7) is a handy find, with signed shirts celebrating Vitória’s centenary sharing wall space with one of Puskás – apparently the nickname of the owner. Next door, the blander Estádio deals with match-day overflow.

Opposite the ground on the park side, the Bonfim Pizzeria is one-half restaurant, one-half terrace café, neither with particular football affinity but for their proximity to the stadium they’re named after.

Within in the ground, near Gate 0 behind the Bancada Nascente, the Espaço Verde is a little match-day bar with a single table outside for regulars to plonk down their bottles of SuperBock and mull over the first half.

If you’re approaching the ground from town, by the park the Retiro Vitoriano is a convenient, mildly partisan pitstop while tucked away nearby at Rua Oliveira Martins 7, the more recently opened Sports Café Setúbal has added a new dimension to match-day imbibing, accompanied by multi-screen action.