As the coach slowly inched its way through the police lines the crowd surged forward in a frenzy of excitement, many of them had their faces painted blue and their lips pursed against small blue trumpets that emitted a level of sound far beyond their size; klaxons in cardboard disguise. From where I was standing I couldn’t see the occupants of the vehicle as they disembarked and hurried into the side door to the stadium. All I could see was the sea of arms rising and falling as if the coach was Mecca.
Moments later a second coach arrived and the crowd surged again to greet it. From somewhere behind me an egg was thrown which hit the windscreen and exploded against the expanse of glass. Behind the wheel, the coach driver calmly pulled back on the washer lever and the giant wipers moved over and back in the jet stream, clearing all traces of the offending missile. The horns grew louder, accompanied by jeers, and small plastic water bottles began to fly over my head as the first of UD Las Palmas’ players climbed down the steps and walked defiantly slowly towards the stadium door.
I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a wise choice in deciding to pay my first visit to watch my adopted homeland’s football team, CD Tenerife, on the day they were playing neighbouring island and arch rivals UD Las Palmas from Gran Canaria.
After much dithering about and one short sojourn in the wrong section, I finally found my seat, much to the relief of the faces that had been charting my progress with the same expression that I reserve for those people on an aircraft for whom the seat numbering appears unfathomable, and settled down to enjoy the spectacle.
With 20 mins to go before kick-off there was plenty of time to gawp around and take in my fellow spectators. There were family outings with mum, dad and kids all equipped with scarves, shirts and those little blue trumpets which were beginning to get on my nerves. Behind me, a row of pensioners were chatting excitedly and swinging their scarves around over their heads in a manner that threatened to dislocate shoulder joints if they weren’t careful. And then I noticed something really odd; almost every single person I could see was eating sunflower seeds, biting onto the husks and spitting them out before chomping on the seed within. I was fascinated. I suddenly became aware of the ground which was littered with discarded husks and more were fluttering down from the terrace above.
“Good god!” I thought, “not quite the meat pies and pasties of their UK counterparts.”
Then, as CD Tenerife arrived onto the pitch, blue and white ticker-tape rained down from above, settling on heads and seats and the stadium erupted into cheers and horn blowing, the terraces becoming a writhing mass of blue and white flags and banners.
It was an exhilarating experience. Ninety minutes of flares, horns, cheers, referee abuse and excitement. The pensioners behind me made the most vocal noise and swore more than anyone else and the family in front very nearly had their trumpets mysteriously stolen when they went for toilet breaks and more cola at half time.
The result was 2-2; a pleasing result for UD Las Palmas and a disappointing one for CD Tenerife. As I made my way to the exit, ankle deep in ticker-tape, I felt I’d discovered another facet to the Tinerfeños; their passion for football, the extent of their rivalry with Gran Canaria and their voracious penchant for sunflower seeds; I can’t see that one catching on at Britain’s football grounds, can you?