From the moment we leave the TF motorway and hit the outskirts of Santa Cruz, we can tell this isn’t just any Saturday afternoon. This is like driving up Sir Matt Busby Way on the last home game of the season when Man Utd are about to be presented with the Premiership trophy; except that instead of red, it’s blue and white.
Groups of fans are everywhere, carrying huge flags, wearing full CD Tenerife strip, waving blue and white scarves and refilling drinks from cool boxes every couple of hundred yards. They’re chanting and waving at the blaring horns of passing cars that have flags flying out of every window as they continuously circle roundabouts like they can’t find an exit.
Parking the car and heading down towards Plaza España we’re joined by more and more fans; groups converge from side streets and out of parked cars until we’re a mini army as the Plaza finally comes into view.
In my time I’ve been to Glastonbury Festival and Old Trafford, I’ve danced til dawn in a sea of revellers at Carnaval and I spent 12 hours in the very eye of Times Square on the Eve of the Millennium but I’ve never witnessed such a surge of excitement as that being generated by the swarms of fans occupying Plaza España, Plaza de la Candelaria and Calle Castillo to watch the away game against Girona from which CD Tenerife need just one point to secure promotion.
Thousands and thousands of blue and white bodies are dancing and jumping in the blistering heat of the late afternoon. Everyone has a scarf or a flag or both which they’re waving frantically above their heads. Horns are blaring, somewhere a group of drummers are pounding out a beat, there’s music coming from somewhere but it’s impossible to hear it above the roar of the crowd.
We make our way into the centre of the crowd and try to manoeuvre so that we can get a view of the screen which is way too small for this number of people. But no matter which way we try to move, it’s impossible to get a decent view between the flags, the telephone poles and the fans who are standing on concrete footings. We settle for a split screen view positioned slightly behind a pole and watch the Cabildo building clock as it ticks down towards kick-off.
The ground is littered with cool boxes, carrier bags and rucksacks stuffed with bags of ice and cans of beer. There are empty beer cans and bottles strewn everywhere, empty crisp packets and of course the usual mountain of sunflower seed husks. Somehow I can’t see sunflower seeds ever replacing hot pies on the cold and wet terraces of Old Trafford, but here they seem to be the staple diet of football fans.
At 5.30 pm the ref’s whistle blows and there’s a roar from the crowd. For every pass of the ball by Tenerife there’s a deafening cheer and for every half chance that passes for a shot there’s a loud “Ooooohhhh” even though nothing’s remotely close to Girona’s nets. After about ten minutes there’s a shot which appears to be on target and the whole place erupts. Beer is spraying all over us from a group of lads right in front of us who clearly think they’re on the winning podium of Formula One Racing but can’t afford the champagne. There’s screaming and flag waving and mad embracing and finally someone points out that it’s not actually a goal and the euphoria’s replaced by embarrassed apologies about the spraying and rueful regret of the wasted alcohol amidst howling laughter.
But then in just one instant of one man kicking a ball at the right time and in the right place the dream of an entire island becomes a reality and I suddenly ‘get’ what makes Tinerfeños wear traditional costumes whenever they get the chance and choose to listen to traditional music that’s about as cutting edge as Tommy Steele’s ‘Little White Bull’. The sense of belonging is overwhelming; a sense of being a part of something that’s rock solid, an identity that’s held fast over 500 years of progress by the rest of Europe that’s just passed alongside this island, touching it but not changing it. This isn’t club football, CD Tenerife is the national team to this island.
This is what 1966 felt like and what we’ve been trying to get back ever since.
The scoreline remained at 0-1 but it didn’t matter. The euphoria that was born when that goal went in never waned and when the ref’s whistle blew it spilled over from the Plaza to the fountain where the waters baptised the faithful, and everyone else within a 50 yard radius of it.