Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Football Frenzy Colombian Style

March 15th, 2015

An activity offered by the hostel was to attend a local football match (yes my North American friends, I mean soccer but after enough time abroad, I call it football now, as it rightly should be).  Fortunately the Sunday that I was in Medellin the two local teams in Colombia’s top league were playing each other.  One team is known as Medellin Indepente (DIM) and the other is Atletico Nacional.  Both teams share the use of the same stadium which seats 45,000 fans.  On this day however Atletico was the home team and I later learned just how much that meant.  DIM’s uniforms are red while Atletico sport the green and white colours of the region, Antioquia, so it was not recommended to wear a red shirt of any kind.  Atletico has the dubious honour of having been majorly supported by Pablo Escobar at the height of his criminal career and they won South America’s most prestigious tournament, the Copa Libertadores.

Although the match didn’t start until 5 pm a mini-van picked a few of us up from the hostel at 2 pm and then we did a circuitous route through the city stopping at other hostels until we had a couple of vans full of gringos.  We stopped at a convenience store with a few tables out front and next door was a small restaurant selling fried chicken, a hot commodity in Colombia.  We quickly gathered that this was where we were having our “tailgate” party.  Everyone purchased some beer in the store and we just lingered outside having our drinks.  I sat at one of the little tables as it was in the shade from the sun which had just poked out for the first time in a few days and I figured I was probably going to get plenty of rays at the stadium.  However this meant that I had to sit down with a couple of old men, the local drunks.  They were harmless and in the end quite entertaining.  One guy, Hernan, was a fanatical Medellin Indepente supporter, showing me pictures on his cellphone of the DIM paraphernalia adorning his walls at home and he kept mumbling “Med-eh-jean…Med-eh-jean”.

The tailgate party:

It was walking distance from the store to the stadium and security was fairly tight in the neighbourhood with guardrails blocking off certain streets and groups of policemen about.  I wasn’t too impressed with our guide as he led the way but didn’t ensure that everyone was together.  Two women, an Aussie and a Brit, were slow finishing their beer and didn’t seem to care that they were being left behind but it caused some consternation for a few of us (there are some considerate men out there!).  As we neared the gate I realized that the other tourists had proper game tickets but I was only in possession of a voucher from the hostel.  I raced ahead to try and locate the guide and luckily I was able to yell at him even though he had already passed through the gate and he came back to give me my ticket.  Whew.

Once in the stadium grounds we joined another line for a security check.  The line wasn’t super long but for some reason our group of gringos was called up to the front.  We didn’t actually feel too comfortable with this.  We were probably only 5-10 minutes from getting in anyways, why did we need to cut in front of the patiently waiting locals?  A few of us tried to smile, shrug our shoulders and give our apologies to them in our broken Spanglish.

The enemy bus arrives:

Inside the stadium I headed to the bathroom and proceeded to lose the other backpackers.  I figured I’d catch up with them, or some of them, at our seats.  I started to walk along the inside thoroughfare towards my section but then ran into a wall barring further access.  I backtracked the other way and ran into the same issue so I asked one of the stewards and they explained to me that it was open seating, there were no assigned seats, except I was stuck in the end zone part of the field, the cheap seats, which turned out to be the most enthusiastic part of the stadium (that and the other end zone).  I walked out to the bleachers and was easily able to spot the other tourists and proceeded to go and sit with them.  Our view was pretty good for being behind the goal, off to one side.

The pitch:

The line-up to get in...kinda glad we got there early, even if it meant the beer buzz was wearing off...

There was still an hour to kill before the game started so I walked up the stairs to the top of the stadium.  It was lined with men in their twenties, most of whom were wearing the green and white striped jersey of Atletico Nacional.  The smell of marijuana wafted around as the guys peered over the back of the bleachers to the people lining up to get in and those walking around the grounds.  Occasionally some whistling and jeering broke out as the occasional supporter of DIM was found out and was quickly escorted to the exit while being pelted by bags of water or plastic bottles.  In Canada it’s totally normal to have someone supporting the visiting team show up in their jersey and sit wherever they want.  With football in Europe they have a section dedicated to the away team supporters but it seems that here they are not even allowed in the stadium…crazy.  As the game progressed the occasional ruckus broke out as another DIM supported would be identified and the water bottles would fly and even a few punches thrown…no wonder they don’t sell alcohol at these events!

Not a great pic, but behind that tree is the truck with the 20 some supporters for DIM being shown the exit:

I got a kick out of the referees' warm-up:

The pre-game atmosphere:

Just before the game began we noticed a number of guys walk out towards the back of the nearby goal and then spread themselves along the end zone line.  They were holding what looked like old school fire extinguishers but they definitely didn’t look like emergency personnel and many of them were shirtless and all of them were wearing blue jeans.  A few minutes later the home team emerged onto the field and a sea of green and white smoke shot up…ah, that’s what was in those canisters.  I think that they were just lucky fans who were picked to go out onto the field and shoot up the smoke as they all looked pretty excited afterwards.

The opening smoke:

Soakin' it up:

And the game begins:

An early free kick for the home team...if you look closely the guy is just in mid swing:

The first goal celebration:

The first half was pretty entertaining with the home team scoring just five minutes into the game with a lovely header.  DIM evened it up close to half time with a penalty awarded by the referee.  It was way down at the other end of the field so I didn’t really see what happened.  

The penalty kick for the bad guys:

In the second half Atletico scored to lead 2-1 and the stadium went nuts.  Everyone was jumping around, dancing, clapping and hugging each other.  I could feel the concrete stadium bounce up and down and couldn’t help but wonder about the structural integrity of the structure, but that didn’t stop me from joining in the celebrations.  Later on Atletico sealed the deal with another goal and won the game 3-1 which left the crowd in a euphoric state.  We gringos were much happier to be surrounded by these elated fans while leaving the game than a bunch of upset and pissed off ones.

The third goal celebrations:

Game Over!

Not too surprisingly we returned to the same convenience store for another beer and some post game chat before hopping back in the vans to head back to our respective hostels.  What a game...but maybe even the bigger aspect was what an atmosphere!

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