Real Vigo Sporting Club + Real Fortuna FC = Real Club Celta
Vigo does share a cultural link when it comes to football however, for like many northern ports the sport was introduced to the city by British ex-patriots in the 1890’s. Two clubs from the city dominated the early years of Galician football with either Real Vigo Sporting Club or Real Fortuna FC winning the first 16 regional championships. Whilst Real Vigo Sporting Club reached the final of the Copa del Rey in 1908, the teams struggled to make a permanent impact outside of the region. So in August 1923, following an article by local journalist and sportsman Manuel de Castro, aka Handicap, Sporting and Fortuna merged to form Real Club Celta. Home matches were held at Sporting’s Campo de Coia, which was sufficiently developed to host the final of the 1922 Copa del Rey. The new club also adopted Sporting’s red shirts, but these were quickly replaced in 1924 with the now familiar sky blue. 1924 also saw the purchase of a plot of land a few hundred yards to the south of the Campo de Coia, close to the Lagares river, where a private company aimed to build a new stadium. The club carried on at the Campo de Coia until December 1928 and saw out its stay at the old ground in style with a 13-0 rout of Deportivo A Coruña on 3rd December 1928. The final match at Campo de Coia took place six days later and saw RC Celta beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.
The Campo de Coia was close to the north end of the present Calle de Coruña
The new Balaidos stadium took shape over a period of three years and and was beset with financial and physical problems, including the diversion of the Lagares river. The original plans of architect Jenaro de la Fuente had to be scaled back and on opening featured a large ‘J’ shaped terrace and and simple hard standing on the two other sides. It was inaugurated on 30th December 1928 with a 7-0 victory over Real Unión de Irún. Unfortunately, RC Celta didn’t take this form into the inaugural season of La Segunda and was relegated to the regional leagues after finishing ninth out of ten. RC Celta returned to La Segunda for the 1931/32 season and once again finishing ninth, but avoided relegation due to the expansion of the league. Form steadily improved and in 1934-35 RC Celta finished first in the regionalised section, but missed out on promotion, finishing third in the play-offs. A year later, promotion was won to La Primera, but the Civil War intervened and postponed RC Celta’s top flight debut.
1929 – A much scaled down Balaidos soon after opening.
Following the war, RC Celta embarked on a run that would see them play in the top division for 19 of the next 20 seasons, by far the most consistent presence the club has had in La Primera. During this period, the club had a highest placed finish of fourth in 1947-48, a season that also saw the club reach the final of the Copa del Rey, where they lost 1-4 to Sevilla at Madrid’s new Chamartín stadium. During this period, Balaídos was further developed to include a west terrace, a substantial pitched roof over the north terrace and a cantilevered stand on the south side, up close to the Lagares river. Four tall floodlight pylons were added in the early sixties, with the two on the north side anchored to the terrace and the north cover extended around them. RC Celta dropped into La Segunda in 1959 and remained there for the next decade, but when they did reappear in the top division at the start of the 1969-70 season, Balaídos was undergoing a significant redevelopment. Have a look at this fantastic video that shows Balaidos in all of its 1960’s ramshackle glory.
An improved Balaidos in 1947
RC Celta has always been tenants at the Balaídos stadium and during the late 1960’s, the original company that had developed the stadium sold up to the municipality. In 1968, work commenced on redeveloping the north and east terraces. In its place grew a two tiered tribuna which was constructed in reinforced concrete. The cantilevered roof followed the ‘J’ shape of the original terrace and was made up of individual pointed vaults. This stand was seated apart from the lower tier of the east end and the tall floodlights were replaced with a long gantry that ran along the front of the north stand roof. The west end or Gol stand was developed in 1971 and featured a similar styled roof, but covered only a single tier of terracing. All that remained from the early days was the simple south stand. With a capacity of 40,000, RC Celta and Balaídos were ready for La Primera.
