LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Palma

Holiday getaway and home of two estranged rivals

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Like many Med getaways, the Mallorcan capital of Palma invariably attracts expats and holidaymakers to its football grounds. Before this port city became a regular presence in La Liga over the last two decades or so, Brits and Germans had long beaten a path to see more lowly soccer at Real Mallorca or Atlético Baleares.

As these disparate city rivals rarely meet in the derbi palmesano, this divisional separation allows visitors to see one or the other on any given weekend. In fact, one particular Berliner, Ingo Volckmann, liked the Balearicos so much, he bought the company.

While Volckmann-backed Atlético still struggle in the third tier, Real have left their former adversaries behind, in both sporting and geographical terms. Stuck out beyond the outer-city ring road at the little-loved Estadi Mallorca Son Moix, Real have been considering their limited options while hosting the Madrids and the Barcelonas in a characterless bowl of a recently expanded 23,000 capacity.

Welcome to Palma/Gabriella Kiss

Before Mallorca hit the big time and changed grounds in 1999, expat and local alike strolled up from the city centre to Estadi Lluís Sitjar to watch game in the second or third division, and experience Spanish football as it used to be: whitewashed walls, steep-sided stands exposed to the burning sun, bars on every corner nearby.

The stadium’s name harks back to the pioneering days of the game in Palma – Sitjar was a former club president who oversaw the original development of the ground. He was also among Palma’s comfortable class who moved in the same social circles – even lived in the same building – as Mallorca’s co-founder, Dr Antoni Moner Giral, the finest local footballer of his day.

Sport was first brought to Palma in 1869 in the form of a bicycle, earning the admiration of onlookers gathered on the Moll de sa Riba for the daily arrival of the Barcelona steamship. Its owner, a local banker, soon started a cycling craze among his fellow mercantile class, many with business connections in Barcelona. Clubs were formed and velodromes built.

Welcome to Palma/Peterjon Cresswell

The first football games were organised within the cycle track of Son Espanyolet on New Year’s Day 1903. Maritime trader José Oliver Bauzá, Spanish correspondent for England’s corn-trade press, had founded the first football team, España, and invited a Catalan XI, Barcelonés, over from Barcelona. Old hands at this new game, the mainlanders won all three exhibition matches but Palma was smitten.

In goal for the hosts that day was the brother of Dr Antoni Moner, Gaspar, who had studied in Switzerland around the time Hans Gamper, aka the later FC Barcelona founder Joan Gamper, had helped form FC Zürich. Both Gamper and Moner were involved with the sugar industry and may well have crossed paths as they flitted between Palma and Barcelona.

Soon afterwards, another Palma influencer, Adolfo Revuelta, gathered likeminded enthusiasts at the Café Lírico – today the Maura on Avinguda d’Antoni Maura – to announce the formation of a team to provide España with a local rival: El Palmesano.

Estadi Lluís Sitjar/Peterjon Cresswell

Bauzá, meanwhile, was elected vice-president of the Círculo Mallorquín, heading the commission in charge of receiving King Alfonso XIII the following year. Knowing that the Coronation Cup had been staged in Madrid in 1902 in celebration of the monarch, they would offer the king honorary presidency of the newly founded Palmesano.

In the end, the club played only one match, a 7-0 defeat to España, at the Son Espanyolet velodrome. Palmesano would soon be swallowed up by Veloz Sport, just as España was now an official part of another cycling club, Círculo Ciclista. Son Espanyolet meanwhile, would soon be dwarfed by the Tirador, built by Veloz, the finest of its kind in all Spain.

Set on Carrer de Miguel dels Sants Oliver north-west of the city centre, the Tirador velodrome operated until 1973, spending the last half-century in a state of disrepair and limbo. In April 2023, the Palma City Council approved a project to design a new velodrome on the same site.

Real Mallorca Wall of Fame/Peterjon Cresswell

Back in 1903, Bauzá and Moner twigged that this larger facility would suit football far better than its cramped precursor. They formed a new club from the ashes of Palmesano, Palma FC, with shirts of blue. In September, they twice played red-shirted España, with one game in each velodrome. Veloz Sport duly swallowed up Palma FC and won the first Mallorcan championship at the Tirador in early 1904, shortly before the visit of the young monarch.

