To the casual follower of Spanish football, Real Club Deportivo Mallorca has spent much of its time in the top division. However, Mallorca’s success has been a recent phenomenon as prior to 1990 the club had spent only eight seasons in La Primera. Distance from the mainland ensured that clubs from the Balearic Islands along with those from the Canary Islands were severely disadvantaged in terms of development in the early years of the Spanish game.
We need to travel back to February 1916 to witness the birth of the club and as we have come to expect, it started out under a different name, that of the rather grand Sociedad Alfonso XIII Foot-Ball Club. The club’s first ground was the Campo de Bon Aires, which was tucked behind the Hermitage of the Little Sisters of the Poor and close to the city’s hippodrome on the Calle General Riera. The first match took place on 25 March 1916 when a strong FC Barcelona won by five goals to nil. The club joined the Catalan Federation and in June 1916, sought and was not surprising awarded royal patronage, by King Alfonso XIII. The Balearic Federation was founded in 1926 and the club joined the regional championship, winning the title in 1928-29 & 29-30. Following the arrival of the Republican government in 1931, the club dropped all reference to royalty and opted for the simpler Club Deportivo Mallorca. A single appearance in the Tercera in 1931-32 was Mallorca’s only appearance on the national stage prior to the Civil War, but an invitation to join La Segunda in 1939-40 was quickly accepted. Perhaps too quickly, as Mallorca finished seventh and dropped back into the regional league.
It took a further four seasons to regain a place in La Segunda, by which time Mallorca had made plans to move west, 250 metres to the other side of La Riera. The final season at Campo de Bon Aires saw a battle against relegation with fellow islanders CD Constancia, which went to the final game, coincidentally at Bon Aires. On 20 May 1945, Mallorca won a tense affair 2-0 guaranteeing their safety and second division football at their new Camp d’Es Forti. The new ground was designed by Carlos Garau and had an initial capacity of 15,000 spread fairly evenly across four open terraces. It was officially opened on the 23 September 1945 for the league match with Xerez CD, which Mallorca ran out 3-0 winners. Mallorca would spend eight of the next nine seasons in La Segunda, usually at the wrong end, before the club dropped to the regional Tercera in 1954. Here they endured a five-year battle to escape back to La Segunda, by which time the Camp d’Es Forti was renamed Camp Lluis Sitjar in honour of the club president who oversaw the stadium’s development. Under the guidance of Argentinian coach Juan Carlo Lorenzo, Mallorca won back to back promotions and debuted in La Primera for the 1960-61 season.
Promotion saw the further development of the stadium, with an anfiteatro or upper tier added to the west side. With other extensions to the end terraces, Camp Lluis Sitjar’s capacity rose to 31,000, making it the largest stadium on the island of Mallorca. In truth, Mallorca’s three-season stay in La Primera was a struggle, with relegation narrowly avoided in the first and second seasons, before a 13th place finish saw the club play Espanyol in the relegation/promotion play-offs. After two legs and with the scores tied at 3-3, Espanyol prevailed with a 1-0 victory in neutral Madrid. Mallorca would return to La Primera for season-long stays in 1965-66 & 69-70, but the seventies was a decade of woe, only equalled by their poor performance of twenty years earlier. In May 1975, Mallorca dropped the Tercera and only escaped in 1977-78 when the league was restructured with the introduction of Segunda B. This was a temporary respite for a year later, Mallorca dropped back to the Tercera and faced financial oblivion. Under the tutelage of coach Antonio Oviedo, Mallorca won successive promotions and after a year of consolidation, earned promotion back to La Primera in May 1983.
Mallorca’s return to the top flight in 1983 saw the stadium extended, with the addition of an extra tier to the north terrace and a moat dug around the pitch. This raised the capacity to 38,000, but regrettably, Mallorca struggled and was ultimately relegated in 17th position. Matters were not helped when it was forced to play their remaining three home fixtures away from the Lluis Sitjar. The RFEF forced the club to close the stadium after a part of the retaining wall on the south terraced collapsed. Several fans sustained injuries after they fell 10 feet into the moat below. So Mallorca decamped to the Mini Estadi in Barcelona and Estadio José Rico Pérez in Alicante, but failed to win again and returned to La Segunda. Over the next decade, the club became something of an elevator team, switching between the top two divisions on five occasions. The Lluis Sitjar did get to stage the Island’s first international match, when Spain played Northern Ireland in March 1985. La Roja returned in 1997 when Romania was held to a 1-1 draw.
The club reached its first final of the Copa del Rey in 1991, losing out to Atlético Madrid at the Bernabéu and then endured a five-year stay in La Segunda. Promotion was won in May 1997, by which time the Estadi Llius Sitjar had to comply with FIFA’s all-seater stadia ruling. This drastically cut the capacity to 19,000, thus sealing the stadium’s fate. A second cup final and a second defeat followed in 1998, this time at the hands of Barcelona, but a first national trophy arrived at the start of the 98-99 season with a victory over Barça in the Spanish Super Cup. The season was the most momentous in the club’s history with a third-place finish in the league and an appearance in the last ever European Cup Winners Cup Final, where they lost 1-2 to Lazio at Villa Park.
That 98-99 season also saw the end of first-team football at the Estadi Lluis Sitjar. Crumbling and cramped, that 98-99 season showed what an intimidating arena the stadium was, as Mallorca lost just two of the 26 official matches played at the Lluis Sitjar that season. The final first-team game was played on 13 June 1999, when Mallorca beat Celta Vigo 2-0, before making the short journey north-west to Son Moix. Lluis Sitjar continued to host reserve team football until 2007, before Mallorca B moved their home matches to the club’s new training complex, Son Bibiloni, a few miles north of Palma. The already dilapidated stadium fell into further disrepair with the pitch and seating areas overgrown with bushes and even feral cats living in the stands.
For a period, it appeared that Mallorca had designs on returning to the Lluis Sitjar. Disenchanted with life and the atmosphere at the municipally owned Son Moix/Estadio Iberostar, the club had plans to move back to the site. This would have entailed a €220m complete rebuild on the site, resulting in a covered, track-fee stadium with a 40,000 capacity. Plans were in place for a return to coincide with the club’s centenary in 2016, but in reality, Mallorca’s perilous financial position put pay to the development. The site was eventually cleared in August 2016, and nearly all trace of the has stadium gone. So, the club and its supporters will have to put up with the anodyne Estadio Son Moix and live on the memories of the RCD Mallorca’s spiritual home.