If there is one Central American country whose football has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, it is unquestionably Panama. The baseball-mad nation has embraced the global game to such an extent that it has now become a national sport. And there is no other side that encapsulates the pioneering spirit of Panamanian football better than Tauro FC, the most successful club in the land bar none.

Founded just 26 years ago in Panama City, Los Albinegros have already amassed nine league titles and provide a regular supply of players for the national side

Birth of an institution
There was no such thing as professional football in Panama when the club was founded in 1984 by the Italian industrialist Giancarlo Gronchi. For the first four years of their existence, Tauro played in a local league and in the ADECOPA league, a competition contested by teams of players from the country’s expat communities.

In 1988, Los Taurinos joined up with six other clubs to form the National Pro Football Association (ANAPROF) and set up the country’s league championship. The new domestic tournament proved to be the launch pad for Panama’s progression over the next two decades from footballing backwater to one of the leading lights of Central America.

The making of a legend
Kitted out in black-and-white-striped jerseys in tribute to Granchi’s beloved Juventus, Tauro quickly established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the newly founded league. The club even had the honour of scoring the first goal in the competition’s history when striker Carlos Maldonado gave them the lead in an early meeting with Plaza Amador, now firmly established as Tauro’s bitterest rivals.

Los Albinegros won their first Panamanian league crown in 1989 under the stewardship of legendary Uruguayan coach Miguel Mansilla, who would remain in the post for the next 20 years. Although another title quickly followed in 1991, Los Toros del Pedregal then endured an unexpected lean spell, going a full six years without lifting another trophy.

The drought came to an end in 1997 when Patricio Guevara scored the winner against EuroKickers in the Grand Final. Tauro were back on top a year later, with Luis Plua scoring the championship-clinching goal against Arabe Unido. And in 2000 it was the turn of all-time club legend Victor Rene Mendieta to be the hero for the day, the striker notching both goals against Plaza Amador to give the men in black and white their fifth title.

The present
Four more championships would follow after the turn of the millennium – the 2003 Apertura and Clausura, the 2006 Clausura and the 2007 Apertura – confirming their place as the pre-eminent force in Panamanian football’s short history. Since then, however, Tauro have been out of luck, reaching both the Apertura and Clausura finals in 2008 only to lose out on both occasions.

Those two runners-up finishes prompted Mansilla to resign after two decades in the job, with Colombian tactician Gonzalo Soto taking his place. Yet the change in coach did not improve Tauro’s luck as they went down 3-2 to Arabe Unido in a dramatic 2009 Apertura decider, consigning them to yet another second place and a wait of at least six months for a historic tenth championship.

The stadium
Since January 2009 Tauro have been playing their home games on the artificial turf of the Ciudad Deportiva Irving Saladino, otherwise known as the Mini Estadio Rommel Fernandez. The small arena has a capacity of 800, with Los Albinegros regularly attracting sell-out crowds.