Pride of Gran Canaria, Las Palmas are back in the top flight after a 13-year absence.
But it’s nearly 50 years since Los Amarillos were enjoying regular European football, with top-four league finishes and an appearance in the Spanish Cup final.
Unión Deportiva Las Palmas were founded in 1949 from an amalgamation of five prominent local clubs. For the previous half-century, the game in Gran Canaria had been developing to such an extent that the best players were now being signed to top clubs on the mainland – the new club was aimed at stopping this exodus of local talent.
Champions of the Canary Islands the year before, Marino FC, had already built a stadium, later named the Estadio Insular. Along with the equally multi-titled Victoria, the blue-and-whites were originally less keen on the idea of a union – but the loss of half-back Luis Molowny, later of Real Madrid, might have persuaded them.
Wearing the yellow and blue of the Canary Islands, a club badge of five crests and featuring the collective talents of Gran Canaria, the new team gained two promotions in as many seasons, making the top flight in 1951.
Relegation followed immediately afterwards. Consistency came with the arrival of coach Vicente Dauder in 1963. The former Tarragona goalkeeper got the Yellows back up to La Liga and installed enough discipline to keep them there.
Finishing third in 1968 – though missing out on the Fairs’ Cup due to a byzantine qualification ruling that year – Las Palmas under Canarian old boy Molowny went one better in 1969.
Dumped by Hertha Berlin the first round of the subsequent Fairs’ Cup, the Yellows kept a healthy top-flight presence for the rest of the decade. Lynchpin of the 1960s and 1970s was Germán Dévora, an attacking midfielder for 16 campaigns, the most revered player at the Estadio Insular and now the club’s honorary president. Towards the end of his career, he was joined by Argentine World Cup stars Daniel Carnevali, Miguel Brindisi and Enrique Wolff.
Unión qualified twice again for Europe, beating Torino, Slovan Bratislava and Slobodna Tuzla but losing out to Twente Enschede and Bobby Robson’s Ipswich.
The Spanish Cup final defeat of 1978 to Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona signalled the end of the club’s best-ever decade. In 1983, Las Palmas were relegated and spent most of the subsequent seasons in the Segunda – even in the Segunda B.
Before 2015, the club’s last season in La Liga came in 2002. A year later, the local government built the Estadio Gran Canaria, miles south of town by the GC-3 highway. Replacing the forlorn Estadio Insular, it was to house scant crowds, occasionally joined by adventurous holidaymakers, as Las Palmas plunged to the third-flight Segunda B.
Gradually, the club climbed back up, gaining a play-off place for La Liga in 2013. Economics always forced the sale of promising young players, though. After his scoring exploits that season, locally born forward Vitolo was soon sold to Sevilla.
The following year, though, all seemed set for that long-awaited return to the top flight. Leading Córdoba 1-0 in the second leg of the promotion play-off after a 0-0 draw in Andalucia, Las Palmas were playing out the last seconds of time added on. As several of the sell-out crowd began to encroach onto the pitch, the referee called the players off. When they came back, Córdoba’s Ulises Dávila ran up the field and scored – gaining his team promotion on away goals.
Making the play-offs again a year later, Las Palmas fell 3-1 to Zaragoza in the first leg. In the decider in Gran Canaria, as the clock approached 90 minutes and Las Palmas leading 1-0, young Argentine striker Sergio Araujo scored a vital second goal to settle the tie and achieve promotion.
In keeping Las Palmas afloat in 2015-16, centre-back and captain David García, a Canarian, should pass the 400-game mark for the only club he has ever played for, while Juan Carlos Valerón of La Coruña fame may break longevity records as a veteran fall-back option.
An open bowl in the suburban commercial zone of Siete Palmas, the 21st-century Estadio Gran Canaria is far removed from its intimate, old-school predecessor downtown, the Estadio Insular.
Now a public park and club museum, the Insular served Las Palmas for 50 years. The move to this out-of-town new-build, coinciding with second-flight football, was not a popular one.
Recently, though, improvements have been made to make the new arena more football-friendly. Little could have been done about its location, some 5km south of town – but the major overhaul, initiated in November 2014 and accelerated after promotion in June 2015, has made a huge difference to the match-day experience here.
Most significantly, the running track has been removed and many spectators shifted three metres closer to the action. Lines of vision are also clearer and capacity now touches 32,000 thanks to expansion continuing through the autumn of 2015.
The stadium retains its oval shape, with a long half-moon of seating behind the west goal, the Curva, facing a stunted section at the opposite end, the cheapest seats in the one-tier Naciente. Neutrals may be best placed in the sideline Sur, with the best seats in the Tribuna.
The only ones to suffer are away supporters. Already having to fork out for a long flight and probably a hotel, these fans were allocated the most expensive (€60) seats in the Tribuna during the first half of 2015-16, Las Palmas management caught on the hop by their club’s surprise promotion and the demands of top-flight football.
In time, away supporters are to be allocated the Naciente – but not quite yet.
Estadio Gran Canaria is uncomfortably far from the centre of the town it serves. Walking here would be impossible, not least because part of the route is by motorway.
From the downtown transport hub of Santa Catalina, by the ticket office, bus No.44 (destination Isla Perdida) runs every 25min (Sun 45min) and takes around 20-25min to reach the stadium area. The last bus back on Sat is 10pm, on Sun 9.45pm. The less frequent No.26 also runs between Santa Catalina and Siete Palmas by a different route – and runs back to town later.
Buses stop at Pintor Felo Monzón (Hipercor), by the roundabout and mall, near convivial bars – the stadium is a short walk across some scrubland close by. You’ll see the floodlights. The stop Hoya de La Gallina is slightly closer but depressingly set amid mall buildings.
A taxi from town should cost around €20-€25.
With increased capacity at the Estadio Gran Canaria, availability shouldn’t be a problem. Tickets go on sale during the week before the game at the stadium taquillas (10am-2pm, 4.30pm-8pm) by the main car park. There are also a few outlets in town, including the Cafetería Pecallanía at Calle Harimaguadas 24 and at the Bazar Nacho store just behind the old Estadio Insular at Calle Graciliano Afonso 7.
The club’s official online distributor is entrees.es.
Prices are set at €25 in the Naciente, €38 in the Curva, €45 in the Sur and €60 in the Tribuna. There are no reductions, except for under-eights, €12 in the Curva, €22 Sur and €35 Tribuna.
Set just inside the gate by the taquillas, the club shop is awash with yellow, blue and… pink, the team’s second kit. Beachwear is a prominent feature – flip-flops, towels – and Spanish readers interested in club history can pick up a copy of ‘El Maestro’, the biography of midfield hero Germán Dévora.
Alighting at the Siete Palmas mall, you are welcomed by bland cafés. Avoid these and head over the roundabout, straight for friendly, local La Tasquita Canaria on Calle Hoya de La Gallina, where rustic images of yesteryear complement Canarian tapas and Tropical beer.
By the stadium, there’s a line of venues on Calle Fondos de Segura, facing the statue to the club’s cantera, the young players who have come through the ranks. Best of them is probably homely Ca Jorge (No.17B), a good place to enquire about tickets if you haven’t got one. Alongside, the Restaurante Basilio is another traditional spot, with a wooden interior and Las Palmas iconography dotted around. Other choices include homely El Rincón de Willy (No.21), which has a fast-food outlet, Willy Junior, nearby.