Historic, seafaring Vigo, largest city in Galicia in Spain’s far north-western corner, is home to flagship club Celta. Their name echoing their Galician/Celtic heritage, Celta were formed 90 years ago at the instigation of Manuel de Castro.
A journalist on the local ‘Faro de Vigo’, ‘Handicap’ de Castro was behind the merger of two local teams, Vigo Sporting and Fortuna de Vigo, to create a united representative for his city.
Wearing red-and-white halves, Sporting (formed as Vigo FC in 1905) had been made the Spanish Cup Final in 1908 and been crowned Galician champions eight times from 1907 to that seminal year of 1923. Ironically, the team they had beaten that March was Fortuna, who had won the Galician Championship eight times from 1906.
Settling on red-and-black, later Galician sky blue, Celta bore the red cross of St James on their badge and were soon based at the Estadio Balaídos. The street that leads to it off the main road is Rúa Manuel de Castro, named after the club’s instigator. ‘Handicap’ met a cruel end, when he was killed by a train, shortly before his beloved club scaled the heights of the Spanish top flight in the 1940s.
Top scorer of the era was Pahiño, who finished his prolific career at local rivals Deportivo La Coruña, spicing up O derbi galego (or ‘O noso derbi’, ‘Our Derby’) with Vigo. Both cities hosted the group matches involving Italy, Cameroon, Poland and Peru for the 1982 World Cup.
Despite generations of animosity between supporters of the two local clubs, fans of both were united in 2003 in the aftermath of the Prestige oil tanker disaster. For derby games that season, fans held banners proclaiming ‘Nunca Mais’ (‘Never Again’ in Galician), and co-operated in the huge clean-up operation.
Ironically, the tragedy coincided with the best period in Galician football history. Celta gained their highest league place in modern times, fourth, and made the Champions League. La Coruña had just brought the Spanish title to Galicia for the first and only time. Even little Santiago de Compostela had just enjoyed a four-season spell in the top flight.
Today, Celta, promoted in 2012, have been joined by La Coruña in La Liga. In the Segunda are fellow Galicians Club Deportivo Lugo, for whom 2014-15 represents a third season in the second flight.
One level below them, as well as Compostela, are Coruxo, Vigo’s other team, from the outer community of the same name. Founded in 1930, in 2013 Coruxo finished ninth in the third flight, behind Tenerife and Oviedo – their highest ever position in the Spanish league pyramid. The modest, 1,200-capacity O Vao ground lies reasonably close to Vigo’s southern outskirts – and the Estadio Balaídos, on the other side of the Rego Lagares waterway.
Vigo-Peinador Airport is 8km (five miles) east of town, connected by C9A Vitrasa bus (every 30mins, journey time 10-15min) to Plaza América, between the stadium and the city centre. Local buses have a single fare of €1.24. A taxi (+34 986 252 700) to town has a fixed price of €22. Vigo-Guixar train station is at the top of Rúa Alfonso XIII, a 15-minute walk downhill to the port.
UK budget airlines use Santiago de Compostela Airport, 90km (55 miles) from Vigo. A bus (€3, every 30min) takes 20mins to Compostela bus station. A taxi (+34 981 535 154) has a fixed fare of €20. A train to Vigo (€10.70) takes 1hr 30mins; a bus (€8) is slightly quicker.
The nearest to the stadium is the four-star Hespería Vigo, halfway between the ground and the bus stop for the airport at Plaza América. Fashionably renovated in 2009, the 126-room Hotel Coia de Vigo is also convenient for both stadium and airport.
If you prefer to stay in the old quarter of Casco Vello, among the many choices is the comfortable two-sar Hotel Puerta Gamboa, well positioned and affordable. For a sea view, the Hotel Sercotel Bahía De Vigo, with jacuzzi baths and a bar shaped like a ship.
Tapas bars fill the compact area of narrow streets set back from the harbour, with the plenty of wining and dining to be had at Playa Samil beach and along Calle de las Ostras, ‘Oyster Street’. Bars on Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza de Compostela are another option. Beer is Estrella Galicia, usually sold by the bottle or in a ceramic cup.
At Dublin House, halfway between the stadium and Casco Vello, you can watch the game on the big screens while munching on a kangaroo or ostrich kebab. The Irish Harp (Rúa de Rosalia de Castro 62) contains 24 plasma screens for big-match gawping.
Locals tend to frequent the terrace bars and tascas around Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza de la Piedra. Taberna A pedra (Rúa Cesteiros 2), Cervecería El Pasillo (Rúa Gamboa 10), Scala (Porta do Sol 4) and El Mosquito are typical of the genre.