The story of how the fifth biggest stadium in Portugal became the home of a fourth division team's under-19 side
It's one of those peculiarities that is part of Portuguese football and is likely entirely perplexing to those from outside the country. Welcome to the Municipal Stadium of Aveiro.
Seating up to 32,830 individuals at any given time, the stadium is the fifth biggest in the entire country, behind only Benfica's Estádio da Luz (64,642), Sporting's José Alvalade (50,095), Porto's Estádio do Dragão (50,033) and Portugal's 'National' stadium (37,953).
But while the first three in that list play host to the three biggest and most historic clubs in Portuguese football and the latter acts as the home of the Portuguese Cup final and many Portugal national team games, in addition to also currently being the home of Belenenses S.A.D since the start of this season due to ongoing off-field disputes, the Aveiro-based stadium, the fifth biggest in the country, is home of Beira Mar, who are currently in the Aveiro FA First Division - the fourth tier of Portuguese football.
What's perhaps even more bewildering, however, is that the Beira Mar senior team don't even use it. Instead, they use the Estádio Mário Duarte, an historic stadium that was renovated three years ago and has a capacity of 12,000. Having played host to Beira Mar for nearly 70 years until 2003, a return to the stadium in 2015 was widely anticipated, leaving the fifth biggest stadium in the whole of Portugal to, quite shockingly, play host to their under-19 side instead.
Why does it even exist?
On the surface, that could be a fair question. To many, having a substantial stadium that was built only this century that acted as home to Beira Mar for 13 years before they moved back to their much smaller stadium must come across as odd.
But built in the early 2000s, the Municipal Stadium of Aveiro was constructed with just one event in mind; Euro 2004.
With Portugal hosting a major football tournament for the first time ever, stadiums across the land were either reconstructed or renovated. Guimarães' Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, for example, was modified and expanded for the tournament, while Benfica's Estádio da Luz was constructed in 2003, in place of their old, historic stadium that had a total capacity almost double that of the one which succeeded it, holding up to 120,000 people. That's the same story for both Sporting and Porto, who also had brand new stadiums built in the build up to the Euros to ensure Portugal fulfilled the requirements for the upcoming tournament.
But renovating and replacing old stadiums by either expanding them or tearing them down and replacing them wasn't enough on its own. New stadiums had to be constructed for the event to ensure there were enough of suitable standard, such was the case for Braga's highly unusual and unique new stadium - "The Quarry" - and, of course, for the arena in question, the Municipal Stadium of Aveiro.
While the stadium was built with the Euros completely in mind, the ultimate agreement was that the ground would then be used by Beira Mar, a top flight regular in Portuguese football at that time.
However, after being relegated in 2013, before then being demoted to the fifth tier of Portuguese football in 2015 due to an accumulation of debt and financial difficulties, Beira Mar's old stadium was renovated and they returned to their previous ground after a 12-year absence. While it was much smaller than the newly constructed stadium, it was closer to the town centre, meaning that it was the best way to get supporters to come and watch their matches.
As a result, the fifth biggest stadium in the entire nation is now solely used only by their youth side.