Andy Brassell looks at the fallout in Portugal four years after they hosted the European Championship
Fans may complain that the Swiss and Austrian stadiums to be used in Euro 2008 may be a little on the small side, with only those in Basel and Vienna having room for significantly more than 30,000 spectators. And you can imagine by how much those dissenting voices would have been amplified had England, or indeed any of the home nations, managed to qualify for the finals. However, there is at least little doubt over the sustainability of the grounds post-tournament.
The last edition may have been one of the most enjoyable, comfortable and well run European Championships in recent memory, but the use, or lack of use, of the vastly improved grounds is a real sore point four years on. Ten grounds were used. Six were built from scratch – the Estádio da Luz and the José Alvalade in Lisbon, the Dragão in Porto, the municipal stadiums of Braga and Aveiro, and Faro-Loulé in the Algarve. The other four – Leiria’s Dr Magalhães Pessoa, the Dom Afonso Henriques in Guimarães, Coimbra’s Estádio Cidade and Boavista’s Bessa stadium – were refurbished.
At the time, value comparisons abounded between the building work in Portugal, where the total cost came in at £400 million, and the protracted efforts to finish off the new Wembley, where the costs were spiralling to almost double that amount. It was easy to feel hard done by, especially when looking at the quality of the Luz, Alvalade and the Dragão, all of which were subsequently awarded five-star status by UEFA.
Of course this was never a fair comparison. Land and labour costs are far steeper in London than Lisbon, let alone provincial Portugal. Costs also rise significantly for stadiums with a capacity of more than 50,000 – a figure only the Luz exceeds greatly – with major investment required in, for example, solutions that allow close to 100,000 fans to leave swiftly and safely at the end.
While it may have been a bargain by UK standards, £400m was an enormous amount of public money to invest for a country widely recognised as the poorest in western Europe. Even before the tournament, fans were debating why ten stadiums were needed to put on a 16-team competition. Since the Euros expanded to 16 nations in 1996, eight venues had been the norm, whether hosted by a single country or jointly. Even hardcore supporters were asking – what about building some hospitals instead?
The anger and bewilderment over this has only intensified as time has gone on. At the Luz, Alvalade and the Dragão, the traditional Big Three of Benfica, Sporting and Porto are doing fine, of course. Look through the rest of the Superliga and the problems start to become clear. Braga and Guimarães can draw crowds of 10-12,000 if they’re doing well and over 20,000 for the visits of the big three. Outside that, Portuguese top-flight attendances are among the lowest in Europe’s better leagues. In the first round of games following this season’s winter break, Academica Coimbra drew 4,270 to their 30,000‑capacity home. Boavista – champions in 2001 and one of only two clubs outside os três grandes to win the title since the league proper started in 1938 – pulled in a hardy 2,850 the next weekend against Leiria.
Leiria themselves had just 666 spectators for a Monday night game with UEFA Cup participants Belenenses in mid-February. Beira-Mar are playing second-tier football in their £29m stadium in Aveiro. The Faro-Loulé stadium is regarded as the biggest disaster of the lot. There was a suggestion for it to be shared by SC Farense and Louletano DC, but with Louletano in the regionally divided third division hinterland and Farense banished to the Algarve District League after financial collapse in 2005-06, it has been largely unused since 2004, give or take the odd concert.
The Portuguese Football Federation and their Spanish counterparts have recently discussed a joint bid for Euro 2016 – something that would make Iberian support for an England 2018 World Cup candidacy more likely. You can’t help but feel this dialogue might not have gone amiss some years before. With no dramatic alteration likely in the hierarchy of Portuguese football, it’s difficult to see where there might be an end to this continual waste.
From WSC 254 April 2008