Santiago de Compostela is the ecclesiastical centre of Spain and has been a university city since the sixteenth century. At the turn of the twentieth century, it boasted a population of 25,000, so it is surprising that football never really took off in the city prior to the formation of SD Compostela. A couple of teams, namely Club Deportivo Santiago and Club Arenal, played in the Tercera in the 1940s & ’50s but achieved very little. The demise of CD Santiago at the end of the 1961-62 season left the city without a senior team in the national championships.
After much debate, SD Compostela was formed in June 1962 and in September merged with Club Arenal. Taking Arenal’s place in the Primera Regional, the club won the league, playing its matches at the city’s university. In September 1963, SD Compostela moved to the Campo de Santa Isabel, which had been purchased by the municipality and renovated following the closure of CD Santiago. The club spent much of the 1960s and 1970s playing in the regional divisions and the Tercera. Its first promotion to Segunda B came in 1977, but the stay lasted just the one season. They regained their place in 1980 and whilst this time they hung around for six seasons, it ended in relegation and controversy.
In 1986, the poor season on the pitch was compounded by an off-field controversy surrounding the actions of then president Francisco Steppe. He resigned amid allegations of receiving payments to throw a game against Pontevedra CF, which would maintain Pontevedra’s status in the Segunda B. The late 1980s saw a significant restructuring of the club both at board and management levels and in 1990 Compostela returned to Segunda B. The following season was to prove the club’s most successful to date. A third-place finish ensured entry to the playoffs and on 23 June 1991, a capacity crowd of 8,000 gathered at the Estadio Municipal Santa Isabel. They witnessed goals from Juanito and Ochoa (two), clinch a 3–1 victory in the final play-off match against CD Badajoz and promotion to La Segunda. By now, the simple Santa Isabel was proving to be too small and outdated for football in the second tier. The club played their last match at the ground on 12 June 1993, losing 0-3 to champions UE Lleida. Santa Isabel was a simple ground with a propped covered stand on the west side, an open terrace with a covered seated stand at the rear on the eastside, and an open terrace behind the north goal. It was situated about half a mile north of the city’s historic centre and is now the site of a Municipal Sports Centre, but the main stand is still in use next to a new all-weather pitch.
The club moved to the Estadio Multiusos de San Lazaro in the summer of 1993, which coincided with the continuing rise in the team’s fortunes and in 1993–94, following a 3–1 playoff victory against Rayo Vallecano, Compostela reached La Primera. For a small regional club, Compostela did remarkably well and achieved the best finish of 10th in 1995–96. After four seasons at the top, Compostela was relegated after losing a relegation play-off on to Villarreal CF. Club President José María Caneda, who had overseen the good times of promotion to the top flight and the move to the new stadium, was not the man for a crisis. His mismanagement led to three seasons of diminishing returns in La Segunda, which eventually saw Compostela relegated to Segunda B in 2001. They returned to La Segunda for the 2002-03 season, but this was played against a backdrop of off-field distractions. With the players and staff going unpaid for months, a final 9th place was not enough to prevent relegation, as Caneda failed to meet the 31 July deadline to settle all wage debts and were demoted by the Federation.
The off-field problems continued in 2003–04, with the peak being a strike by the players. After not receiving a wage for several months, they refused to appear for a fixture at UB Conquense. At the season’s close, which saw on pitch relegation to the Tercera, Compostela dropped further to the Galician Regional Preferente (north) after failing again to meet another financial deadline. This led to the liquidation in the summer of 2006 of the original club, which in turn saw another club, SD Campus Stallae, move into San Lazaro. After four seasons of languishing in the regional league, the new team reached the Tercera for the 2008-09 season. In the following campaign, after finishing first in its group, they beat Atlético Monzón in the playoffs and won a second consecutive promotion. Now in Segunda B for the 2009-10 season, it was almost inevitable that this would be a short-lived return. Campus Stallae finished in last place and relegation was followed by the now ubiquitous demotion for more financial irregularities. After a couple of seasons in the Regional Preferente North (Level 5), the club obtained permission to use the SD Compostela title and returned to the Tercera in the summer of 2012. This was followed a year later with a return to Segunda B.
In recent years, a host of other teams have tried and failed to take on the mantle of the city’s top team, notably Ciudad de Santiago who won promotion to Segunda B in 2008-09. A creditable 13th place finish counted for nothing as you guessed it; they were demoted for not paying the players. They struggled on until the December 2009, before being expelled by the league for failing to meet a fixture at Coruxo FC. With financial mismanagement that makes the UK banking system look competent, it comes as a relief to talk about the stadium. It’s also a pleasant change to talk about a stadium with an athletics track that actually works.
The Estadio Multiusos San Lazaro was opened on 24 June 1993 with a match between Deportivo La Coruna and Sao Paulo FC. Its distinctive terracotta tiled roof provides excellent cover from the elements, pretty essential in a Galician winter. It sweeps over a single tier of seats until it reaches the west side, where it slopes gently upwards to accommodate a second tier, which includes the director’s box and media gantry. Also, get a load of the floodlights! They resemble construction cranes as they lean over the roof and peer onto the pitch below. I’ve never seen the design repeated, not because it doesn’t work, but because there isn’t another stadium quite like San Lazaro.
San Lazaro’s perennial problem, however, is that over the years, too few of its 12,000 seats have been filled on match days. Is it apathy on the part of the population, or disenchantment with the management of the clubs that have represented the city? Either way, the fact remains that the city of Santiago de Compostela seems as far away from having a top flight team today, as at any point in the past 50 years.