Spain is home to many passionate and intense footballing rivalries, reaching various parts of the country. Emotions run high in the Basque Country whenever Athletic Club and Real Sociedad meet. Battles between Sevilla and Real Betis create unforgettable atmospheres. In the capital, a victory for Atlético Madrid over Real Madrid can be of the highest importance for both bragging rights and title races. But one of the most unique derbies in Spain can be found in an unlikely region – the Canary Islands.
A group of islands located off Africa’s western coast, it is a community often associated with leisure. Tourists descend on the Canary Islands every year for fun in the sun, but football is a top priority as well for both UD Las Palmas and CD Tenerife. Dating back to the late 1940s, these two sides representing the biggest cities within the community have created intense fights, and supporters have cultivated a fantastic atmosphere around the fixtures. After a three-year hiatus, the Canary Islands derby returns once again.
One of the elements of this rivalry that stands out for many fans is the geography of the clubs involved. With home grounds situated on two separate islands, it is certainly a different type of spin on a typical derby match. Essentially, for almost any away league match, careful planning will be involved for supporters. A long trip to the mainland is required, with their matches against each other almost having a slight element of convenience to them. A shorter flight is always a good thing, right?
Las Palmas and Tenerife will meet for the first time since 2015 on December 16, with both clubs currently in the Segunda División. The current term is Los Chicharreros’ sixth consecutive campaign in the second tier. For Las Palmas, they suffered relegation earlier this year after three seasons in the top flight. They have battled 64 times in the past, with the majority of the fixtures coming in the second tier of Spanish football.
Some recent matches have arrived in the Copa de Canarias, a friendly tournament, while their last LaLiga meeting took place in May of 2002 in a 1-0 win for Tenerife.
As is the case for many of Spain’s greatest rivalries, the political and social elements of the islands have a tremendous effect on the levels of passion seen from supporters in these fixtures. The cities that are represented by the two clubs, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, are the capitals of the region. Both sides have seen varying fortunes throughout the years, and the return of league matches between them is certainly something that has the Canary Islands buzzing once again.
When it comes to banter, rival fans will often point towards a club’s history in the top flight, particularly involving sides that have moved between various divisions. In regards to this subject, that is where Las Palmas enjoy some special moments.
Football in the city has a strong tradition, long before the current club’s formation in the summer of 1949. Sides such as Real Club Victoria date back to the early 1900s, and UD Las Palmas were ultimately born as a type of merger between five different teams. The goal was to help keep talented players on the island instead of them departing elsewhere, and La Union Deportiva were born.
This aspect is important to consider in their initial years, accomplishing something that no other team have been able to repeat. Las Palmas are the only club in Spanish football to reach LaLiga through consecutive promotions in their opening two seasons. With so many experienced and talented players in the team right from the very start, the top flight was immediately within reach from the Tercera División. The sport has changed so much throughout the decades since that it is a record that will essentially never be duplicated.
Unfortunately, relegation would follow, but successful years were on the horizon. The club’s fortunes would take a significant turn in 1963, as manager Vicente Dauder began a run that would ultimately become their finest ever in LaLiga.
A champion in the first division during his playing days with Atlético Madrid, Dauder led Las Palmas to a second-division title in his first season. What followed was their longest overall stay in the top flight, lasting 19 consecutive seasons.
The late 1960s truly saw the squad hit their stride, with confidence and guile. Las Palmas finished third in the league for the 1967-68 campaign, and they would be back for more soon after. Boosted by the goalscoring exploits of José Manuel León up front, the team were second only to Real Madrid in the next season. That also brought about their European debut, taking part in the 1969-70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tournament.
It was of course impressive for the club to be competing at that high of level, up against some of the mainland’s more resourceful sides. The likes of Amancio Amaro (Real Madrid) and Johan Cruyff (Barcelona) helped to lead their teams to success throughout the years, and Las Palmas were able compete with a significant number of local players. An exception was seen in the late 70s though, as a wave of individuals from South America would make their mark in LaLiga.
At multiple positions throughout the line-up, manager Miguel Muñoz got the best out of several Argentine internationals, leading the club into Europe once again. After lifting the European Cup as both a player and a manager with Los Blancos, Muñoz relied on goalkeeper Daniel Carnevali and defender Quique Wolff at the back with Las Palmas. In the attack, it was Miguel Ángel Brindisi and Carlos Morete putting pressure on the opposition in the final third. After a fourth-place league finish for the 1976-77 term, this group participated in the UEFA Cup and made their way to a Copa del Rey final in the next campaign.