With Mahonés from English-influenced Menorca emerging as the first football force on the Balearics, an inter-island championship was initiated, staged at the Tirador and won by the visitors from Mahón.

Cycling continued to dominate the local sporting horizon scene until the arrival on the Barcelona steamship of Adolfo Vázquez Humasqué in 1912. The agronomist quickly became acquainted with Gaspar Moner and his brother, Dr Antoni Moner Giral, a medal-winning inside forward with the mysteriously named X Sporting Club of Barcelona, thrice Catalan champions in 1905-1908 and predecessors of Espanyol.

The first Mallorcan to win major football silverware on the mainland, the good doctor returned to Palma in 1909, where he also befriended his neighbour, Lluís Sitjar. The burgeoning round-ball game had hit a lull. Revuelta had been called back to the mainland after initiating football’s first wave in Palma, while Bauzá was immersed in writing romantic novels.

Real Mallorca club office/Peterjon Cresswell

The next generation of football enthusiasts convened on March 5, 1916 at the residence of fellow co-founder Alberto Elvira on Calle Ca’n Armengol to form Alfonso XIII FC. The club president would be Adolfo Vázquez Humasqué, who had correctly surmised that for football to catch on in Palma, full pitches would be required. Size restrictions within the Son Espanyolet velodrome for that first match back in 1903 meant that it was played as 8 x 8.

Near the Tirador, Humasqué and company had marked out a regulation-sized ground, Camp de Bons Aires, by the barracks on Carrer de General Riera. With the respected Dr Antoni Moner as vice-president, players soon jumped ship from Palma’s other clubs to don the red of Alfonso XIII.

Two of these clubs were Mallorca FC and Mécanico FC, who would merge in 1920 to form Baleares FC, the later Atlético Baleares. Their blue-and-white colours were adopted from Mécanico, their rivalry with the reds of Alfonso XIII quickly embraced as both teams scrapped it out on the Camp de Bons Aires pitch in 1921 in the inaugural derbi palmesano.

Both also competed for the Mallorca Regional Championship, the well-to-do royalists invariably taking the title, the working-class Baleares runners-up. Alfonso XIII also had the clout to attract big-name sides to play exhibition games in Palma, beginning with Barcelona in 1916 when the Camp de Bons Aires first opened, and Olympic champions Uruguay in 1925.

Estadi Lluís Sitjar/Peterjon Cresswell

With the new republic in 1931, the reds became Club Deportivo Mallorca. Lluís Sitjar took a back seat before his controversial activities during the Civil War found him favour with the victorious Franco. He reassumed presidency of the club, re-renamed Real (‘Royal’) Club Deportivo Mallorca, and built a new ground a few hundred metres west of the Camp de Bons Aires.

The Camp d’Es Forti later took the name of the man who developed it, Lluís Sitjar. Baleares, meanwhile, merged in 1942 with Athletic FC, whose Camp de Sa Punta was being demolished. The new entity, Club Deportivo Atlético Baleares, moved into the Camp de Son Canals, home of the blue-and-whites since 1923. A memorial stone now marks its location, where Passatge son Real meets Carrer del Safareig.

The ground was abandoned in 1960 when CD Atlético Baleares relocated to the new-build Estadi Balear, the club knocking on the door of the Segunda for the previous five seasons. The Balearicos spent two campaigns in the second tier between 1961-63 but haven’t hit those heights since.

Estadi Balear/David Holzer

Despite a five-year absence between 2014-19 when funds failed to cover a significant overhaul of the now ageing stadium, and 60 years of lower-league football, Baleares remain at the Estadi Balear. Capacity is just over 4,000. A historic run in the Copa del Rey saw the main stand filled for the visit of Valencia in January 2022, a single early goal settling the tie.

While their lesser city rivals were being rehoused at the nearby Camp de Son Malferit, Real Mallorca were looking back longingly at the Estadi Lluís Sitjar. Built to stage the World Student Games in 1999, the municipal Son Moix and its running track had not found favour with Mallorca fans. As the club’s centenary approached in 2016, talk turned to the still undeveloped Lluís Sitjar being revamped.

