When you hail from a town where a bridge receives more recognition than your football club, you know that life is going to be an uphill struggle. In fact, in its 110 years as a football club, Club Portugalete has never attained anything approaching the heights of Alberto Palacio’s world-famous transporter bridge.
Portugalete is now effectively a north-west suburb of Greater Bilbao, but at the turn of the 20th century, it was chiefly a resort where the rich industrialists of Bilbao lived. This was not exactly prime footballing stock! However, this did not deter the locals from forming Athletic de Portugalete in 1899. Within a decade, a number of local clubs had sprung up and two of them, Portugalete Foot-Ball Club and Deportivo de Portugalete formed Club Deportivo Portugalete in 1909. The new club entered the second division of the Vizcaya regional championship and in 1912 finished runner-up to Arenas Club and received a yellow and black striped kit as a reward. These became the club colours and in 1915, the club beat Racing Santander to earn a place in the Campeonato Regional del Norte. Their debut season in what had become Spain’s premier league competition was a disaster, with Portugalete finishing bottom with one win in twelve matches. As a result of this poor showing, the club disbanded and did not reappear until 1921, when as Portugalete FC they entered the lower reaches of the Vizcayan league. Matches were played on an open field known as La Florida, and it almost certainly would have overlapped the current home.
1944 saw the club reform again and this time adopt the name Nuevo Club Portugalete. The field at La Florida was not an option, due to damage during the Civil War, so the club became tenants at San Mamés & the Campo de Ibaiondo. In 1946, the club moved to Campo de San Roque, a basic ground, with an athletics track and small pavilion. Over the next few years, results steadily improved and on 8 July 1951, they beat Santona 2-0 to earn promotion to the Tercera. Elevation to the higher league meant that the club needed to find a new home and on Christmas Day 1951, it opened La Florida, a simple enclosed ground to the south of the town. Life in the Tercera was difficult, but the club achieved a high finish of sixth in 1953-54, before dropping back to the regional leagues in May 1958.
Portugalete then spent all but seven of the next 43 seasons in the regional league, making brief appearances in the Tercera in the 1960s and 1980s. 2001 saw the club end a 12-year spell in the regional leagues with promotion back to the Tercera and over the next for seasons, the club grew in stature, before winning its first Tercera league title in 04-05. In the playoffs, Portugalete beat Cantabrians SD Noja and the Aragonese Utebo FC to earn a place in Segunda B. Their first season in Segunda B ended in relegation, with the club finishing 19th, seven points from safety. Back in the Tercera, Portugalete performed consistently, winning the title in 07-08 and 14-15. A second promotion to Segunda B followed, but their 2015-16 campaign ended in identical fashion to that of a decade earlier, 19th place & relegation back to the Tercera.
La Florida is a simple stadium that, if you look closely, still retains some of the original features from over 60 years ago. Regrettably, the old changing rooms that used to stand at the north end of the ground were demolished in 2016. You can, however, see the original lattice brick wall around parts of the pitch. The main feature nowadays is a full-length stand on the west side of the ground, which has five rows of seats in yellow and black bands. This is covered by a shallow cantilevered roof and dates from the early 1990s when it replaced a covered terrace. A new changing block and club offices were also built in the early nineties in the south-east corner of the ground, and this two-tier L-shaped building also features a viewing balcony. The newest part of the ground is the east terrace that was added in 2005 for the club’s debut in Segunda B. Simple and with just a couple of stand out features, La Florida seems to go hand in hand with Club Portugalete’s history and status.