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The miracle of the club that was born in an orphanage

Casa Pia players celebrate a goal. / casa pia facebook

Lisbon’s Casa Pia AC, one of the most unique teams in Portugal, has returned to the first division 83 years later and is performing spectacularly

Diogo Inácio de Pina Manique was a Portuguese magistrate of the 18th century. His career in Portuguese politics, especially as Police Superintendent General, is not exactly kind, but Pina Manique did a good deed for which he will always be remembered. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 left the city in chaos. There were almost a hundred thousand dead. For this reason, Queen María I, together with the magistrate Manique, decided to found the Casa Pia in 1781, an institution dedicated to collecting children who had been orphaned or at risk of social exclusion to give them a home and a good education.

The location of the orphanage was changing. The first headquarters was the Castle of San Jorge, an imposing structure from which they were evicted after the occupation of the French troops. It reopened its doors in 1812 in a convent, until the Portuguese Government decided to locate it in the Jerónimos Monastery, a beautiful building located very close to the Torre de Belén, where it remains today. At the end of the 19th century, when the English began to export soccer around the world, the Casapians enthusiastically embraced this new sport. They liked it so much that they were the first to defeat a team made up of Englishmen, the workers of the Carcavelos telegraph station.

At the beginning of the century, in 1904, students from Casa Pia created Sport Lisboa, which would join the Sport Benfica Group years later to form Sport Lisboa e Benfica, the full name of today’s Benfica, the great Portuguese club. These same students were also involved in the founding of other Portuguese teams such as Vitoria de Setúbal and different sports associations. It was in 1920 when the Casapians, aware of the talent available to them, decided to found their own club. This decision was dramatic for other teams, starting with Benfica, whose lower categories depended entirely on the talents that emerged from the old orphanage. In that first year of existence, Casa Pia AC won all the games it played. It seemed unstoppable. Conspiracy theories claim that this was his undoing and that the upper echelons of Portuguese politics pulled the strings so that it would not happen again. Reality or not, Casa Pia AC did not win another title, although it remained a competitive club until the 1940s.

In the 1938-39 season, the first edition of the Portuguese League was played and Casa Pia was relegated to the Second Division. However, the real blow to the Casapians came when the Salazar regime expropriated the Restelo field, in the Belén neighborhood. The proximity of the stadium to the place where the institution was located was a great advantage for the club, which saw how it was filled every weekend with students and people from the neighborhood. Relegated to a field far from Belén, Casa Pia AC slowly fell into oblivion and lost categories.

In 2019, the club played in the third division and achieved promotion. That season in Second, luck was allied with them since they would have dropped precipitously (they added eleven points in twenty-four games) but the federation decided to annul all the results due to the pandemic. Thus, Casa Pia achieved a comfortable salvation the following year and the long-awaited promotion to first class last season. 83 years later, he returned to the elite. Fate wanted him to face Benfica, his offspring, on matchday two, although unfortunately he was unable to do so on his field, since the Pina Manique, with capacity for 2,500 spectators, does not meet the minimum criteria for the Portuguese first division. Due to a concert held at the National Stadium, where they play their matches this year, that historic match was played in Leiria, 150 kilometers from the capital, the place where Portuguese football began. Despite playing in a stadium that is not theirs, Casa Pia’s season has been exceptional. With 23 points, they are in fourth place, ahead of Sporting Lisbon and just three behind Porto. More than a century later, the Casapians once again remember that magical team that inflicted their first defeat on Portuguese soil on the inventors of football.

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