Palma – Estadio Balear

When you research the history of Atlético Baleares, you can’t help but feel that something, somewhere has gone very wrong. How has a club that had showed great promise and played in a great stadium, underachieved so spectacularly? Four seasons in La Segunda, only two since the stadium was opened in 1960, is a poor return. Maybe the answer lies somewhere within the fact that Club Deportivo Atlético Baleares is an amalgam, created out of financial necessity, with little support from the local press or council?

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Home is where the heart is

The history of Atlético can be traced back to 1904 with the formation of Mecánico Futbol Club. They in turn merged in 1920 with Mallorca Futbol Club (Founded 1915) to form Futbol Club Baleares. To confuse matters, the similarly named FC Balear (Founded 1916) was having some internal strife and as a result, Athletic Futbol Club de Palma was formed in 1922. So Athletic FC & Futbol Club Baleares competed, Civil War permitting, for the next twenty years at the regional level. In 1942, the local municipality served notice to Athletic FC that their home ground, Campo de Sa Punta was to be demolished for housing. Unable to afford a ground of their own, Athletic FC initially entered into merger negotiations with CD Mallorca (They did not take up the prefix Real until 1949). CD Mallorca would not budge on a name change, so Athletic FC started negotiations with Futbol Club Baleares and on 27 May 1942, Club Deportivo Atlético Baleares is born. Home matches were played at Campo de Son Canals, home stadium of Futbol Club Baleares. The present day site of the ground is between Calle Safareig and Calle de Isidoro Antillón, around a kilometre north west of the Estadio Balear.

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Memories of the Campo de Son Canals

After a season in the regional league, Atlético entered the newly formed Tercera, featuring clubs from Catalunya, Valencia and Aragon. The club did reasonably well for the remainder of the decade, reaching the play-offs in 1945-46. Form improved at the start of the 1950’s and the Tercera title was secured along with promotion to La Segunda. Atlético’s debut season was a mixed bag, with impressive home form earning a tenth place finish. However, due to the convoluted format of La Segunda, they entered into a relegation play-off against clubs from the other other regional division. After finishing fourth in this mini-league and seemingly relegation bound, the Spanish Federation changed the format and reprieved the club. There was to be no reprieve at the end of the 1952-53 season, as Atlético finished in fourteenth position and was relegated. Back in the Tercera and Atlético produced some impressive returns, winning the title in 55-56 and finishing runners-up in three of the next four seasons.

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A new stadium and surely a new era about to begin…

A third Tercera title was won in 1960-61, by which time, the club had moved from the old Campo de Son Canals. The move to the new stadium was part driven by the success in the Tercera and part due to a dispute with the owner of the land on which the Campo de Son Canals stood. The new stadium had started to take shape in the summer of 1959 to the east of the city and was inaugurated on 8 May 1960 with a match against Fairs Cup finalists Birmingham City. At this stage, the ground was an open bowl of terracing, but a roof was added to the west side in time for the 1960-61 season and floodlights in April 1961. With a capacity of 23,000, the stadium was one of the best in Spain and Atlético were about to use it in La Segunda, thanks to victory over CD Olimpic Xativa and SD Amistad in the play-offs.

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Atlético play Constancia in front of a near capacity crowd on 16 April 1961

Their first season back in La Segunda was tense affair with relegation a threat throughout. Decent form at Estadio Balear accounted for 20 of the 27 points won and in the end Atlético finished two points above the relegation zone. Local rivals Constancia joined Atlético in La Segunda for the 62-63 season and the team from Inca came out on top in the two fixtures between the clubs. Constancia won their home fixture by two goals to none, whilst the match at Estadio Balear ended one goal apiece. Further points were dropped at home and in the end a total of 23 points was not enough and Atlético’s stay in La Segunda was over.

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Has the Estadio Balear always been too big for Atlético’s boots?

The succeeding years have not been particularly kind to Atlético. Relegation from La Segunda saw the club back in the Tercera and whilst they performed well in the regular season with two more Tercera titles and two second places, promotion back to the second tier proved elusive. Form and money dried up in the 1970’s and the club was relegated to the regional league in 1973. They returned to the Tercera two seasons later and in 1977 Atlético found themselves promoted to the newly formed Segunda B. The visit lasted just the one season and over the next thirty years, Atlético remained in the Tercera, aside from three seasons in Segunda B in the late 1980’s and two visits down in the regional league. The last visit to the regional league in 2006 almost resulted in the club folding, but a new President and funding saw the club bounce back to the Tercera after just one season. Promotion to Segunda B followed in 2008, and whilst they were relegated a year later, Atlético returned in 2009-10 and won group III of Segunda B in 2011-12. the club was handed a tough draw in the play-offs, losing out to Copa del Rey semi-finalists CD Mirandés and CD Lugo.

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The West Tribuna in 2013

At first glance the Estadio Balear appears perfectly respectable, but on closer inspection time has taken its toll. In 2007 the local municipality paid for the renovation of the main stand or West Tribuna. The roof was in particular need of attention and the ageing seats were replaced. They also installed an artificial playing surface and with a lick of paint here and there, the stadium looked presentable. All well and good, but at the start of the 2011-12 season, there was a safety concern over the stability of the south terrace, which led to its closure for part of the season. Not that this effected Atlético, who confounded the experts and won the league. They fell in the play-offs, but the old stadium hosted five-figure attendances for the first time in years.

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Campo de Son Malferit de Palma

Safety concerns over the stadium came to a head in June 2013, when the local council closed it to all spectators. Atlético spent the 2013-14 season at the Estadio Magaluf, and then decamped to the Campo de Son Malferit de Palma in August 2014, which is around 500m south of the Estadio Balear. Son Malferit has a capacity of 1250, most of which is found under a cover that runs the full length of the west side of the enclosure. Quite some downfall from the Estadio Balear at its peak.

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Now there is real hope of a return to the Estadio Balear in 2019

In June 2014, the local council did agree a €650,000 refurbishment of the old Estadio Balear which would see the demolition of the large, open, horse-shoe shaped terrace. It was planned to be replaced with three much smaller, free-standing terraces, whilst the main covered tribune will remain, albeit detached from the rest of the ground. The new capacity will stand at 6,000 and Atlético for their part, have agreed to use the revamped stadium for a minimum of 10 years. Work finally began in December 2017, by which time the cost of the project had practically doubled, with Atlético have to make up the shortfall. However, for the first time in 5 years, there is a real possibility of football returning to the Estadio Balear, albeit in a radically re-shaped form.

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