Took the morning Easyjet flight from away from Gatwick, and arrived in warmer climes around 10. It turned out to be rather humid with always the threat of rain in the air, but not realised. I am travelling with a West Bromwich fan Steve Munday, who is never quite certain whether he objects more to the sound of my snoring, or the cost of taking single rooms – in the end, money rules. We take a bus from Faro airport to the town, and book into the Pension opposite the bus terminus. The train station is only a five minute walk away. This is good news, as my back is killing me! This tour is going to be low on tourism.
First on the list is Olhao, two stops by train from Faro, with the ground an easy walk from the station. We did head first towards the centre of the town, which seems to be undistinguished, except a few old terraces where the outsides of the houses are tiled. Much of the area is given over to apartment blocks, more so as we approach the stadium – a lot of the new blocks appear to be unoccupied, but there is still much construction going on – no doubt we will soon be seeing more advertising in England as the real estate agents try to make a profit by increasing the already significant English speaking population in the area.
All pictures are thumbnails – you can click on them to see in full size.
Three views of Estadio Jose Arcanjo
The stadium, “Jose Arcanjo” has been refurbished significantly to reflect their promotion to the top division – their first appearance at this level for 34 years. From the outside you can see the concrete facia on both sides of the ground, but while the main stand remains, there is now a very large scaffolding and steel open stand, built in front of what was once concrete terracing opposite. Clearly at some stage the pitch has moved towards the main stand and probably lost a running track. The curve behind one end has a few rows of seats, not used, and then runs behind the new stand. The other end is a construction site, but it is not clear whether a new stand or more apartment blocks are imminent.
Olhao centre and Olhanense. On a summer visit to the Algarve, I remember seeing Cranes nesting on many a roof. This time, the only one was the Olhanense mascot, trying here to organise the cheerleaders!
The pitch was uneven, and heavily sanded in places. Matches are rarely called off due to water logging in Portugal, and Olhanense have played some recent games in poor conditions, leading to the pitch suffering when conditions are better. The match too was uneven, at times there was some really good football played, showing the undoubted ability of the players on show, but for long periods it was bitty and dull.
The away side, Naval, can be criticised (along with many other moderate away sides) for not being particularly interested in the result, but instead going through the motions and hoping from the start to pick up a lucky half chance and scoring, rather than being genuinely creative. This is an attitude that would not be accepted by home fans, but the small number of travelling supporters tend to accept it. There were only about 20 away fans in the away enclosures, and no obvious visitors in the other sections.
Home fans, of course, matter and Olhanense clearly wanted to put in a performance that would cheer their supporters. The teamwork was often inept, and the idea of getting players up to support the man with the ball was as alien a concept, as passing to a team mate in a better position. Fortunately early in the second half, we managed an interchange of passes, and Castro, from about 20 yards found himself in space and managed to place a shot just inside the post. It was an important win for the team, allowing them to move up one place in the league table,now 13th on a division of 16 teams, with two to be relegated – but only one point ahead of Setabul in 15th place.
Olhanense do not issue a programme, although we picked up copies of a monthly magazine. But in a bar opposite the main entrance, we found a small A5 programme issued in English by a group of ex-pats. Well worth a Euro of our money. This appears to be a regular issue, as it refers to a quiz in last week’s issue. Most of the advertising seemed to be from the real estate agencies that have brought the ex-pats to the area.
Steve Munday, sitting behind me while I am writing this, said estimated crowd of 2500. The official Portuguese League web site allowed us to look it up, and it turned out he was well wrong. The crowd was 2507. Amazingly, this means Olhanense are the sixth best supported side in Portugal. Their average is under 5000 for the season, boosted by crowds around 8000 for the Benfica and Porto home matches. The top five (Benfica 43,000; Porto, 32,000; Sporting, 25,000; Guimaraes, 14,000 and Braga, 12,600) are the only clubs that can boast regular 5-figure attendances, although the ‘big three’ are not having things entirely their own way, and Braga currently lead the league. Naval have the lowest crowds in the division at 1555 – this is marginally beaten by Trofense, the best supported club in the lower division.
