Sestao – Las Llanas

At the turn of the last century, Bilbao and its satellite towns were essentially the blast furnace of the Iberian Peninsula. Such was the concentration of heavy industry, that many companies and local elders actively encouraged the formation of sports societies. One such club, founded in 1916, was Sestao Sport Club. No doubt inspired by the success of another local team, Athletic Club de Bilbao, they also chose to anglicise its name. For the first twenty years or so, the club played in the regional championship, save for a two-season spell at the beginning of the 1930s in the Tercera.

Opened in April 1923, Las Llanas is the 7th oldest stadium in Spain

The club moved to its present stadium, Las Llanas in April 1923, and the stadium hosted second division football in 1939-40. The make-up of the league in that first season after the Civil War was a bit of a lottery. Teams were plucked from obscurity to play in a regionalised second tier, based on geographical location and whether they had the facilities to host matches. After one season the experiment was abandoned, and Sestao Sport found themselves back in the Tercera. This was despite finishing fourth, above Basque rivals, Barakaldo and Arenas Getxo who remained in La Segunda. Over the next decade, Sestao finished in the top half of the Tercera but failed to win promotion until winning the title in 1953-54. The next stay in La Segunda lasted seven seasons, often battling to avoid relegation, but 1958-59 saw some respite with an eighth-place finish. Relegation arrived in 1960-61 when fourteenth place saw them enter a play-off, but Cartagena FC had their number and Sestao dropped back down to the Tercera.

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Las Llanas in the 1950s

It took a further 24 years to regain a place in La Segunda, but they did so in style winning the 1984-85 Segunda B title by a single point from Deportivo Aragon. What followed was the most successful period in the club’s history, but a period that ultimately cost Sestao Sport dearly. After finishing the 1985-86 season in tenth place, the club entered the 1986-87 season full of hope. The format of the league meant that 44 matches would be played in an 18 team league. After playing each other home and away, the league was split into two; a promotion group and a relegation group. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Sestao, who finished the regular season in sixth, had the second-best postseason record but lost out on third place to CD Logrones when the records were combined. Thankfully, this format was never repeated, Nor for that matter was Sestao Sport’s form, for whilst they managed top half finishes over the next few seasons, the slip towards relegation crept up on them and they finally dropped to Segunda B in May 1993.

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Fenced-in – Las Llanas during Sestao Sport Club’s 1990s tilt at La Primera

Sestao Sport made every effort to regain their second division status and after two seasons in Segunda B, they returned to La Segunda for the 1995-96 season. However, the club had overstretched themselves, running up accumulated debts of 137 million pesetas. There was no help available from the municipality, as the massive Altos Hornos de Vizcaya steelworks had just closed and there was no way they could fritter away the public funds on something as trivial as a football club. All this contributed to a poor season on the field, and relegation back to Segunda B. With players wages still outstanding another demotion to the Tercera followed, at which point the club called it a day. The last match played by Sestao Sport Club was on 19 May 1996 when Basque rivals  Alavés were held to a 0-0 at Las Llanas.

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Hemmed-in & going nowhere – Despite thoughts of a move, Las Llanas remains home

During the summer of 1996, the current team was formed. They chose the name Sestao River Club and entered the Vizcaya Regional Second Division. Three seasons and three promotions later, Sestao River had reached the Tercera. Here the club plateaued for a few seasons before winning the Tercera title in 2003-04 and earning promotion to Segunda B thanks to playoff victories against CD Haro and CD Tropezón. Despite an encouraging start to life in Segunda B, the club’s form in the second half of the season was dismal, picking up only 9 points from a possible 57 and relegation back to the Tercera was confirmed in early April.

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The Main Stand at Las Llanas with the Polideportivo behind

A second Tercera title was won in 2005-06 and victory in the playoffs over A.D. Sabiñánigo and Peña Sport FC secured a return to Segunda B. The first season back in the third tier saw a very creditable fifth place finish, but diminishing returns over the next three seasons, saw the club relegated back to the Tercera at the end of the 2009-10 season. Sestao bounced back immediately thanks to a third-place finish in the league and a playoff victory over CF Montañesa. Back in Segunda B, Sestao recorded a couple of mid-table finishes before winning the league in 2013-14. Unfortunately, Sestao lost to Albacete Balompié and Gimnástic de Tarragona in the playoffs and remain in Segunda B.

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1970s mix & match covers on the east side of Las Llanas

I feel that I have somewhat neglected Las Llanas. As I mentioned earlier, the ground was opened in 1923 and for many years featured a simple short covered stand behind a stretch of terracing on the west side and decent terracing on the remaining three sides. A cover was added to the terrace behind the south goal in the 1940s. In the early 1970’s, the covered stand on the west was replaced with a full length cantilevered tribuna, the roof of which is partially suspended from the sports centre that was built behind. Two covers were erected opposite the main stand on the east side of the ground. The first to the left is a standard, green cantilevered cover over terracing which ends abruptly on the halfway line. This is due to the presence of the old Babcock & Wilcox locomotive plant, which eats into the remainder of the terrace, reducing it to six steps. The cover is bolted to the wall of the old factory and runs towards the south-east corner. The cover over the south terrace was removed in the 1970’s and a line of trees now sits at the back of this narrow terrace. At the north end of the ground is a more substantial open terrace.

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Las Llanas – The only way is up

Las Llanas’ days did appear to be numbered, as the municipality who own the stadium, had plans to build a new 5,000 seat stadium around half a mile to the south west of Las Llanas. However, like practically every other municipality in Spain, the council’s grim financial position put an end to that plan. The old stadium was given a refit in 2009 and given the size of the crowds Sestao River attract, Las Llanas’s 8,900 capacity is more than adequate.

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