Celta Vigo

Os Celestes approach centenary still at Balaídos

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

The bustling fishing port of Vigo harbours a club who have spent most of the modern era in the top flight: Celta Vigo. Referred to in Spain as Celta de Vigo, Os Celestes (‘The Sky Blues’) came awfully close to a European final in 2017, a glaring last-minute miss by Italo-Swede John Guidetti preventing the underdogs from snatching a conclusive away goal at Manchester United.

Formed nearly a century ago, the regional rivals to Deportivo La Coruña had come 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.

Celta then bounced back again, from five seasons in the Segunda, to claim another European place in 2016, then progress to the semi-finals of the Europa League. Devastated Celta players sank into the turf at Old Trafford, none more distraught than locally born Iago Aspas. The bullish Galician striker had returned to his boyhood club from unhappy spells at Liverpool and Sevilla but the dream comeback wasn’t to be.

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 enjoyed an Indian summer as captain, after injury nearly ended his career entirely.

During the glory days of the early 2000s, Argentine centre-back Eduardo Berizzo provided steel at the back while Mostovoi and Karpin created in the midfield. In 2014, Celta’s long-term Mexican owner Carlos Mouriño brought Berizzo back to the Balaídos to replace Luis Enrique, rewarded for a successful campaign at Celta with a contract at Barcelona.

Berizzo went one better than Luis Enrique in 2014-15, just missing out on a European place. Then, in June 2015, before the club’s 50th campaign in La Liga, Iago Aspas returned. A Celta player from boyhood, the Galician had come up through the ranks to score vital goals in the club’s successful quest to clamber out of the Segunda in 2012-13.

After two seasons away from Vigo, Aspas had a point to prove and soon hit a brace for Celta to brush aside Barcelona – Messi and Neymar’s Barcelona – 4-1 at the Balaídos. The result put the Sky Blues top of La Liga, pushing Berizzo’s team towards an eventual European place. 

Aspas then earned himself Spanish caps with his performances in 2016-17, scoring in Celta’s wins over Barcelona and local rivals Deportivo La Coruña and finishing just behind Messi, Suárez and Ronaldo in the overall Pichichi list.

But it was in Europe that Vigo really shone. Drawing with Ajax and overcoming experienced contenders Shakhtar Donetsk thanks to a last-minute Aspas penalty, Celta knocked out Genk in a high-scoring quarter-final to reach that fateful semi with Manchester United.

Always on the back foot against Mourinho’s men, Celta came agonisingly close to turning things around in front of 75,000 at Old Trafford as the match sparked into action in the dying minutes. While the chance that fell to John Guidetti was by no means easy, the striker will have to live with his bumbling attempt for a very long time to come. There was barely time to register what had happened when the final whistle blew.

Berizzo headed for Sevilla and Celta settled in for a string of mediocre seasons punctuated by the odd vital strike from Aspas to ward off relegation. Now breaking all kinds of records for longevity and efficacy in front of goal, the veteran typified his never-say-die attitude with an equaliser against Barcelona – it’s always Barcelona – in November 2021. A magnificent strike on 96 minutes completed a Celta comeback from 0-3 down at home and assured another unhappy visit to Galicia for the Catalans.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

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 then became the subject of much speculation, a proposed Nuevo Balaídos part of Spain’s failed bid to co-host the 2018 World Cup.

Still in place today, the 95-year-old stadium remains a two-tiered affair, Celta fans gathering in the Marcador section behind the goal, and in the main South, or Río, Stand. Away supporters are allocated a small section in the Grada Río accessed via Gate 20. Note that because of ongoing renovation to the Balaídos, for some games in 2021 and 2022, visiting fans will occupy a section of the Tribuna Baja, the lower tier of the sideline stand.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Bus lines are confusing and relatively infrequent but those heading towards the stadium from town run along Avenida das Camelias via Praza da Independencia, then via Praza de América and down Avenida de Castrelos. If you’re on the 7 or 17, alight at the huge, sprawling park as only the 27 (hourly Mon-Fri, every 2hrs Sat-Sun) and H1 (Mon-Fri only, hourly) turn right into Avenida do Alcalde Portanet straight to the ground. 

Line 16 runs directly from Guixar train station to the stadium, a journey of 20mins, the service every 65-70mins, although at least daily.

Perhaps the best option is line 23 from Pizarro or Praza España along Gran Vía right to the Balaídos, every 35mins Mon-Fri, hourly Sat-Sun.

The journey back to town is made easier by three football specials, buses indicated Fútbol 1, 2 and 3, the first heading to Gran Vía south of town, the second two to Urzáiz near the shopping quarter. Regular buses bound for town from the stadium use Avenida do Fragoso, but are maddeningly infrequent. 

A taxi from/to town should cost around €12 and is probably money well spent.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

With attendances averaging under 20,000, the only issues with availability are for the visits of Real and Barça. Tickets are sold at the main taquillas between gates 1 and 2, during the week before match day. The club also offers online sales.

For many fixtures, prices start from €12 for a seat behind the goal in the Gol end, rising to €16-€20 for the Río Stand and around €25 in the Tribuna. These figures rise by about 10-15% for a better class of opposition.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club has two stores, one behind the Tribuna stand at the stadium (Mon-Sat 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm, match days) and the other at its swish headquarters (daily 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm) in the shopping quarter at Rúa do Príncipe 44. 

Although voted best shirt in La Liga for 2022-23 by fans from all clubs, Celta’s sky-blue tops are not available in adult size due to a supply problem, although kids won’t be disappointed. The second-choice black with brown rectangles hardly compensates under any circumstances. 

On the positive side, the club does offer a sustainability collection, with T-shirts and notebooks created from 100% recycled material. There are also branded coats to protect dogs from storms coming in off the Atlantic, plus beach towels and flip-flops in Celta colours.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The Light Blue Brigade gather at the many bars behind the Marcador and Tribuna Stands, arguably the best at Rúa de Alexandre Bóveda 2 where two stands meet. The Cafetería Don Balón displays Celta shirts and iconography, serves decent local dishes and pours Estrella Galicia beer from big taps on the bar counter. Terrace tables will be at a premium in the run-up to kick-off.

Just the other side of the monument to Manuel de Castro on the street of the same name, Noso Luar is a more recent arrival but a striking one, withs its superb murals. Diagonally opposite Rúa Manuel de Castro from there, facing the stadium, Revi is more plain but offers several screens to follow the action.

On this same stretch, just over from the Balaídos, the Bar Tribuna is another handy option although that seat of sky-blue fervour alongside, the bar Las Gradas, doesn’t seem to have survived the pandemic. Next door, Lua Nova, with its table-football table, seems to be clinging on – just.

Despite the celluloid theme, the Movie Bar across Rúa Eugenio Kraff is the real deal, rows of Celta scarves crowning a prominent zinc bar counter whose tap of Amstel sates the thirsty multitude on match days. The red stars displayed everywhere refer to Tinseltown rather than Amstel’s Dutch competitor.

Bars along Avenida de Balaídos are more downbeat, as illustrated by the workaday Río, handy if you need to escape the crowds.