Let me set the scene. At this very moment, I’m sitting at my desk in my fourth floor apartment a half block away from one of the most happening streets in the city, which has now been closed to car traffic. The intersection that I can see is filled with people in bright yellow T-shirts, and more are approaching from all sides. Never mind the storm clouds that are also gathering. Yellow, red, and blue Colombian flags stream from every building, and music pounds from monster speakers. This is Colombia, and this is all about the World Cup.
We’re in the middle of the “Selección” — the series of games that countries worldwide play in order to secure a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. As you know from the post Fútbol, not Football, Colombia chooses to play its home qualifiers right here in Killa. The last time Colombia made it to the Copa Mundial, they played the home games in Barranquilla, so our fair city is considered good luck. Plus, rumor has it that the visiting teams can’t take the heat (literally).
I’m convinced the decision to play here also has to do with Barranquilleros’ extreme love of fútbol. Even in Colombia, a country with no shortage of fútbol aficionados, Barranquilleros rank at the top on the scale of devotion. For example, at all games of the national league, the División Mayor del Fútbol Profesional Colombiano (Dimayor), the home team has a “barra” in the stadium end zone where the most die hard fans congregate. Barranquilla’s club, which is called Junior for reasons that nobody can explain to me, is the only team in Colombia that has two barras — one in each end zone. You’ll see what I’m talking about in the photos that follow.
The football clubs that play in Dimayor are professional and it’s serious business: Junior’s top players get paid a few hundred thousand dollars a month. In our first game this past Sunday, Gio and I witnessed Junior’s painful defeat by its top rival, Nacional, the club from Medellín that Junior beat for the national title.
While Junior games are not World Cup qualifiers, they will give you a sense of the spirit with which the game is celebrated here. There are certain interesting rules to attending games: neither men nor women can wear belts, since they can be used as weapons, and the handful of fans supporting the visitors can’t wear their team’s home colors as that might incite violence. But despite these somewhat frightening rules, the game was absolutely a delicious, sensory experience of fun.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. In the midst of writing this blog post, two friends convinced me to go with them to try to get tickets to today’s World Cup Qualifier. The game against Ecuador — in which a win will take Colombia one step closer to a spot in the World Cup — is completely sold out, but as with any big sporting event, ticket re-sellers abound. The problem here is knowing whether the tickets you’re getting are real or counterfeit. I spent a good hour with my friends sweating in the hot sun, arguing with sellers for a decent price. I had a cop check the tickets’ veracity — you hold a lighter to a little football stamp on the back, and if the football disappears, the ticket is supposed to be real — and then I handed over all the money I had on hand.
Here’s hoping the tickets are real, and here’s hoping that Colombia wins! Regardless, I’m sure it’s going to be an experience, and I’ll take you along for the ride. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the pics from the Junior game. Arriba, Colombia!