When there’s a big football match in Colombia, you can feel it in the air. Traffic piles up, horns beep louder, even more motorbikes whizz around attempting to skip the tacos (not the edible kind, this is paisa slang for traffic jams!) and brightly coloured football shirts seem to pop up everywhere around the city.
Carrera 70 transforms into a different street altogether. The hustle and bustle of everyone hurrying down to the stadium, street vendors making the most of the opportunity to sell pre-match arepas and empanadas and shouts for last-minute “cerveza, agua, gaseosa” give the atmosphere a unique buzz that is something to be experienced.
Queues of late coming hinchas spiral around the outside of the stadium and continue beyond the gates. For important matches, such as finals, it is recommended that fans arrive at least 2 hours before kick-off, to avoid missing the start of the match. As the players run onto the pitch there is an impressive firework display which sets an electric atmosphere and gets everyone in the mood for the game. The early arrival time was unfortunately a lesson we learnt the hard way, but at least we managed to see the fireworks from the queue outside!
The live band is what makes football matches in South America so unique compared to ours. Whether winning or losing, the beat of the drums provides enough of a rhythm to keep team moral up throughout the entire match. If a home goal is scored, the stadium goes wild. If the away team score, the band explode into a musical crescendo that drowns out their celebrations. The sur section of the stadium where the band play from is a constant locura, where you can be sure to jump up and down for the entire duration of the match and have no voice left by the end.
One of the most unique aspects about football in Colombia compared to English league football is that opposition fans are not allowed into the stadium. Although not an experienced football match goer myself, I can safely say that the lack of rivalry between the two opposing teams is strange. Not to mention the difficulty in noticing when the away team scores a goal. Opposing team’s goals are first met by silence and frustration, shortly followed by an increase in shouts of support and chants from the home team. Some might call it healthy competition to have rival teams together in the stadium, riling each other up by supporting their respective teams. However, it can admittedly end badly and in some cases, violently, so it is understandable why these rules are put into place.
In the end, although it wasn’t Nacional’s day, my first experience of a football match in Colombia was memorable to say the least. Having learnt some of the chants, had a go on the vuvuzela and made some new friends, it was time to head home past the crowds of sad fans in green shirts drowning their sorrows in guaro and salsa.