If you were ever searching for concrete proof of Spain’s diverse cultural mix, then travel to Vigo on its north-western Atlantic seaboard. More working class than the showy La Coruña or saintly Santiago de Compostela, this tough industrial city is home to Europe’s largest fishing port and lies just 20 miles north of Portugal. It is also home to the country’s most westerly senior team whose name reflects Galicia’s ancient and beloved Celtic links. This is Celta Vigo territory.
Vigo does share a cultural link with the rest of Spain when it comes to football, however. For like many northern ports the sport was introduced to the city by British ex-patriots in the 1890s. 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 on 10 August 1923, following an article by local journalist and sportsman Manuel de Castro, Sporting and Fortuna merged to form Real Club Celta. Home matches were held at Sporting’s Campo de Coia, which was already sufficiently well developed to have hosted the final of the 1922 Copa del Rey between Barcelona & Real Union. It also hosted La Selección’s first match in Galicia, when Hungary was defeated 4-2 on 19 December 1926. 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 Rio Lagares, 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 La Coruña on 3 December 1928. The final match at Campo de Coia took place six days later and saw Celta beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.
The new Balaidos stadium took shape over a period of three years and was beset with financial and physical problems, including the diversion of the Rio Lagares. The original plans of architect Jenaro de la Fuente had to be scaled back and on opening featured a large ‘J’ shaped terrace and simple hard standing on the two other sides. It was inaugurated on 30 December 1928 with a 7-0 victory over Real Union. Unfortunately, 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. Somewhat ironic, given the fuss the club kicked up about not being included in La Primera. 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. Balaidos staged its first international on 2 April 1933 with Portugal popping over the border and duly succumbing by three goals to nil. Form steadily improved and in 1934-35 Celta finished first in the regionalised section, but missed out on promotion, finishing third in the playoffs. A year later, a promotion was won to La Primera, but the Civil War intervened and postponed Celta’s top flight debut.
Following the war, 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 Estadio Chamartin. During this period, Balaidos 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 Rio Lagares. 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. 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, Balaidos was undergoing significant redevelopment.
Celta has always been tenants at the Balaidos and during the late 1960s, 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 preferencia which was constructed in reinforced concrete. The cantilevered roof followed the ‘J’ shape of the original terrace and was made up of individually 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 similarly 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, Celta and Balaidos were ready for La Primera.
Back in La Primera and with a newly renovated stadium, things were looking up for 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, Celta returned from their travels with a measly seven points. Relegation to Segunda B and potential financial meltdown followed. 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 Celta won the second division title with an exciting brand of attacking football. During this period, Celta lost just two matches at home, not bad when you consider Balaidos was a building site for much of this time.
Throughout its time at Balaidos, Celta had experienced problems with the Rio Lagares flooding. The redevelopment for Mundial 1982 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. 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 Celta lost to Real Zaragoza on penalties at the Vicente Calderon. A series of comfortable mid-table finishes were very nearly undone in August 1995 when the club failed to present accounts and guarantees. The Federation initially relegated Celta and Sevilla to Segunda B but relented and extended the division to 22 teams.
The 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 Sevilla. As always seems to be the case, however, a downturn in form was just around the corner and by 2007-08, Celta was back in La Segunda fighting off relegation to Segunda B on the pitch and creditors off it. Then in June 2012 five years of second division football came to an end when Celta earned promotion back to La Primera. The only possible blot on the season was that they finished runners-up to Deportivo and lost both Galician derbies.
Little has changed at Balaidos between 1982 & 2015. There was the conversion to an all-seater stadium in 1996 which reduced the capacity to 31,800. However, 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 looked pretty much the same as it did for the 1982 World Cup. The main Rio stand was a curious structure, resembling a bloated accordion from the rear as its concrete framework straddles the Rio Lagares. It does offer fantastic views of the pitch, the city and the coast from its upper tier. It also showed off the dilapidated state of the roofs on the other stands. To the left and behind the goalposts is the entrance to the changing rooms. It all looked rather tired and the club thought that it deserved better.
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 Citroen factory just across the road from the Rio stand, scuppered hopes. Vigo was included as a venue for Spain’s failed 2018 World Cup bid, but the €123m project never left the drawing board. Finally, in the spring of 2015, work started on a €30m project to revamp and in part, rebuild the stadium. The first part of the project consisted of rebuilding the lower tier of the Preferencia. This brought the front of the stand 3 metres closer to the pitch and will also include access to new changing rooms and private boxes between the lower & upper tiers. Both the Preferencia the large Rio stands were then re-roofed and have a 25-metre span, which given the Galician weather makes sense, and will be the same height throughout the stadium, despite the variances in the size of the separate stands.
Work is then due to commence on rebuilding either end of the stadium, with the oval shape finally disappearing after 90+ years. Both end stands will feature two tiers and be built within 4 meters of the pitch. All the separate stands will be linked by corner units and a new roof. The exterior of the stadium will be clad in 3 metre-wide, curved aluminium panels which will supposedly mimic the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The proposed final capacity will be a slightly reduced 31,100. The project will be equally funded by the Ayuntimiento de Vigo, the Galician regional authorities, the Vigo Free Trade Consortium and the club itself. However, not all funds have been agreed and to be frank, it does seem to be an awful lot of work for the relatively modest €30m price tag. Whilst it now seems certain the rebuild will be completed, it does seem inevitable that there will be further delays along the way.