Little to Luz

Phil Town explores the stadiums being built in Portugal for Euro 2004

Benfiquistas said a fond farewell in March to their Catedral. The last ever game at Benfica’s once magnificent Luz Stadium was a damp squib of a 1-0 win over modest Santa Clara of the Azores, and that with a penalty. For months, though, the Luz had also been a sorry sight, a quarter of it removed to make way for the mag­nificent new Luz nudging its way in from next door where it is currently undergoing con­struction.

The Luz is one of the ten stadiums that will be used at Euro 2004 and Ernie Walker, head of the UEFA Stadiums Commission, thought it “very impressive!”. But then he would say that: his function on these tours appears to be to give a shine, at all costs, to what would otherwise be seen as depressing swathes of newly laid concrete and reinforcing rods.

We have to take Ernie’s word for it when he says that all the stadiums will be ready for the new season, a UEFA requirement to allow for a lengthy run-up to the tournament, during which security, press facilities and features such as access can be checked. A meeting of UEFA’s executive committee at the end of March reiterated Ernie’s optimism. Given that all the stadiums will be ready, it is now access that is furrowing the brows of the organisers.

Benfica, for example, do not yet have plan­ning permission for access roads to the new 65,000-seat Luz, which will host the final, although the city council has promised to help the process along. José Luis Arnaut, chairman of the parliamentary commission keeping tabs on the whole thing, said in February: “At this moment, we need to break the national sprint record to get the protocol signed, the bids for the job in and the work finished in time for the start of the championship, which is going to be very, very difficult.” In Porto, up­grading of the airport that will service half the stadiums is not expected to be completed in time. And there are doubts as to whether the underground link from Porto’s main station, Campanhã, to FC Porto’s Antas stadium, which will hold the opening game and a semi-final, will be ready either.

The Portuguese hosting of the tournament had various domestic objectives. One of them was to propagate the name of Portugal internationally and increase tourism. But promotion of the tournament has not always been as efficient as might be expected: a recent trade fair in Berlin received promotional brochures with a photo of Benfica’s Spanish coach José Camacho on the cover, brochures that had been destined for Spain.

One of the other objectives of the candidature was to take the opportunity to upgrade Portugal’s stadiums. This would be a welcome development – especially for those fans previously forced to sit on uncovered terraces dur­ing the country’s very damp winters. But it seems clear that only three of the stadiums will ever be consistently full or at least well fil­led after Euro 2004: Benfica’s Luz, Sporting’s Alvalade XXI and FC Porto’s Antas.

Other stadiums will certainly not be. The new 30,000-seater municipal stadiums at Aveiro, Coimbra and Leiria, for example, will host just two group games in the tournament. Afterwards, the respective clubs, Beira-Mar, Académica and União, will most likely be play­ing in front of the same 5,000 or so diehards (fewer if Académica and Beira-Mar go down this season, which is on the cards). The Faro/ Loulé Intermunicipal Stadium in the Algarve (three group games) will probably not even have a top level side playing there. The biggest local club, Farense of the Second Division, are in financial crisis and may fold. These stadiums and others are white elephants the coun­try could really do without in these belt-tightening times.

From WSC 195 May 2003. What was happening this month