Santiago de Compostela – San Lazaro

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Staying in Galicia, we head about an hour south of A Coruña, to the city which is the historic capital of Galicia as well as being one of the great ecclesiastical cities of Spain. This is Santiago de Compostela, best known as the final destination for the pilgrims who do the Camino de Santiago and also a city I was proud to call home for just over two years.

It’s probably fair to say that of all the things Santiago is known for, football isn’t really one of them. But if you mention the city’s team, SD Compostela, to any football fan of a certain age, you will most likely get one word in reply – Ronaldo.

Compostela enjoyed a four-season stint in La Liga in the mid-1990’s (the first and so far only time in the club’s history they’ve reached the top flight) but despite achieving credible finishing positions in two of those seasons, their life as a Primera Liga club will always be remembered for Ronaldo bulldozing his way through their defence on the way to scoring for Barcelona at San Lazaro in October 1996.

Alas, the following few years were not happy ones for Compos, with a number of relegations and financial problems, which culminated in liquidation and rebirth in 2006 followed by several years of bouncing between Segunda B, the Tercera and the Galician regional leagues, with financial problems never far away. They managed to regain Segunda B status in 2013, just in time for my arrival in Galicia.

The Estadio Multiusos de San Lazaro (to give it its full title) is still relatively new, having only been opened in 1993, just before Compostela climbed into the top flight for the first time. Weirdly, the home club were not involved in the opening game, in fact it was fellow Galicians Deportivo La Coruña who faced Argentina’s River Plate in the opening game (as part of a four-team mini-tournament), with Brazilian legend Bebeto having the honour of scoring the first ever goal.

SAM_2699My first impression of the ground was that it was hard to believe it had ever hosted top flight football. The capacity of around 12,000 isn’t exactly ambitious, but it’s still hard to imagine it full. At least it has a roof, ensuring protection from the inevitable rain, while the floodlights are quite unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, almost resembling reading lamps, set outside in the four corners of the ground, stretching over the stands and casting light on the proceedings inside.

In two years living in the city, I only attended five matches at the ground. One reason for this was the ticket prices, which at €20-25 are not exactly cheap for Segunda B football. Another major reason is the location. It’s a long walk out of town to get there and once you get there, you find an area filled with large hotels and conference suites and precious few bars or cafés to spend some time in pre-game. The idea of walking that distance on a rainy Galician afternoon, followed by two hours freezing in the draughty stadium often didn’t appeal.

When it did appeal I was often rewarded with reasonably entertaining games, albeit ones played out in the surreal atmosphere of a practically empty stadium. The first game I attended there was a pretty action-packed affair, Compostela defeating Caudal Deportivo 2-0. Both teams had a player sent off and the hapless visitors contrived to miss a penalty. I assume that was typical of their performances that season as they ended up relegated. Compostela faired a little better, ending that season in 13th place, not bad considering it was their first season back in the third tier.

20141207_171811On another occasion, not willing to pay €20 for a seat in one of the main stands along the side, I opted for the cheaper (by €5) option of going behind the goal. I counted approximately ten other people who made the same decision. It was probably a poor one, the athletics track means the stands behind the goals are a long way away from the action, and of course the only goal was scored down at the far end. Though as it was a bitterly cold December evening, I was more concerned with staying warm than what was happening on the pitch.

The games which guaranteed big (well, bigger than normal) crowds at San Lazaro were the visits of Real Oviedo, by far the biggest team in the league, and due to the relative proximity, quite easy for a large number of away fans to attend. I’ll talk more about my personal connection with Oviedo when I write a blog on it, but it was a pleasure to be at the stadium last year to witness one of the major milestones in their promotion season. Having led the way for most of the season, they arrived in Santiago knowing that a win would guarantee top spot in Group 1 and thus entry to the Champions play-off semi-finals, where a win over two legs would be enough for promotion.

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Initially they didn’t have things all their own way, Compostela, still fighting for a chance to enter the play-offs themselves, took an early lead and went close to extending it on a couple of occasions. Oviedo hit the post n the first half but were still behind in the second half when a loud cheer went up from their fans. Results in the earlier kick-offs had went their way, so they were champions regardless of the outcome of this game. In the end they were able to celebrate with a point as Diego Cervero netted a late equaliser. I found brief highlights of the game on youtube, which can be viewed here.

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Alas, while Oviedo were on the up, things would only end up getting worse for their hosts. After their late surge for the play-offs fizzled out, Compostela finished sixth, but the current season has been a disaster. With three games left, they currently sit second bottom of Group 1 and look like they need a miracle to escape falling into the Tercera once again.

The days of Ronaldo and co. lighting up San Lazaro seem a long way off.

An addendum to the initial post, in late 2018 the stadium was officially renamed in honour of one of the city’s greatest ever footballers not an unusual thing in Spain. What was unusual was that this time it was a woman!

Vero Boquete has been capped 56 times for Spain, scoring 38 goals in the process and has played for some of the biggest clubs in the women’s game and won the Champions League with Frankfurt in 2015.

Below you can see a video of the official inauguration of the new name.

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