Club name: Santutxu FC
Level: Tercera División (Euskadi)
Stadium: Campo Mallona
Ticket Price: 15€ (Season tickets are very reasonably priced at 80€ also)
How to arrive: Take metro to Casco Viejo, leave through Begoña exit for lift straight up to the stadium, or take the Unamuno exit and walk up the Stairway to Heaven (Escaleras Mallona)
For the third round of my Basque groundhopping adventure I decided to go watch Santutxu FC play their first home game of the season against fellow Tercera División rivals CD Getxo. The borough of Santutxu is the most well populated district in Bilbao and in addition to this it is one of the most densely populated places in all of Europe; it manages to cram around 43,030 people into all of its 1.77km of space, meaning that there are an average of 24,310 people per square kilometre.
The club itself has been in existence since 1918 and will soon be celebrating its centenary year. Until 1965 the club played in a variety of different grounds until finally finding its spiritual home in the Campo Mallona. The stadium sits on top of the famously steep Mallona stairs which connect the old part of Bilbao (Casco Viejo) with the neighbourhood of Begoña (part of Santutxu) and the Parque Etxebarría. This means that on a sunny day, such as the Sunday when I went, you will be blessed enough to see some of the most breathtaking views of the mountains that surround Bilbao, from inside the stadium.
For the past eight years the club have been competing in Spain’s fourth tier, the Tercera División. They almost found themselves relegated last year but were saved thanks to complications caused by Spain’s lower regionalised leagues. However, the club had to wait until July to discover whether they would remain in the league or be relegated, which according to the fans has had a serious impact on their pre-season recruiting abilities. I was told that due to the predicament the club lost around twelve players to league rivals. Although in the end they did manage to bring in nine replacements, the latest pre-season was a nervy one for followers of Santutxu FC.
Down to Logistics:
The easiest way to get to Santutxu FC and Campo Mallona is by using the Bilbao metro. Go to the station called Casco Viejo/Zazpikaleak and take the exit named Begoña, this way you can get in an elevator which will take you up, right outside the stadium’s entrance. For the self-masochists among you wishing to brave the notorious Escaleras Mallona you have to leave the same station through the exit marked Unamuno. This leads to the one of the main squares in Casco Viejo, upon exiting you will see the stairs to your right, walk up all 311 steps to the top and at the end you should have the stadium entrance in front of you… if you make it that far.
The stadium is quite small and has just one stand but it does also have a bar that serves beers and pintxos to the spectators. The attendance was relatively low at around 300 so the atmosphere was not exactly raucous but it was definitely friendly and inviting. In fact, I spent a large portion of the match speaking to two different fans that I met at the game; one was an American man who likes to attend the games with his friend at the weekend, whilst the other was a lifelong fan of the club who was very kindly willing to indulge my incessant questioning about the club and Basque football, in spite of it drawing his attention away from the game.
The Match Report:
As I implied I spent most of the match talking to fans of the club, this was mostly due to my interest in the history of the club but also because the game was to be honest quite dour. Apart from very brief patches of play neither side were able to play with great swagger (perhaps due to the pre-season problems). Both sides played a lot of long balls and made many mistakes resulting in a game that failed to find its flow. The chances that did occur were few and far between and most shots were off target. Santutxu scored the only goal of the game in the 50th minute when their tall central midfielder managed to put away a header from a corner. Apart from this, the only other highlight of the game came towards the end when Getxo’s number eight was awarded a second yellow card for protesting the referee’s decision to give Santutxu a free-kick outside the box.
Although the football may not have been the most entertaining ever, going to see Santutxu was an extremely pleasant experience; there was a real sense of a close-knit community who are dedicated to following the club, which is always wonderful to see in the lower leagues. Lovely stadium, kind fans and all round fantastic lower-league club.