Founded in 1923 as the result of a merger between all of the town's clubs, Elche entered the league system in 1929, reaching Segunda División in 1934 and La Liga in 1959, finishing fifth in the latter tournament in 1963–64. It was runner-up in the Copa del Rey in 1969.
Elche Club de Fútbol was founded in the summer of 1923, after the merger of all of the town's football teams. The club's first-ever game was against Monóvar, where they beat the home team 4–0, and its first official match was a 2–0 win over Crevillente Deportivo. The team played its first league season in 1929–30, in Tercera División, achieving promotion to Segunda División in 1934; it suffered relegation for the first time six years later, but promoted back the following season.
In the late 1950s, Elche achieved two consecutive promotions from the third level to La Liga, securing its first promotion to the latter competition with a 3–0 success against CD Tenerife in 1959.
After twelve seasons Elche was relegated to division two in 1971, having finished second from bottom.Two years later the team returned to the main category, as champions. Its second spell in the top flight lasted five seasons, often immerse in relegation fights as the best campaign (1974–75) ended with the club in eighth position; at the end of 1977–78 the side returned to the second division after finishing 17th out of 18 clubs, the last game being a 4–4 draw with Atlético Madrid, which was led 2–4 with five minutes remaining.
After the relegation in 1978 Elche suffered. Although on paper they had a good team they never managed to gain promotion to the top flight – in fact, in the first five years since their return to the second level, they were fourth on three occasions and fifth on two (and on a further two, even on points with the third-placed team but with a worse goal difference), often losing the chance of promotion on the last matchday. Especially traumatic was the finish of the 1980–81 season: with one game remaining, they were second two points ahead of Rayo Vallecano and Racing de Santander, only needing a draw against Cádiz CF at the Martínez Valero; the game ended however in a loss, and Elche finished with 45 points alongside CD Castellón, Cádiz, Racing and Rayo.
A promotion finally occurred at the end of 1983–84, even though Elche only finished fifth in the regular season – the first two positions were occupied by Real Madrid Castilla and Athletic Bilbao B, who could not promote as reserve sides. The whole of the top division campaign was spent in the relegation zone, and relegation consequently befell as 17th. In 1988 they were promoted again for another cameo appearance, as the side went on to finish dead last with eighteen points, dropping down a category alongside Real Murcia, who they trailed by nine points; the last match for years in the category was a 1–3 away loss against Real Zaragoza, the goal coming courtesy of Alfonso Fernández.
After the relegation in 1989, Elche started to suffer heavily in the financial department, and relegated to Segunda División B – the new third level created in 1977 – at the end of 1990–91. During the better part of the 90's the club reached the second division promotion playoffs, only to consecutively fall short.