In May 2015, a new park was unveiled in the biggest city on the Canary Islands, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Set within the original walls of the stadium of the same name, Parque del Estadio Insular pays homage to the city’s flagship football club, UD Las Palmas.
Canary-yellow images of memorable moments, great players and influential managers surround 6,000 square metres of finely manicured lawn and 48 types of plant, flower and palm-tree. While on match days the fans of Leicester City and St Mirren still pass a patch of long overgrown wasteland where their grounds once were, beside new stadiums, so the loyal hinchas of Las Palmas can enjoy the benefits of their former home, a themed recreation park, every day. A children’s play area, deckchairs and stepped decking fill the space, complemented by a detailed plaque, a who’s who of local football.
This is not only a park but a museum, preserving the history of the club that dates back to 1949.
In June 2015, Las Palmas proved that they were still very much a living concern. On mid-summer’s night, trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Los Amarillos achieved an unexpected play-off win over Zaragoza to return to the top flight for the first time in 13 years.
In August, the day before the opening home match of the 2015-16 campaign against Levante, the city council, club officials, fans and famous old players gathered in the much-loved downtown stadium for a special ceremony in the converted park.
In a sign of the times, Las Palmas now play at the out-of-town commercial zone of 7 Palmas, at the Estadio Gran Canaria. The largest sports venue in the Canary Islands opened in 2003, exactly one year after Las Palmas were relegated, the start of 13 long seasons in the wilderness.
As distant from Madrid as the Spanish capital is from Birmingham, Las Palmas was a regular if exotic fixture in the top flight for most of the post-war period. Here, way down the Atlantic, on the same latitude as where the southern border of Morocco touches close to Mauritania, football developed separately to the Spanish mainland.
English sailors brought modern sport to Gran Canaria in the 1890s. Spain’s first golf club was opened here and expats formed the island’s first football team, Gran Canary FC, in 1894.
Soon other teams sprang up, most notably Marino FC in 1905 and Sporting Club Victoria in 1910. Formed by Anglophile Pepe Conçalves, Victoria were named after the queen he revered and bore the same colours, black-and-white stripes, as the club he used to watch when he was a student there, Newcastle. Marino, in blue and white, were Victoria’s great rivals.
While Victoria won the first two Canary Island Championship in 1912 and 1913, Marino triumphed in 1917. In between came Sporting Tenerife, forerunners of CD Tenerife, regional rivals of today’s Las Palmas.
By the 1940s, the championship was monopolised by Victoria and Marino, who had built a new stadium in the town centre. Still referred to by older locals as the Campo del Marino, the Estadio Insular was opened on Christmas Day, 1944.
Two years later, Marino’s star player, Luis Molowny, left for Barcelona, later to play with Real Madrid. To prevent a further exodus, Marino FC, Victoria and three other prominent teams in Las Palmas decided to form a new club to compete with the mainland: Unión Deportiva Las Palmas.
Founded in 1949 and based at the Estadio Insular, UD Las Palmas would reach the top flight two years later, staying there, pretty much, until 1988.
Regular European competitors, league runners-up in 1969 and cup finalists in 1978, Las Palmas were then a force to be reckoned with, their stadium also hosting Spain in four full internationals.
Whether the Yellows’ recent accession represents a new dawn for Canarian football remains to be seen. At least Las Palmas provides the more moneyed travelling fan with a beach break to go with La Liga action.
Be aware that the Canaries are aligned to Greenwich Mean Time (ie UK time), an hour behind mainland Spain.
Gran Canaria Airport is 20km (12.5 miles) south of Las Palmas. From the other side of the car park outside the terminal, Bus Nos.60 and 91 run to San Telmo bus station (every 30-60min, €2.60) south of Las Palmas city centre. Bus No.31 runs hourly through the night.
Every other No.60, ie hourly, also goes on to the main Santa Catalina interchange in town (€2.95). Buses arrive at and depart underground at both stations. Santa Catalina is walking distance from the harbour with regular ferry connections from Tenerife and other Canarian ports.
Local buses are Guaguas Municipales single tickets €1.40, bono of ten €8.50. There’s a ticket office at the main hub of Santa Catalina or buy from kiosks. Downtown is walkable but you’ll need a bus (or taxi) for the stadium.
The city is full of hotels, many lining the ocean, such as four-star spa Exe Las Canteras, five-star health-conscious Sercotel Cristina las Palmas and four-star NH Imperial Playa, with its late check-out policy on Sundays.
There are plenty of budget-friendly options nearby too, such as surfer-friendly hostel La Ventana Azul, limited opening in winter, with a private room as well as small dorms, and a communal roof terrace. Tucked in just behind the waterfront, Bajamar offers improbably cheap, basic but comfortable rooms plus an attic apartment, again with roof terrace.
The nearby mid-range Bull Astoria features a rooftop pool, sundeck and terrace.
Overlooking the transport hub of Santa Catalina, don’t be put off by the somewhat functional appearance of the landmark AC – it’s now in the Marriott group and features a panoramic pool and bar. Right on this pleasant square itself, Bed & Chic Las Palmas provides a boutique stay while, just nearer the beach, Aparthotel Las Lanzas is handy and affordable.
The most popular brand of local beer, Tropical, typifies the summer-fun image Las Palmas likes to portray – although the city’s lengthy oceanfront has precious few bars down it.
Exceptions include funky Las Buenas Pulgas, formerly a restaurant, now a bar with tapas, TV football and seats overlooking the beach. Just along the seafront, Peña El Pasillo attracts a loyal band of Yellows fans but it’s more tapas restaurant than busy bar.
The main bar hub is where Calle Secretario Artiles meets Calle los Martínez de Escobar, in the grid pattern of streets just south of Santa Catalina. Here, precisely, is where you’ll find evening-only Sheehan’s Irish Pub, with plentiful football screenings. Nearby, Gambrinus is more restaurant than bar, the beer Spanish not Czech, but its beer garden is a welcome find.
If you need it, there’s a dining hub nearby, terrace restaurants lining pedestrianised Calle Ruiz de Alda.
Closer to Santa Catalina, The Situation specialises more in beer, 300 varieties to be precise, with a TV inside and tables on an otherwise quiet street. By day, the bars lining focal Plaza de España are a handy stop-off, providing shade and TV football beamed to the terrace. Géiser is as good as any.
Nearby, Sport Bar (Calle Guanarteme 42/corner of Calle León Tolstoi) is a more unusual but welcome find, a simple Argentine-run bar/diner decorated in pennants of Huracán and San Lorenzo, and tasteful caricatures of famous Spanish and Latin American footballers. Chairs turn towards a big-screen TV for live games while the kitchen turns out affordable grilled dishes.
Do not leave Las Palmas without visiting Bar Tatono. On Calle del Mas de Gaminde, on the walk up to the old ground of Estadio Insular, now a public park, Tatono is named after and dedicated to the Las Palmas player who used to run it. A handsome chap who featured in the groundbreaking promotion-winning team of 1951, depicted in one of dozens of archive line-up photos embellishing this little jewel of a place, Tatono left the bar to his son.
Finally, if you are leaving Las Palmas, by plane, there’s a branch of the Scando chain of US-style sports bars, O’Learys, in the departure lounge.