It wasn’t to be. In 2022, more than two decades after its closure, the Lluís Sitjar was earmarked for a green recreation zone, Mallorca agreeing a long-awaited deal and seeing the running track removed from the now improved Son Moix.

Bar At Baleares/David Holzer

Expats, locals and holidaymakers will be making the trek way north for many seasons to come – while east of town, Baleares aim to reverse six decades of mediocrity. To see the blue-and-whites in action, take bus 7 from stop 104-Jaume III by El Corte Inglés department store to stop 417-Tomas Rul·lan-Sant Damas 13 stops away. It also calls at transport hub Estació Intermodal. The Estadi Balear is just over the ring road motorway, connected by a pedestrian footbridge.

Just up from the bus stop, where Carrer de Tomas Rul·lan meets Carrer de Sant Ignasi, the Bar At Baleares is done out with the club’s scarves and badges. It’s otherwise a standard-issue Spanish bar, serving draught Estrella Damm and lunchtime favourites.

To come back into town from the stadium, the bus leaves from 392-Son Gotleu-Tomas Rul·lan, a few blocks further up Tomas Rul·lan from the bar.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Palma de Mallorca airport is 8km (five miles) east of the city centre, connected by local EMT bus A1 (€5, every 15mins, journey time 15mins). Tickets are available from the machine by the airport bus stop, or the driver accepts cash.

The A1 comes into Passeig Mallorca-Jaume III near the city centre. Going back to the airport, it leaves from 20-Passeig Mallorca near the Hotel Jaume III.

All other journeys around town cost €2, again cash-only from the driver, or you can buy a pre-paid card (€15) from a kiosk for ten trips.

Mallorca Taxis (WhatsApp +34 607 266 255) should charge around €35

Palma also has a two-line metro (single €1.80) that runs north and north-east from Estació Intermodal on the edge of the city centre. Neither line runs close to either ground, Son Moix north and Estadi Balear east of town, for which you’ll need a bus or taxi.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Sport-friendly pubs cluster along and near Avinguda de Gabriel Roca overlooking the port. The Three Lions operates from early evening until 4am, meaning it is equally sports pub and party place. Next door, the green-tinged Shamrock has long been a mainstay for sport on nine screens and live music.

Also close on Carrer de Monsenyor Palmer, Hogan’s  dates back to 1996, showing sport on 14 HD screens, serving its famed chicken wings and staging live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Up the same street, Molly Malone is more bar than pub, set at the bottom of an apartment block.

A little further along on Plaça de Francesc Rosselló Pintor, Sindi’s has been renamed Shelby’s but still puts sport first.

Closer to the port on Avinguda d’Antoni Maura, The Lennox has been screening match action in smart pub surroundings since 2012, the yachting fraternity joining sports fans on the extensive terrace. Just behind on Plaça de la Drassana, the Corner Bar Palma is another local stalwart, in business since 2001, comprising three bar areas and a terrace, TV sport, pool and drinks promotions key reliable features.

If you’re staying at C’an Pastilla near the airport, the Manchester Pub on Carrer del Gregal is the main football haunt – sadly nobody took over the wonderful Alt Köln nearby, a classic German football Gaststätte overseen for years by Udo and Helga.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

Visit Palma has little by way of accommodation information.

There are no hotels near either stadium, stuck in the far north and far east of town. Staying near the Estació Intermodal allows you to be close to the terminus of bus lines 6 and 8 for the Estadi de Son Moix. Alongside, the mid-range Palacio Avenida fills a former cinema with functional but comfortable rooms.

Right in the historic quarter, behind the Llotja, the Petit Palace Hotel Tres features a rooftop pool above a 16th-century palace while the BO Hotel Palma in an equally historic building alongside also makes best use of its sunbathing roof terrace.

Near the waterfront, close to the bar zone, the AC Hotel by Marriott Ciutat de Palma ensures an upscale stay, many rooms in the Hotel Costa Azul have sea views and literary-themed décor, alongside the Mirador adds a spa to its waterfront panorama, and behind, the Palma Bellver provides a panoramic pool and sundeck.

Further west, near the other end of the port, the BQ Augusta offers relaxation in the shape of a kidney-shaped outdoor pool and a quiet, residential location.