I finally experienced my first South American “football” game (my first professional football game ever) and, just as you would expect, it was unreal! The violence, the action, the excitement, the camaraderie… I definitely now get the Stuff White People Like entry about white people loving soccer when they travel:
Most white people choose a favorite soccer team based on either a study abroad experience or a particularly long vacation to Europe or South America. When they return, they like to tell their friends about how great “football” is and that they are committed to ‘getting more into’ now that they have returned home.
Couldn’t have went to a better first soccer match. The Strongest, the rich people’s team (named to sound like they are English), faced off against Bolivar, the team of the people. Unfortunately, The Strongest had already clinched the league, so this game was set to be their celebration party. But, not if Bolivar and its rowdy fans had anything to say about it! If Bolivar won and Blooming lost they would have a chance at the South American version of the Champion’s League. First, they would have to have a playoff against Oriente. If the planets didn’t align, they would be relinquished to the South American soccer equivalent of hitting the golf course.
Regular Bolivar or Strongest games are in front of a crowd of maybe 8-10 000. This game was over 32 890! Even though three quarters of the stadium were filled with happy Strongest fans, the tiny Bolivar section was by far the most rowdy.
Fireworks, ribbons and cheers invited the Strongest onto the field. In return, homemade smoke capsules pumped out carcinogenic blue smoke around the jumping and fist pumping Bolivar fans.
Songs and chants never ceased throughout the entire match.
When one Strongest fan passed by the Boliviar section with her friends, she was wacked constantly with scarves and her Strongest hat was taken, ripped and burned.
“EL TIGRE!” The Strongest fans would chant. “CULO!” (ASS!) the Bolivar fans would chant back. They were not too happy that the Strongest had won. In fact, a couple of our friends from La Paz refused to even attend the big match because the sight of the Strongest parade made them sick.
Bolivar put up a good fight. Much of the game was the Strongest’s end, but a bad defensive play put El Tigre up 1-0 in the first half. For a while I thought that Bolivar might never score, but in the second half they potted one and the Bolivar end went absolutely nuts. Everyone was hugging us and screaming.
Some people in the middle were moshing constantly throughout the match, knocking people over the seats every once in a while. At one point, from the upper deck a firecracker was thrown at the Strongest’s goalie and he went down in a lot of pain. After that, the cops threw a gas canister to ease the violent crowd.
Minutes later, the ‘TSN Turning Point.’ A Strongest player flopped and Bolivar was issued a red card. Victory looked grim until Strongest got a red card too making the last few minutes extremely tight. I was cheering and screaming and really felt apart of the Bolivar crowd.
A Latino-American guy in front of me kept talking to me during the final minutes. He was straight out of a movie. He talked like an absolute faux “G,” looked like he carried a “gat,” had LATIN KING tattooed on his back and when the game got a little rowdy he told me he was going out go to the other side and get some “violencia!” He wasn’t all hard knocks though, at one point he showed me a picture of his Bolivian child on his phone, which he said was the reason he was here after being deported from the US. What a character.
Bolivar tied and Blooming lost so Bolivar came 3rd in the league. In the playoff, Bolivar edged Oriente in penalties and made it to Libertadores the Champion’s League!
This game was definitely a highlight of my experience so far.