Estadio Balaídos in 1972. Note the troublesome Lagares river to the right
Back in La Primera and with a newly renovated stadium, things were looking up for RC Celta and for 4 or 5 years they held their own with a series of mid-table finishes. The mid seventies saw five successive seasons of switching between the top two divisions and then the 1979-80 season bought mixed blessings. During the summer of 1979, Vigo was confirmed as a host for the 1982 World Cup and moves were afoot for further redevelopment of the stadium. On the pitch however, the season proved to be a disaster and whilst home form held up well, RC Celta returned from their travels with a measly seven points. Relegation to Segunda 2b and potential financial meltdown followed. RC Celta put its trust in young, local talent and its faith was repaid with the league title and an immediate return to La Segunda. The youth kept giving and further success was achieved a year later when RC Celta won the second division title with an exciting and attacking brand of football. During this period, RC Celta lost just two matches at home, not bad when you consider Balaidos was a building site for much of this time.
|Match day at Balaidos during the 1970’s
Throughout its time at Balaídos, RC Celta had experienced problems with the Lagares river flooding. The redevelopment for 1982 World Cup offered the opportunity to resolve the issue when the river was re-routed through a deep channel in the foundations of the new south stand. This twin decker was almost twice as high as the north and east tribuna and looked oddly out of place with the rest of the stadium. The remaining three sides were refurbished and seats installed in all but the lower tier of the east stand, reducing the capacity to 33,000, 30,000 of which was seated. New changing rooms were also built under the Gol stand and were accessed via an entrance on the semi circle of turf behind the west goal. This stadium of two halves hosted three first round matches during the World Cup, all dour affairs featuring eventual winners Italy as they struggled to draws with Poland, Peru and Cameroon. RC Celta dropped back into La Segunda in May 1983 and then spent the next decade flitting between the top two divisions. The early nineties saw the club start to establish itself in La Primera and a second appearance in the cup final occurred in 1994, when RC Celta lost to Real Zaragoza on penalties at the Manzanares stadium. A series of comfortable mid table finishes were very nearly undone in August 1995 when the club failed to present accounts and guarantees. The Spanish FA initially relegated RC Celta and Sevilla to Segunda 2b, but relented and extended the division to 22 teams.
Balaidos in its 1982 glory
The RC Celta team at the turn of the millennium bought wider recognition to the club thanks to good runs in the 1998-99 Uefa Cup and 2003-04 Champions League. 2001 saw another appearance and another defeat to Real Zaragoza in the final of the Copa del Rey, this time at La Cartuja in Seville. As always seems to be the case however, a downturn in form was just around the corner and by 2007-08, RC Celta was back in La Segunda fighting off relegation to Segunda 2b on the pitch and creditors off it. The 2010-11 season saw the club finish a creditable sixth, losing out to Granada in the play-offs. This season has seen a decent start and the return of the Galician derby, thanks to Deportivo A Coruña’s relegation to the second division.
Starting to show it’s age – Balaidos in 2006
Little has changed at Balaidos in the past thirty years, except its conversion to an all-seater stadium in 1996 which reduced the capacity to 31,800. When the club qualified for the Champions League, the stadium failed its initial stadium inspection, but eventually the municipality coughed up for the upgrades after talk of playing the matches in Porto gained momentum. Apart from the expanse of blue and white seats, Balaidos looks pretty much the same as it did for the 1982 World Cup. The main Río stand is a curious structure, resembling a bloated accordion from the rear as its concrete framework straddles the Lagares river. It does offer fantastic views of the pitch, the city and the coast from its upper tier. To the left and behind the goalposts is the entrance to the changing rooms. Given that the stadium is built on a river bed, this corridor must be exceptionally well waterproofed or very wet. It all looks rather tired and whilst its 31,800 seats are more than adequate for the average crowd of 12,000 RC Celta attracts, the club could do and probably deserves better.
Balaidos in 2010. No World Cup, but a re-build is on the cards
Plans for a new stadium have been floating around since the embarrassment of the UEFA inspection in 2003, but finance and local opposition, including one appeal from the Director General of the huge Citroën factory just across the road from the Río stand, left the plans on the drawing board. Vigo was included as a venue for Spain’s failed 2018 World Cup bid and the 123 million euro rebuilding of the stadium hasn’t yet bitten the dust. The original time frame of rebuilding the stadium stand by stand from 2012, does look unlikely to be met, but there does seem to be a genuine commitment from the municipality to regenerate the area.
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