Sestao - Las Llanas

At the turn of the last century Bilbao and its satellite towns were the blast furnace of the Iberian peninsula. Such was the concentration of heavy industry, that many companies and local elders actively encouraged the formation of sports societies. One such club, founded in 1916, was Sestao Sport Club, who no doubt inspired by the success of another local team, Athletic Club de Bilbao, also chose to anglicise its name. For the first twenty years or so, the club played in the regional championship, save for a two season spell at the beginning of the 1930's in the Tercera.
Las Llanas in the late 1950's
The club moved to its present stadium, Las Llanas in 1923, and the stadium hosted second division football in 1939-40. I have explained in earlier posts that the make up of the league in that first season after the civil war was a bit of a lottery. Teams were plucked from obscurity to play in a regionalised second tier, based on geographical location and whether they had the facilities to host matches. After one season the experiment was abandoned, and Sestao Sport found themselves back in the Tercera, despite finishing fourth, above Barakaldo and Arenas Getxo who remained in La Segunda. Over the next decade Sestao finished in the top half of the Tercera, but failed to win promotion until winning the title in 1953-54. The stay in La Segunda lasted seven seasons, often battling to avoid relegation, but 1958-59 saw some respite with an eighth place finish. Relegation arrived in 1960-61 when fourteenth place saw them enter a play-off where Cartagena FC had their number and sent them down.
This picture may look green, but it's nothing of the sort
It took a further 24 years to regain a place in La Segunda, but they did so in style winning the 1984-85 Segunda B title by a single point from Deportivo Aragon. What followed was the most successful period in the clubs history, but a period that ultimately cost Sestao Sport dearly. After finishing the 1985-86 season in tenth place, the club entered the 1986-87 season, the format of which meant that 44 matches would be played in an 18 team league. After playing each other home and away, the league was split into two promotion groups and a relegation group. Once again, the teams played each other home and away, with the three teams with the best combined record winning promotion. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Sestao, who finished the regular season in sixth, had the second best post season record, but lost out on third place to CD Logrones when the records were combined. Thankfully, this format was never repeated, Nor was Sestao Sport's form, for whilst they managed top half finishes over the next few seasons, the slip towards relegation crept up on them and they finally dropped to Segunda B in May 1993.
The two roofs over the east terrace
The club made every effort to regain their second division status and after two seasons in Segunda B, they returned to La Segunda for the 1995-96 season. However the club had overstretched themselves, running up accumulated debts of 137 million pesetas. There was no help available from the municipality, as the massive Altos Hornos de Vizcaya steelworks had just closed and there was no way they could fritter away the public funds on something as trivial as a football club. All this contributed to a poor season on the field, and relegation back to Segunda B. With players wages still outstanding another demotion to the Tercera followed, at which point the club called it a day. The last match played by Sestao Sport Club was on 19 May 1996 when local rivals CD Alaves were held to a 0-0 at Las Llanas.
The main stand at Las Llanas.
During the summer of 1996, the current team was formed. They chose the name Sestao River, the nickname of Sestao Sport, and entered the Vizcaya Regional Second Division. Three seasons and three promotions later, Sestao River had reached the Tercera. Here the club plateaued for a few seasons before winning the Tercera title in 2003-04 and earning promotion to Segunda B thanks to play-off victories against CD Haro and CD Tropezón. Despite an encouraging start to life in Segunda B, the club's form in the second half of the season was dismal, picking up only 9 points from a possible 57 and relegation back to the Tercera was confirmed in early April.
Las Llanas in 2007
A second Tercera title was won in 2005-06 and victory in the play offs over A.D. Sabiñánigo and Peña Sport FC secured a return to Segunda B. The first season back in the third tier saw a very creditable fifth place finish, but diminishing returns over the next three seasons, saw the club relegated back to the Tercera at the end of the 2009-10 season. This season and third place in the Tercera saw the club enter the end of season play-offs. Victories over Tenerife B and Las Palmas Atletico earned them a place in the final phase. Sestao earned a crucial 1-0 victory over CF Montañesa in the home leg and held on for a 2-2 draw in Barcelona to earn promotion back to Segunda B.
Time to move on? - Las Llanas is  surrounded on all sides
I feel that I have somewhat neglected Las Llanas, home to both Sestoa Sport and Sestao River. As I mentioned earlier, the ground was opened in 1923 and for many years featured a simple short covered stand behind a stretch of terracing on the west side, and decent terracing on the remaining three sides. A cover was added to the terrace behind the south goal in the 1940's. In the early 1970's, the covered stand was replaced with a full length cantilevered tribuna, the roof of which is partially suspended from the sports centre that was built behind. Two covers were erected opposite the main stand on the east side of the ground. The first to the left is a standard, green cantilevered cover over terracing which ends abruptly on the halfway line. This is due to the presence of the old Babcock & Wilcox locomotive plant, which eats into the terrace, reducing it to six steps. The cover is bolted to the wall of the old factory and runs towards the south east corner. The cover over the south terrace was removed in the 1970's and a line of trees now sits at the back of this narrow terrace. At the north end of the ground is a more substantial open terrace.
Is this River about to take another course?
Las Llanas' days appeared to be numbered, as the municipality who own the stadium, had plans to build a new 5,000 seat stadium around half a mile to the south west of  Las Llanas. These are now on ice as they, like practically every over municipality struggle with finances. The old stadium was given a refit in 2009 and given the size of the crowds Sestao River attracts, Las Llanas's 8,900 capacity is more than adequate. A modern stadium would generate more match day funds and who knows, maybe a new stadium will see the club push on to La Segunda? Whatever happens, this River will flow on.

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