The 1980s would see two relegations, while the next decade would even witness a fall to the third tier. Recently, Las Palmas played three LaLiga seasons and took the drop to the Segunda División at the end of 2017-18. Manager Quique Setién enjoyed a short spell with the club, and brought a wonderful flair to the team’s attack. A memorable sequence was seen in October of 2016 under his guidance, with a stunning passing combination finished off perfectly by Kevin-Prince Boateng against Villarreal. Opened in 2003 as Las Palmas’ new home, the Estadio Gran Canaria is the largest stadium in the Canary Islands (32,400 capacity).
In a bit of a twist compared to the beginnings of rival Las Palmas, Tenerife were founded decades earlier in 1912. They would compete in regional leagues for many years, and eventually made their way to the second tier in the 1950s. Los Chicharreros made their LaLiga debut in 1961, although a last-place finish would set up an unfortunate and immediate return to the Segunda División.
It would take some time for things to get back to a top-flight level. However, when they did, Tenerife were ready to bring their absolute best for both Spain and Europe in the 1990s. Ten consecutive years in LaLiga reached its peak during the 1995-96 campaign. It all began with a manager who would ultimately create a legacy for himself in football – Jupp Heynckes.
After a stellar career in the Bundesliga and capturing a World Cup trophy with West Germany in 1974, Heynckes moved into coaching with former club Borussia Mönchengladbach. When he arrived at Tenerife, he had a squad that featured a wonderful attack and a proactive attitude. They would finish fifth in LaLiga under their new manager in his first campaign, and qualified them once again for the UEFA Cup the following season.
Their European debut brought about a respectable showing three years earlier, reaching the Round of 16 before falling to Juventus. That term also saw their best effort in the Copa del Rey, making it to the semi-final round for the first time in their history.
Forwards Juanele, Antonio Pinilla and Meho Kodro gave Tenerife formidable weapons on the front-line. Along with midfield contributions from Felipe Miñambres and Slaviša Jokanović, Heynckes and his side would make a sensational impact in the UEFA Cup. It began with victories against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Lazio, followed by earning a quarter-final spot versus Feyenoord. A magnificent away performance at Brøndby powered them to the semi-finals, setting up a meeting with German club Schalke 04.
Tenerife were as close as could be to making the final and facing Italian giant Internazionale. But a 1-0 home win for each side brought extra-time for the second leg in Germany, and Schalke’s Marc Wilmots would net the winner. Unfortunately, their league campaign would suffer from defensive frailties also. Despite the talents of defenders Antonio Mata and Pablo Paz, Tenerife gave up far too many goals and finished ninth in LaLiga’s table for 1996-97. Heynckes departed soon after the term for Real Madrid, where he would lift the UEFA Champions League trophy. In 1999, Tenerife were relegated.
They’ve had two more brief stints in the top flight since, and even dropped to the third tier for a couple of seasons. Manager Rafa Benitez was able to deliver one of those promotions, before he moved on to Valencia in 2001. Tenerife are now in the midst of their sixth consecutive Segunda División season.
A RIVALRY LIKE NO OTHER
Travelling fans are a major part of what makes a matchday atmosphere unique, and the Canary Islands derby is an excellent example of that thought. When Las Palmas fans march towards the match in Santa Cruz, yellow flags are waved and chants of “Pio! Pio!” can be heard from the thousands of supporters. One of Tenerife’s largest supporter groups, the Armada Sur, will create a similar environment, thanks to hanging stuffed canaries and boasting a significant wall of sound.
What once began as somewhat of a friendly rivalry, the derby witnessed fireworks amongst supporters in the 90s that took tensions to new heights.
Most of the head-to-head battles have taken place in the second division, with Las Palmas enjoying the better record in the derbies. They have won 29 matches compared to Tenerife’s 13, with 22 draws between them. The last meeting ended with a 1-1 scoreline at the Estadio Gran Canaria.
The current campaign has the two clubs experiencing different luck at the start of the season, and three points in their encounters will truly be important. Las Palmas are in the Segunda División’s play-off places at the moment, and will be hoping that striker Rubén Castro can continue his productive goalscoring outputs moving forward.
For Tenerife, attacking struggles have been difficult to overcome on the pitch. Through the first 14 fixtures of 2018-19, they have netted only 11 goals.
Impressive talent has come out of Santa Cruz, but it is not always easy for the side to keep players away from other clubs. While Newcastle United’s Ayoze Pérez did feature for Tenerife before departing for England, former Barcelona and current Chelsea forward Pedro did not. A common issue for both teams in this derby, consolidating their place in the top flight is the best way to combat this problem. Their matches this season will be vital in that particular quest.
December brings the return of El Derbi Canario after three long years for supporters, when Tenerife travel to play Las Palmas. Only one other match this season will produce the same level of anxious energy for fans of the clubs, and that’s the reverse fixture in Santa Cruz at the Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López on May 5. The Canary Islands do things a bit differently, and it is glorious.