Top-flight football is back in the Canary Islands. Peterjon Cresswell visits Las Palmas, soon to host its first fixture in La Liga for 13 years and proud to honour its football history.
On Sunday, in the out-of-town commercial zone of 7 Palmas, the Estadio Gran Canaria hosts its first fixture in Spain’s La Liga. The largest sports venue in the Canary Islands opened in 2003, exactly one year after local club UD Las Palmas were relegated, the start of 13 long seasons in the wilderness.
An expected play-off win over Zaragoza on mid-summer’s night, after trailing 3-1 from the first leg, changed all that. Now Los Amarillos are looking to repeat the glory days of the late 1960s and 1970s, with regular European football, top-four league finishes and Spanish Cup finals. After last week’s narrow defeat away to Atlético Madrid, the first step on the home soil of Gran Canaria is Sunday’s game to Levante.
The day before, the city council, club officials, fans and famous old players gather in the much-loved old stadium downtown, the Estadio Insular, for a special ceremony to salute the club whose history is depicted around the old main stand. While the fans of Leicester City and St Mirren still pass a patch of long overgrown wasteland where their grounds once were, to their new stadiums nearby, so the loyal hinchas of Las Palmas can enjoy the benefits of their former home, now a themed recreation park, every day. A children’s play area, deckchairs, well manicured grass and stepped decking fill the space, surrounded by a landscaped garden and complemented by a detailed plaque.
This is not only a park but a museum, keeping alive the history of the club founded in 1949.
The plaque points out who is who, among the players, team line-ups and managers whose archive photos, cushioned in signature yellow-and-blue, run around what was the main stand. They’re all here: Luis Molowny, who managed here three times, leading Las Palmas to a runners-up spot in 1969; the great Germán Dévora, an attacking midfielder for 16 campaigns at the Insular and now the club’s honorary president; and Miguel Brindisi, one of a handful of Argentine World Cup stars to run out for Los Amarillos, and scorer of their only goal in the cup final defeat to Barcelona in 1978.
Not five minutes away from the Insular, on the street that leads up to it, the Bar Tatono is another living archive of club history, opened by the player of the same name some 30 years ago and now run by his son. You can pick out Tatono Sr in the team line-up of the very first Las Palmas team to be promoted, in 1950-51.
The promotion of 2014-15 was the club’s sixth, and arguably most awaited. In the time since the previous stint in Spain’s top flight, Las Palmas have long been established at the Estadio Gran Canaria, way out of the city centre behind the Las Palmas 7 commercial centre. A deep bowl of a ground now set for football only, extra seating encroaching on what was its running track, on Sunday it will accommodate some 20,000 season-ticket holders in its 33,000 capacity.
On the pitch, veteran midfielder Juan Carlos Valerón of La Coruña fame has signed up for another season with the club where he first started his career exactly 20 years ago. Centre-back and captain David García, a Canarian, will surely pass the 400-game mark for the only club he has ever played for, while young Argentine striker Sergio Araujo should add to the 25 goals he notched as an on-loan player during the successful 2014-15 campaign.
It was Araujo, after all, who scored that vital late goal against Zaragoza in June to take Las Palmas up. All he has to do now is prove himself in the best league in the world.