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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.

Scenes of joy at Plaza España

Scenes of joy at Plaza España

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.

Next year Messi and Ronaldo will be playing at the Heliodoro Stadium in Santa Cruz

Next year Messi and Ronaldo will be playing at the Heliodoro Stadium in Santa Cruz

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.

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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.

CD Tenerife vs UD Las PalmasIt 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?

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