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iPhone Archive: Belenenses

Note: Occasionally I'll sift through old photos on my iPhone and use them to tell a short story about something strange or interesting that I've encountered during my travels.

The main priority for my November 2019 trip to Portugal was to watch home games at the country's historic "Big Three": Benfica, Porto, and Sporting. I also was able to satisfy my desire to visit the unique Estadio Muncipal de Braga, for my money the standout stadium of the bunch.

But since I wasn't doing anything on a Monday night and Lisbon club Belenenses hosted a Primera Liga match, I thought to myself, "why not?"

Eighty-four of Portugal's 86 titles have been won by one of the "Big Three." The biggest surprise in modern history came during the 2000-01 season when Reggie Cannon's current club in Boavista finished one point ahead of city rivals Porto to top the table.

The other champion: Belenenses all the way back in the 1945-46 season.

For much of the late 20th century, Lisbon's third club existed as a decent contender for European places while playing in the country's fascist-built venue that also served as the home stadium for the Portuguese National Team and the country's cup final.

American soccer fans might recognize the club for the half season that Freddy Adu spent on loan at while owned by Benfica.

So Belenenses interested me and I attended a game, despite my Portuguese friend telling me that "it's not worth the 20 Euros you'll pay."

Which brings me to the game. The day before, I sat with 50,000-plus at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon for a Benfica game. For Belenenses, there were maybe 50 total. Maybe 10 security guards total occupied the ground. The PA announcer was a guy sitting in the back of his SUV making announcements that played through the portable speakers on the track.

I couldn't believe that this was a team playing in the same top division league in the same soccer-mad city as Benfica.

The stadium was in such bad shape that for the first time in my life, I saw plants growing through concrete.

There's one big reason for this dearth of support and amateur presentation. There's some complex situation involving the actual professional team leaving the original club overall. I don't particularly understand but on Wikipedia lists "MK Dons" as a related article.

Apparently the Phoenix club that rose from the ashes of this split and retains the team's original crest and trophy case plays in the sixth division to crowds of 5,000.

It was still weird to me, though, that there was a top division game in a European capital of half-a-million people, and only 49 other people wanted to attend it with me.


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