A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
In June 2022, a bitter defeat in the Canary Islands derby to fellow islanders Tenerife ended all hopes Las Palmas might have had of returning to La Liga after four years.
The pride of Gran Canaria had gone into the play-off second leg with only a 0-1 deficit to overturn. With a potential return to La Liga at stake, and a crowd of 31,500 filling the Estadio Gran Canaria, a soulless bowl by a suburban retail complex, hosts Las Palmas lost the plot, falling to an early goal from the visitors. Another on half-time effectively killed the tie.
Three days before, hundreds of fans in bright yellow had welcomed the arrival of another ship bringing a boatload of fellow supporters to Tenerife. A heavy police escort then accompanied the 700 massed Las Palmas followers to the most important derbi canario in a generation. The same number in blue duly crossed the Atlantic to face a similarly hostile atmosphere on Gran Canaria.
While Las Palmas fans may have enjoyed the schadenfreude of their island rivals later losing out to underdogs Girona in the subsequent play-off final for accession to La Liga, in truth both clubs share similar traits. Both attract bumper crowds in holiday season, both have a significant expat following in winter and both seem more at home in the Segunda, despite the passions surrounding those play-off derbies. Of the 40-plus derbies since 1953, only two have been top-flight fixtures, in 2001-02.
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 in 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.
The club’s penultimate 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. 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 that first La Liga season in 2015-16, centre-back and captain David García, a Canarian, passed the 400-game mark for the Yellows, while fellow islander Juan Carlos Valerón of La Coruña fame ran out for the club where he had started as a youth.
By 2017-18, Las Palmas had lost momentum, a dreadful campaign often attracting crowds in four figures to the Estadio Gran Canaria.
They fared little better in the Segunda, coach Pepe Mel unable to lift Las Palmas above mid-table for three seasons. Buoyed halfway through the 2021-22 campaign by the arrival of García Pimienta in his first coaching post for 15 years outside the FC Barcelona set-up, Las Palmas crept into a play-off spot, one point above Tenerife.
Having beaten their greatest rivals twice during the regular season, Las Palmas prepared for the decisive derbi canario ready for an explosive atmosphere in both capitals. García Pimienta and team captain Jonathan Viera, now in his third spell at his home-town club, had little illusions about the size of their task as a demoralised Las Palmas looked ahead to another Segunda season in 2022-23.
The field of dreams – and the stands around it
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 goal, the Curva, facing a stunted section at the opposite end, the cheapest home seats in the one-tier Sur. Neutrals may be best placed in the sideline, with the best seats in the Tribuna.
Already having to fork out for a long flight and a hotel, away fans were first 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.
Visiting supporters now access their sector in the Tribuna through Gate 8. If there are significant numbers making the journey to Las Palmas – most notably from Tenerife – then Gates 5-8 will be open.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
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 Parque Santa Catalina, by the ticket office, bus 44 (destination Isla Perdida) runs every 25mins (Sun 45mins) and takes around 20-25mins to reach the stadium area. The last bus back on Sat is 10pm, on Sun 9.45pm. The less frequent 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.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
With Las Palmas stuck in for another Segunda season, 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. The Viana convenience store (Mon-Fri 7am-8pm, Sat 7am-2pm) nearby, next door to the Ca Jorge bar/restaurant at Calle Fondos de Segura 17C , also distributes, but it’s the same long trek from town.
You can check the club website for entradas but availability is never a problem unless Tenerife are the visitors.
Prices are set at €12 in the Curva (€5 under-17s), €18/€7 in Sur and €25-€28/€9-€11 in the Tribuna/Tribuna Especial.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
Set just inside the gate by the taquillas, the club shop (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, match days) is awash with yellow. The current second kit is black-and-white stripes – or rather one thin black stripe between two thick white ones.
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.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
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.