Back to Olhao, where there is a Benfica supporters bar within 100 yards of the stadium, the first game of the season was moved to the Algarve Stadium, the 30,000 seat white elephant just outside Faro, but this still only attracted 5000 so the club prefers to stick to their own back yard. The Algarve stadium is, I believe use by Loule in the second division (south). [The professional leagues are now known only by the sponsors names, Sagres (beer) and Vitalis (water), where as the third level is the second division (3 regional groups), then the third division (6 regional groups on the mainland, plus one each for the Azores and Madeira). Below this are regional leagues]
So the second day of the trip took us west along the Algarve coast to the town on Portimao. The train trip takes a little over an hour, and feels like it is slow going. Still, the price is less than €10 return. Portimonense are fighting for promotion from the Vitalis Division (once called Liga Honra), but certainly the second level of the game. Their relative success means that they get the second best average crowds in the division, and are one of only five clubs at this level clearing regular 1000+ crowds. In this division, two matches each week are moved ahead for TV, whereas the rest are mainly Sunday at 15.00 or 16.00 (but can change if in the vicinity of a large club also playing on Sunday afternoon). Before we kicked off, we knew that division leaders Beira Mar had drawn in Covilha back on Friday evening, while the Azores team, Santa Clara won 5-2 in Fatima – meaning the top two were 4 and 3 points respectively ahead.
Portimao is a better developed town than Olhao, and even walking into town between rows of closed shops, the feeling this was a livelier place was unmistakable. I liked the neat idea of running a red carpet down the centre of the pedestrian only streets, leading the way from the railway station in the north of the town down to the very centre, close to the football stadium. Portimao also presents a pleasant aspect with a promenade down the river banks, while a mile or two further south is the beach. This is an area that is already well developed as a place for holiday homes, but I think those blocks would be towards the beach.
Portimao – At the station, the old tiling does not discourage modern ‘artists’; the centre, as seen from the stadium; riverside; petanque players just outside the stadium.
As I have said, the stadium is in the centre of town, both main sides are made up of plastic seats bolted onto concrete, with a very high gradient. It has probably always been seating, but until recently, most of the customers would have to sit directly on concrete, using only whatever cushions or newspapers they brought with them for comfort. There are more seats on what was probably once a high terrace behind one goal. This is an area where the fan club still stands and waves their flags. The lower terraces on the other end were out of use, apparently awaiting their own redevelopment.
Three views of the Estadio Municipal do Portimao
We managed to get free seats on the south side. This is generally reserved for Socios, which are club members and are either season ticket holders, or can buy tickets at just €5 per match. This is a common practice in Portugal, (Olhanense also charged €5 for members), while the casual spectator will be admitted only to other areas of the ground, and pays two or three times as much. Generally, I appreciate the idea of having a membership and persuading them to return with exceptional cheap prices, but I do wonder, especially knowing how low attendances generally are whether reserving some areas for members in counter-productive. I remember going to Leixoes a couple of years back. Leixoes is in suburban Oporto, and struggles to hold its place in the top division. It has a wonderful old stand but anyone turning up without membership will only be accommodated on the open side, and this in a city with far higher average rainfall than London or Birmingham.
A slightly fortuitous win for the home side scoring off a lucky bounce not long after the visitors had a player sent off. The first half of the game was quite open and entertaining, with both sides scoring goals around the half hour mark. Both came from free kicks, with Portimonense going ahead when Balu who played just in front of the back four came forward to meet the kick. Estoril Praia levelled just three minutes later when Calé found space in the six yard area to head in. Calé was the most adventurous of the visitors midfielders, but was also the player whose rash challenge reduced his side to ten men, clearing the way for the home side to win.
Portimonense v Estoril Praia. Unusually for me, the fourth shot is a goal, as Cale (11) heads in the Estoril equaliser.
I did not spot any away fans, so the majority of the 1327 will have gone home happily, with their team still well in the running for promotion and the potential of an Algarve derby in the top division.
Generally, it was an enjoyable weekend, but sometimes I feel frustrated that the players we are watching appear to capable of better football than what is on offer. Most of the sides are playing quite narrow formations, without wingers, but with midfielders drifting wide to pick up the ball. Crosses are frequently made to the far post, which in my experience is one of the most likely moves to produce a goal – but no one is coming into these positions to meet the ball.
It is also well worth noting the numbers of foreigners in the Portuguese game, and where they came from. Portimonense started with four Brazilians on the field, and three more on the bench (two more foreigners in the squad, a left back from the Cape Verde Islands and a substitute midfielder from Argentina). Estoril Praia had three Brazilians starting, two more on the bench – and a player from Gabon who had not been picked to be in the African Nations Cup. This is a strange world for a national second division with an average crowd of 830!