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Official Review by Tarek Zohdi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Portuguese football stars Luís Figo, Nani or Cristiano Ronaldo all have one thing in common: they are offspring from arguably the most successful youth academy in the Iberian country. The past and the future lie here for one of Portugal’s most popular clubs: Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Based in Lisbon, Sporting, as it is referred to, has two major rivals in Benfica and FC Porto. Together they form the three Portuguese powerhouses in the league. With a total of 45 titles, among them one European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964, Sporting is the third most successful club in the country behind Porto (71) and Benfica (70).
After flourishing for decades, ‘The Big Three’ might experience a change in the near future though, as SC Braga becomes more and more successful while Sporting on the other hand, is trying to chase its glorious past. The last championship came in 2002 and even though they participate once more on the European stage, the recent 2012 Champions League campaign starts with three Portuguese teams, Sporting not being one of them. Their aim now is to try and close the gap to the top teams as fast as possible. Although Sporting had to sell many of their exceptional talents to foreign clubs, the club’s academy remains during the dry time as the gold in the bank and the promise for a bright future once again.
As the name already implies, Sporting is much more than just a football club. Many athletes of the Portuguese Olympic teams over the years were members of the club, winning three Olympic gold and several silver and bronze medals so far. Consequently creating a legacy that was continued with a silver medal victory by a canoeist during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
In Europe, only FC Barcelona has won more titles, trophies and medals in all of its competing sports than Sporting, thus making the club the second most successful sporting club in European history.
Built in 2003, Sporting’s home is Estádio José Alvalade. The venue served as host to five matches of the UEFA EURO 2004, among them the Portuguese semi-final win against the Netherlands. Classified by the UEFA as a 5-star-stadium, it allows the 50,049-seater to host finals of UEFA’s major events. This was the case in 2005 when the UEFA Cup Final was won by CSKA Moscow in the Alvalade. Their opponents in the final? Sporting Clube de Portugal.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Like in the whole of Lisbon, the stadium's offering in the food and beverage section is excellent. The lines to the concession booths are short and the employees are fast and friendly. With only 2€ for a 0,33l soda, prices are almost ridiculously cheap compared to other European stadiums. Behind the main entrance, a food court with a rich array of different choices awaits you after the match as well. Here you can enjoy traditional Portuguese food alongside Middle Eastern food, pizza, or even sushi.
The obsession of the Portuguese football fans reaches its peak inside the stadium. The three 'Ultras' supporting groups and movements produce a truly fierce and passionate atmosphere with many diverse supporting songs and insulting ones to opponents for that matter. Your seat neighbor, regardless of age, might get a bit too loose with his/her tongue if Sporting's display on the pitch doesn't quite seem to reach the expectations.
There is one match though where the excitement has no limits. The Derby de Lisboa, the match against city rivals Benfica is often labeled as one of the most important football derbies in the world.
Unfortunately, the stadium isn't always a sell-out, affecting the overall atmosphere. In some home games, mostly against weaker teams, the place is disappointingly only half-filled. The economic crisis in the country and the region might serve as a reason here.
Surrounded by buildings from the nearby Lisbon University and further institutes, the Estádio José Alvalade lies not far away from the city center. An inner city freeway divides the stadium from the main campus with a couple of bars and restaurants. The City Museum is just a stone's throw away from the stadium on the University's premises while very close landing planes indicate the city's main airport nearby.
People in Lisbon are crazy about football, supporting either 'Os Leões', the Lions from Sporting or 'As Águias', the Eagles from city rivals Benfica. The two stadiums are less than three kilometers apart only divided by the highway 'Segunda Circular', which explains the fierce rivalry and ensures emotions to be shouted out not only beyond the city's borders but into every place in the world where Portuguese people and their descendants live.
With more than three million 'Sportinguistas' as the fans are called on all continents, the club is the second largest supported team in Portugal only behind rivals Benfica. While the latter used to represent the working class society of Lisbon, Sporting used to be supported by the wealthier society of the Portuguese capital. Nowadays you see representatives of both classes in the stadium side by side, trying both very hard to scream Sporting to their next win and thus produce an exceptionable atmosphere.
It is very easy to get to the stadium as it lies on the eve of a bus hub and most importantly of two metro stations. Besides 'Telheiras', 'Campo Grande' is probably the station you should go for when coming from the city center as the metro drops you off directly in front of the main entrance.
The stadium is surrounded by two highways with an underground car park and a couple of parking spots available near the stadium while taxi prices in Lisbon are reasonable. Nonetheless, the metro is almost certainly the most convenient way to get to the Alvalade.
If you're the one who doesn't really care about the Benjamins, as mentioned, the airport premises begin less than a kilometer away from the stadium while the Radisson Blu is in walking distance from the Alvalade. So you are easily able to fly in and out for a game.
Ticket prices are reasonable. It is easy to get tickets around 20€ although this might change for big matches such as the derby, against Porto or on European nights. The choice of food is great and affordable, the atmosphere is truly passionate and football worthy while the stadium is easy to access. And even though Sporting is struggling a bit lately, the club has undoubtedly left its marks on the European football scene. So if you're in Lisbon and a sports fan make sure you see a game!
The stadium is part of a mall-ish complex named 'Alvalade XXI' which amongst other things includes a supermarket, a health club, a sports pavilion, a clinic and the club's shop and museum with more than 16,000 trophies on display. Naturally the club also offers a tour through the arena, so what more could you ask for. A movie theater? Don't bother, there is a 12-screen cinema in the Alvalade as well. And that's not all the club has to offer. With its own weekly published 'Sporting', first published in 1921, it is the oldest sports club newspaper in Europe.
What stands out besides the diverse and affordable football experience is the very helpful and friendly staff which try everything they can to solve any problems, as long as you don't bring any food and beverages from brands which are not the club's sponsors. Compared to other sporting (the sport, not the club) events, Sporting (the club, not the sport) seems to be very well organized.
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