Palencia – Estadio Nueva Balastera

Now here is a great looking stadium that shows you that all 21st century builds don’t have to look like your local retail park. The Estadio Nueva Balastera was the home of Club de Fútbol Palencia, but before I get too carried away about its vital statistics, let’s have a look at the many senior clubs that have emerged from the city and their former homes.

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La Balastera pictured in the early 1960s

The first recorded senior team in Palencia was Club Deportivo Palencia, who was founded in 1929. After playing its formative years in the Regional Castellana leagues, the club won promotion to the Tercera at the end of the 1942-43 season. Up to this point, matches had been played at the Campo de las Eras del Monedero, but at the beginning of September 1943, the club opened a new ground to the north of the city, on the banks of the Rio Carrión. The new ground was called La Balastera, as the site had been previously used to extract ballast and stone for the construction of railways. To say the club milked the opening is a bit of an understatement. The first unofficial match was a friendly played on 1st September against Cultural Leonesa, which resulted in a 5-2 victory. Three days later and League & Cup holders Athletic Club Bilbao were visitors and then finally, on 12th September, the ground was officially inaugurated with a match against Atlético Aviación. CD Palencia folded in 1952, thanks in part to an unpaid tax bill. In its place rose Club Atlético Palencia, who following a merger in 1960 became Palencia Club de Fútbol. This union was short lived and this club dissolved in 1964. This paved the way for one of the city’s smaller clubs, Otero Club de Fútbol to reorganise and become the most successful club to emerge from Palencia.

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La Balastera and a rare full house

Under the presidency of Bonifacio Aguayo, Otero CF worked its way through the regional leagues and reached the Tercera in 1969. The club was then renamed Palencia Club de Fútbol and came close to promotion to La Segunda when losing out to Real Oviedo in a play-off at the end of the 70-71 season. Decent finishes in the Tercera throughout the 1970’s, saw the club elevated to the newly formed Segunda B in 1977-78 and a year later, under the guidance of Real Madrid great Paco Gento, the club earned promotion to La Segunda for the first time. The club spent four of the next five seasons in the second division, finishing fifth in 1982-83. Relegation to Segunda B followed a year later and deeply in debt, the club folded in August 1986. From the ashes emerged CD Cristo Olímpico, an affiliated feeder club to Palencia CF, that was founded in 1975. It had already reached the Tercera by the time of the collapse of its parent club and took up the reins of the city’s leading team. Progress over the next twenty years was somewhat unspectacular, with the club eventually reaching Segunda B in the 1990-91 season, by which time, they had changed their name to Club de Fútbol Palencia. There followed six seasons in the third tier, with a best finish of fourth in 92-93. Seven seasons in the Tercera ended with promotion back to Segunda B in 2003.

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By now, La Balastera was beginning to look its age. The stadium had seen a couple of upgrades since opening, such as the addition of a cover to the southern terrace in the 1977 and the main stand gaining purple and white seats in 1995. It had an official capacity of 12,000, but only came close to filling it on a few occasions, including a visit from the Vuelta a España. The main stand was unusually on the northern side of the ground and was 80 metres in length and slightly off-centre. Around 1800 purple and white seats sat beneath a shallow propped roof, whilst a paddock area separated the stand from the pitch. Opposite stood a large terrace, at the centre of which was a large propped cover. This was 50 metres in length and was constructed using huge iron girders that could have supported something considerably heavier than the rusty corrugated sheeting that provided the cover. The final match at La Balastera took place on 1 October 2006, when Palencia CF beat CD Guijuelo 2-0. The ground was demolished in 2008 to make way for a housing development., but as of 2021, only the area behind the southern terrace has been developed.

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A contemporary classic? The jury is split on the Nueva Balastera.

On 10th October 2006, the Spanish Under-21 side played Italy U-21’s in the first match at the Estadio Nueva Balastera. Regrettably the chief driving force behind the new development, former director Alberto de la Corte López had died in 2002, but I am sure he would have been impressed with what was unveiled. Designed by Navarrese architect Patxi Mangado, the Nueva Balastera is minimalist in design, with the principle focus being one of light. From its use of translucent sheeting on the exterior, to the recessed lighting and brilliant white finish on the underside of the roof, the stadium positively radiates. However, the stand out feature is undoubtedly the floodlights. Clad in the same pale green translucent material as the body of the stadium, these four towers lean into the stadium at an alarming angle. However, it is at night that the stadium comes into its own. Within the body of the floodlights translucent exterior are rows of bulbs that illuminate the entire pylon with a bright white light. Resembling four crooked light-sabres, this lifts the stadium above the ordinary and into the realms of functional art.

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Night lights – The Nueva Balastera’s four light-sabres

Let’s bring some balance to the argument, as the stadium does have its detractors. One architect’s minimalist design can be another person’s bland & anodyne. You will struggle to find much reference to the club on the exterior of the stadium, even though it does house club offices. In addition, the interior, in keeping with the grey-green theme, is bedecked in pale green seats. Add a liberal amount of concrete and you have about as neutral a colour scheme as one can possibly conceive. There is not one club crest or splash of Palencia-purple in sight. It should be added that high end design does not come cheap. The total build came in at 18 million euros or 2,250 euros for each of its 8,100 seats. Whilst the majority of the cost was privately funded on land donated by the municipality, it is half the size of Las Gaunas in Logroño, a comparable stadium built for the same amount of money as the Nueva Balastera. It is also five times the cost of Lorca’s Estadio Francisco Artés Carrasco, a stadium with the same capacity built two years earlier. 15 years on from the inauguration, and Mangado’s design still looks impressive. There are 12 rows of seats spread over a single tier, behind the front two of which is wide concourse which has 12 access wide vomitories. On the inside, everything is symmetrical and to be honest, a little repetitive. Yes, Palencia has a stadium that is aesthetically very pleasing, but whilst it has won many plaudits, it hasn’t helped its resident clubs win too many games.

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An orderly house, but how about a splash of Palencia-purple?

It is a pity that CF Palencia’s form did not match its impressive surroundings. Initial signs were promising as a third place finish in 2006-07 saw the club enter the play-offs, but a defeat to unfavoured SD Huesca put an end to hopes of promotion. Relegation to the Tercera and financial woes followed, ultimately leading to the club’s bankruptcy in 2012. A year prior to this, disenfranchised fans formed a breakaway club, Club Deportivo Palencia Balompié. However despite progressing to Segunda B in 2016, it all ended acrimoniously, when the directors tried to convert the club to a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva. The fans rebelled, the club was relegated and folded in 2018. All of which leaves Club Deportivo Palencia Cristo Atlético, a club formed in 1985, as the city’s senior team and tenants of the Nueva Balastera.

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