Football has been played on the Canary Islands since the last decade of the 19th century, but the participation of its football clubs in any of the national championships was simply not practical until the introduction of regular flights to the islands in the late 1940’s. Up until that point, the game was very much an inter-island affair and Tenerife Sporting Club, founded in 1912, soon became its island’s most influential team.
Success came quickly to the fledgling team, winning the Campeonatos de Canarias in three consecutive seasons from 1914. Their home in those early days was the Campo de Miraflores, a scruffy patch of scrub-land that stood on the corner of Calle Alfaro & Calle Miraflores, just 500m the north east of the current stadium. However, trophies became harder to attain by the start of the early twenties, with clubs from Las Palmas starting to dominate. So under the presidency of Mario García Cames, the club was reorganised and renamed Club Deportivo Tenerife in August 1922. The board also decide to leave the Campo de Miraflores and on 25 July 1925 opened a new stadium. Known simply as the Nuevo Estadio, a crowd of 7,000 witnessed the first match, a 1-1 draw against Marino of Las Palmas.
Without a Campeonatos de Canarias for nearly fifteen years and with finances drying-up, CD Tenerife sold the new stadium to the local municipality in 1930. The release of extra funds made the club more competitive and a fourth league title was won in 1931. Still the clubs from the mainland refused to travel to the Canarias, but maybe out of guilt, the islands were a popular pre-season haunt for many of the top Spanish clubs and others from around Europe. Relatively untouched by the Civil War, football on the islands had a renaissance period in the years immediately following the hostilities and CD Tenerife won a further championship in 1939. The Nuevo Estadio was re-purchased in 1940, but five years later, the club suffered a fire at its offices in Calle de Castillo and lost all of its trophies and documents. Help was at hand however, in the shape of a new president.
In 1946, former player Heliodoro Rodríguez López became president of the club and immediately set about the rebuilding of the club offices. He also arranged for replicas to be made of the lost trophies. Perhaps his most significant achievement in his relatively short tenure however, was to commence work on renovating the Nuevo Estadio. The new lay-out was designed by architect Marrero Regalado, and featured a covered stand and paddock on the southern side of the ground. Terracing added to the northern and eastern sides and there was a wide area of hard standing behind the western goal. The work was completed for the start of the 1950-51 season. Sadly Rodríguez López passed away soon after its completion and would never see the club compete at a national level.
Following Heliodoro Rodríguez López death, the stadium was renamed in his honour and a year later on 31 August 1952, CD Tenerife held Atlético Madrid to a 1-1 draw in the first match to be played on grass at the stadium. Then on 31 May 1953, the club gained promotion to La Segunda after defeating Orihuela Deportivo in a promotion/relegation play-off. That first season in the second division saw the club finish in an impressive sixth place, and over the next few seasons the club strove to make the move up to La Primera, just like their rivals UD Las Palmas had done in 1954. They came mighty close in 1958 when finishing runners-up to Real Betis, and with finances once again tight, the club sold the stadium back to the municipality in July 1959. Over the next year, CD Tenerife assembled a team that would challenge for promotion and on 16 April 1961, a 0-0 draw in Almendralejo against CF Extremadura earned the point that secured promotion to the top flight. There would be no dream debut in La Primera however, as CD Tenerife struggled throughout the 61-62 campaign, finishing bottom of the table with just 19 points. During the sixties, the stadium saw extensions to the east terrace and the addition of a curved terrace behind the west goal. The efforts to regain a place amongst the elite were unsuccessful and took its toll financially. Eventually, CD Tenerife was relegated to the Tercera at the end of the 1967-68 season.
The club was effectively broke and had to release 14 players in the summer 1968 due to unpaid wages. The existing board resigned and the club was effectively run as a co-operative, renaming itself Tenerife Atlético Club. The utopian experiment ended in 1971 when the club regained its place in La Segunda and returned to its former name of Club Deportivo Tenerife. The seven year stay in the second division was notable for a fourth place finish in 73-74, but it ended with a whimper and more financial woe with relegation to Segunda B in 1978. Five seasons in the third tier followed, before it returned to the second division in 1983. This was only a brief respite, as once again CD Tenerife struggled at the wrong end of the table, eventually dropping back to Segunda B in 1986. That summer, Javier Pérez took on the presidency with the club 320 million pesetas in debt. With experienced coach Martin Mannero at the helm, the club was steered back in La Segunda and after a steady 87-88 campaign, won promotion to La Primera in 1990, thanks to a play-off victory over Real Betis. After a shaky start to life in La Primera, where relegation was avoided thanks to a play-off win against Deportivo La Coruna, the 1990’s turned into CD Tenerife’s golden era.
Between 1987 and 2001, the stadium underwent a complete rebuild. Designed by Charles Schwartz and inspired by Barcelona’s Mini Estadi, work began on replacing the southern stand and paddock with a tall double-deck stand, the highlight of which was a beautifully angular white concrete cantilevered roof. Over the course of the next decade, both ends of the stadium were replaced with a twinned decked, curved fondos, whilst on the pitch CD Tenerife’s form matched their increasingly impressive surroundings. The 91-92 season will be remembered for the two late goals that beat Real Madrid in the final game of the season, handing the title to Barcelona. Incredibly, 12 months later Tenerife were at it again, beating Los Merengues 2-0 to hand the title to Barcelona again, but more importantly securing fifth place and European qualification for the first time in its history. The semi-finals of the Copa del Rey were reached in 93-94 and CD Tenerife equalled its best finish of fifth in 1995-96. In Europe for a second time, the club went on a remarkable run, reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, before losing to Schalke 04. With much of the team sold on, the late nineties were difficult period on the field, culminating in relegation to La Segunda in May 1999
Much of the past decade has been spent in the second tier. The exceptions have been in 2001, when led by Rafa Benitez, they pipped Atlético Madrid to third place and promotion, and again in 2009. Both stays in the top tier lasted just the one season and after the last drop from La Primera, CD Tenerife followed it up with a risible 2010-11 campaign, which resulted in relegation to Segunda B for the first time in over twenty years. Their stay in the third tier lasted 2 season, with Tenerife returning to La Segunda in 2013. Whilst life on the pitch has been chaotic, the municipality did at least manage to complete the final piece of Schwartz’s master-plan, with the building of a twin-decked stand on the popular north side. Surprisingly, La Selección has not visited the stadium since the completion of the redevelopment. Their four visits coincided with the rise of the club and were spread over a 14 year period from 1982.
Given the inconsistent form and at times ruinous financial affairs of CD Tenerife, the Estadio Heliodoro Rodriguez Lopez has been one hell of a commitment by the local municipality and the Tenerife Local Government. It’s 23,000 capacity made it the largest stadium on the Canarias until the building of the Estadio Gran Canaria. Comparisons with UD Las Palmas’ stadium stop there however, for this is a fantastically atmospheric, and thanks to the uniform curves and striking roof, elegant stadium. Whilst CD Tenerife have at times been a third-rate outfit, the Estadio Heliodoro Rodriguez Lopez is top drawer, and a fitting tribute to a man that changed the face of the football on Tenerife.