The Galician port of La Coruña is revered for its football club, Deportivo. Swashbuckling ‘Super Depor’ were known for challenging the big names in the Spanish game, coming agonisingly close to the title, before winning it in 2000.
Defeat in the Champions League semi-final of 2004 seemed to close the chapter on their great adventure. Depor slipped down the table, eventually to the Segunda. Twice relegated, Depor bounced back straight away both times, most recently in 2013-14.
Depor’s golden years were also Galicia’s – representing this remote, windswept north-west corner of Spain, Celta Vigo made the Champions League and even little Santiago de Compostela had four seasons in the top flight. Depor’s solitary title win, however, has also been Galicia’s.
Both La Coruña and Vigo hosted group games for the 1982 World Cup – although Peru, Poland and Cameroon hardly proved a big draw at Depor’s Riazor.
Given the region’s remote location and ties to the sea, it seems inevitable that football was brought here from overseas, long before it came to Madrid. British sailors docking at Vilagarcia de Arousa in 1873 broke out a football and started a game in the main square.
In La Coruña, it was a young student, José María Abalo, who brought the game over from England where he had been studying. Several teams were formed, including Deportivo, who soon moved out to Riazor beach, striking up a fierce rivalry with Celta Vigo.
In 1940 Depor missed out on promotion thanks to a play-off defeat to… Vigo, who saved themselves from relegation. But the following year saw La Coruña in the top flight for the first time. Producing and selling local talent of the calibre of Luis Suárez and Amaro Amancio, later stars for Barcelona and Real Madrid, Depor were always a tricky if inconsistent proposition – though it was another forward from the 1950s, locally born Arsenio Iglesias, who would prove the most influential figure. As coach, he would establish the Super Depor side in the 1990s, and bring the local game to a whole new level.
Though Depor haven’t finished in the top six since the fateful season of 2003-04, the town remains an alluring football hub, its stadium overlooking a half-moon of beach, its busy centre full of match-focused bars and restaurants and many of its hotels charmingly old-school.
Santiago de Compostela Airport 52km (32 miles) away has a more regular international service, including budget links with London Gatwick and Stansted. Infrequent Travidi buses run directly to the Hotel Atlántico in La Coruña, leaving Santiago airport at 10am and 10.15pm (Sat-Sun 9.30pm only) and leaving La Coruña at 6.15am and 6.45pm (Sat-Sun 6.45pm only). Alternatively, buses (€3/€5.10 return) run every half-hour to Santiago bus and rail stations, journey time 30min. A taxi to town has a flat fare of €21.
From Santiago station, an hourly train (€6-7.20) takes about 35min to reach La Coruña. (The town is referred to as A Coruña on Spanish websites.)
In La Coruña, buses cost exactly €1.27 a ride – the driver dispenses little coins in change.
La Coruña tourist information has a database of local hotels.
The stadium is surrounded by hotels, whose seaside location means some prices rise about 15% in summer. The nearest is away from the beach: the recently improved three-star Nogallás, with free WiFi several extra sports channels on TV.
Nearer the beach, the Mar del Plata is simple but comfortable. The nearby Hotel Brisa is similar in genre and price, while the CoruñaMar (Paseo de la Ronda 50, +34 981 26 13 27) awaits renovation under new ownership.
Nearer town, the traditional Hotel Riazor is a spic-and-span three-star overlooking the sea, with in-room Canal Plus on TV.
Near the station are a number of budget options, including the Pensión Los Rosales (Calle Ángel del Castillo 27, +34 981 24 83 53) and the Hostal Liste, both clean and comfortable. The Avenida appeals to a more business-oriented clientele.
Estrella Galicia beer, seafood tapas and TV football are provided in abundance, particularly in the narrow streets between the main square of Praza de Maria Pita and the beach, and the along the beach itself in season. The parallel streets of Rúa Barrera and Rúa Torreiro, in particular, are lined with bars.
Your first port of call, though, should be the marvellous Sport Café (Rúa Marqués de Pontejos 14), in a little square by Rúa San Nicolás. In this pub-like corner bar, Depor memorabilia and archive line-ups cover the walls and ceiling, fighting for space with signed photos of Real and Barça stars. Food is served along with Estella Galicia.
Head in one direction and you find the standard Irish Pub Dublin (Rúa Panadeiras 50) – head in the other and you find the bar vortex. On nearby Rúa Torreiro, Villar y Paco (No.6-8), spicy mussels are the speciality, devoured with rustic bread amid plentiful evidence of Depor dedication. Down the street, Brit-themed Bristol (No.11) puts the focus on music, without forgetting the football. Locals also flock to Rúa Barrera for loud chat and tapas.
Another unmissable venue is the Cervecería Cuatro Caminos, set in a century-old brewery converted by the same Rivera family into a large beer hall/restaurant in modern times. Three large TVs, mounted between the huge bronze vats and bright murals, screen football to regulars.
For a quick welcome or farewell beer by the station, then A Cova de Morgan (Rúa Marqués de Figueroa 24) usually buzzes with football talk most times of the day.