The bustling fishing port of Vigo harbours a club who have spent most of the last 70 years in the top flight: Celta Vigo. Formed 90 years ago, the regional rivals to Deportivo La Coruña came back from near bankruptcy and relegation in the mid-1990s to six seasons of top-six finishes and a debut appearance in the Champions League. Memorable European nights included wins over Liverpool, Aston Villa, Benfica and Juventus.
Referred to in Spain as Celta de Vigo, Os Celestes (‘The Sky Blues’) have since fallen back but maintained top-flight status in 2014-15, just missing out on a European place. 2015-16 sees the club’s 50th campaign in La Liga.
Celta were formed in 1923 by a merger of Vigo Sporting and Fortuna de Vigo, an idea mooted by local sports journalist Manuel de Castro. Although de Castro never lived to see his club reach the first division in 1939, he did see Os Célticos play at the stadium they still occupy today, Estadio Balaídos, beside the Rego Lagares river.
The club’s first hero was Vigo-born Pahiño, who helped Celta to a record fourth-placed finish in 1948, when he was top league scorer, the emblematic Pichichi. Both he and Celta team-mate Miguel Muñoz made the cup final that year with Celta, both going on to play for Spain – and Real Madrid.
This proved to be their best post-war season until recent times – Celta’s modest successes could be counted in derby wins over Deportivo La Coruña.
Home form was always strong, though, and Celta came through the 1970-71 season unbeaten at the Balaídos. For their debut in Europe, though, Vigo fell at home to Aberdeen in the UEFA Cup. Their next European campaign, 27 years later, Celta also took on British opposition – and beat former European Cup holders Aston Villa and Liverpool.
In between, after a cup final appearance in 1994, and defeat on penalties to Real Zaragoza, Celta’s fortunes improved when they earned a reprieve from relegation when the Spanish FA extended La Liga to 22 clubs. Things really took off with the appointment of ambitious Horacio Gómez Araújo as president, and talented Victor Fernández as coach. With Claude Makélélé as anchor man, Russian midfielders Alexander Mostovoi and Valery Karpin, and Galician defender Michel Salgado, Celta became a real force.
Narrowly missing out on a first Champions League place in 1999 and 2002, Os Celestes created plenty of surprises in the UEFA Cup, beating Benfica 7-0, Juventus 4-0, Villa and Liverpool.
In La Liga, for the penultimate game of 2002-03, a superb effort from mainstay Mostovoi put paid to Real Sociedad’s hopes of wresting the title from Real Madrid. The Russian’s contribution earned Vigo entry to the Champions League, where they lost to Arsenal in the first knock-out stage.
After defeat to Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup of 2006-07, league form suffered and Celta dropped down to the Segunda for five seasons. A mix of Spaniards and South Americans kept Celta afloat in La Liga in 2012-13, along with midfield contributions from Danish international Michael Krohn-Dehli. Borja Oubiña is currently enjoying an Indian summer as captain, after injury nearly ended his career entirely.
Celta Vigo spent their first five years at the Campo de Coia, before moving to the newly built Estadio Balaídos, close to the old ground, in 1928. Set in the south-east of town, the Balaídos was and remains a simple four-sided stadium, by the Rego Lagares river.
Modernised in the early 1970s, a roofed north stand built to complement the main south stand opposite, the Balaídos underwent further improvements to host Italy’s three (drawn) group matches in the 1982 World Cup. The south stand was completely renovated, the other three stands improved, allowing for an overall capacity of 32,000.
Despite further renovation for Celta to stage Champions League matches in 2003-04, the Balaídos has been the subject of much speculation, a proposed Nuevo Balaídos part of Spain’s failed bid to co-host the 2018 World Cup.
For the time being, the 85-year-old stadium remains a modest, two-tiered affair, Celta fans gathered in the Marcador section behind the goal, and in the main South, or Río, Stand. Away fans are allocated a small section in the Preferencia.
Both bus No.8 and No.17 run from downtown Porta Do Sol to Avenida Castrelos, after which it’s a short walk along Avenida de Balaídos. The journey back to town is more direct, along Avenida de Fragoso.
Tickets are sold at the main taquillas between gates 1 and 2, during the week before match day. The club also offer online sales.
For the visit of a big club, prices are €60 behind each goal (Gol or Marcador) or in the Preferencia. A seat in the Río Stand is €80, the Tribuna €95. For lesser opposition, prices drop by €15-€20.
The Tienda Oficial Do Celta is located between gates 2 and 3. Given the frequent inclement Galician weather, you may do well to invest in a Celta-branded rain hat (€5) or thermos cup (€7.40). Note also the snazzy his and hers Celta watches.
The Museo Real Club Celta is between gates 1 and 24, part of a modest, 1hr-long ground tour. Arrange your visit by contacting +34 902 104 email@example.com for times and prices.
You’ll find a meticulously detailed club history and a scale model of the stadium. A museum of sport-themed art stands next door at gate 21.
The Light Blue Brigade gather at the many bars behind the Marcador and Río Stands, including the Cervecería Revi, estudio1, Café Mundial 82, Cafetería Las Gradas, Cafetería La Tribuna, Cervecería Rovie and Cafetería Don Balón. Most display a Celta photo, a flag or a shirt.
Two venues stand out. At Don Balón (Rúa Alexandre Boveda), you’ll receive a pintxo of pizza or a ham and cheese mini sandwich to accompany your Estrella Galicia. More substantial dishes include a Don Balón combo of burger, fries and beer, and a Don Balón breakfast. Players are sometimes seen here during the week. From the trophy cabinet to the wonderful picture of fab four Mostovoi, Karpin, Makélélé and Salgado posing Beatles style – the place lives and breathes Celta. Newspapers commemorate the European era a decade or so ago.
Las Gradas (Avenida de Fragoso 92) is another seat of sky-blue fervour – caped Celta puppets adorn the windows and there are flags everywhere. More photos remind you of the golden era, with special focus on goalies. There are shots of José Pinto, Celta’s top keeper before his long-term stint as Barça’s reserve, and his main rival at the time, the since retired Pablo Cavallero. The gloves behind the bar were donated by a Las Gradas regular, whose son is looking to break through at Getafe.