This was the 3rd game I’d watch in Colombia, and as opposed to the other occasions on which mates had got me tickets and carted me along to the match and into the stadium, this time I had to sort everything out on my own.
A week off work meant a trip to the cold, wet and windy climes of Bogotá, and a quick glance at the Colombian domestic football fixture list informed me that on Saturday 11th October 2014 at 5.30pm, Millonários, one of the heavyweights of the league famed for their mental supporters, would host Medellín, the team that sits in the shadow of Nacional, the Manchester United of Colombia and every glory supporter’s go-to club, in the Campín, the national stadium.
‘Millos’ as they are referred to by their blue-shirted fans, were loitering near the bottom of the league, but had strung together a couple of victories with clean sheets in previous games, while Medellín were riding high in 3rd place, and their coach, who I won’t bother googling, was returning to face the club who’d sacked him a few years previous despite having just won the league, was sure to have been keen to get one over his former employers.
All week long I’d meant to get hold of tickets so as not have to stress out near the stadium pre-kick off and walk around like an idiot not knowing where and how to get into the game, thus being a perfect mugging target for the famed hooligans of Millos. Obviously, I left it to the last minute due to a longer-than-expected browse of the Gold Museum, and arrived at the stadium via Transmilenio, Bogotá’s vast bus service, which thankfully left us across the bridge from the ground about 90 minutes before it was due to start.
We followed the streams of uniformed fans, me dressed in a leather jacket and jeans standing out more than ever, and headed towards what appeared to be the ticket office, a kind of grotty old shack encompassing five dark windows with slots, where men with not the friendliest of faces were queuing for their tickets.
A huge police presence indeed there was near the stadium, but not where we were going, and in the short walk from the bridge to the shack, we were approached by several young men with scraggly hair, glazed eyes and missing teeth (the latter an inherent sign of a dangerous person, trust me) asking if we could spare some coins to help them get their tickets. Luckily our mumbles of not having anything extra didn’t cause them to attack us, and we got in the desperately slow-moving queue.
We were then approached by a ticket tout trying to flog us tickets for the ‘Occidental’ stand, as opposed to the ‘Sur’, and he told us that what we were queuing for might not be apt for us. We kind of ignored him until he went away, but then left the queue as Millos fans pretending to playfight were evidently trying to get close us and do who knows what.
As we left the line, perhaps to give up on the game and amble back towards the more welcoming parts of the city, the tout returned and offered us two of his tickets for 70,000 pesos the pair (just over twenty quid), but the classic play in which ones walks away and feigns disinterest caused him to lower the price to 50,000. One always has doubts upon acquiring tickets in such a way, which we duly expressed, so he told us we’d only have to pay him once we were through the barriers. Via an extensive feel-up by a police officer (the first of four) we thankfully got in, and I passed him his fifty note through a gap in the fence.
Upon observing the tickets more thoroughly, I noted that they were courtesy and thus not for resale, but given that nobody follows rules in Colombia I didn’t waste time worrying about whether they would get us through the electronic gates and into the stadium proper.
Making our way towards our seats we realised why he believed we’d be better off in this stand, as the sight of women, children and pensioners, and the lack of the druggie mullet haircut in the males formed quite a contrast to the dudes we’d been alongside a few moments before.
No pies and peas pre-match here, so we opted for Lechona, a pig opened up, his head left intact, meat removed, mixed up with other ingredients and then chucked back in to his body. I was also handed a flimsy paper programme, which included all of four pages and no squad list, yet served to wipe the dirty seats which we had been assigned towards the back of the stand in the corner of the stadium.
Nevertheless, the view was absolutely fine, though the Campín did follow that unwritten rule that dictates that all football stadiums most be cold and windy, hence a shivery hour wait until the game started.
As the fans in the Sur and Norte sections began to filter in, the atmosphere picked up, an array of songs belted out to the constant beat of drums, and a massive blue shirt which somehow covered the whole stand to our right was passed along. How many people have ever been pickpocketed or stabbed under there, I can’t say. The ‘barras bravas’, roughly translated as hooligan crews, wouldn’t stop making noise and bouncing throughout the whole game, some of them perched on the back of their seats or the railings separating blocks.
I asked myself what a bunch of fans were doing stood near the front of the stand and out of their seats with what appeared to be fire extinguishers just before kick off. My question was promptly answered as in response to the referee’s starting whistle they let off a huge cloud of blue spray which engulfed the stand.
To the game itself, and Medellín came screaming out of the blocks. They got the ball down well and played some slick passing football and opened up Millos with ease. The clichéd ‘a goal is coming’ could not have been more apt as a Medellín full back was given all the time in the world to pick out his man at the back post, who duly powered a header past a static goalkeeper.
Despite that setback, the Millos fans chanting away didn’t stop singing and if anything, they raised the volume with chants that everyone chimed in on irregardless of where the ball was on the pitch. One that stood out for me was their own rendition of ‘Maradona es más grande que Pelé’, which had been done to death by Argentines at the World Cup a few months prior.
Medellín continued on the front foot and should have had a hatful before the break, Millos’ number 5 doing his best impression of Guy Branston (everything from the shiny bald head, nonchalant lump up the field and spacial unawareness), and as captain not really setting a good example. Another of the timeless clichés which always pops up in football is that of ‘you need to score when you’re on top’, and Medellín were routinely punished a couple of minutes before the break for not taking better advantage of the numerous occasions on which they found themselves slicing through the blue defence.
Admittedly, despite their dreadful opening, Millos had started to build momentum and were gifted a goal as the away goalkeeper unforgivably palmed a horrendously weak shot on the post to allow a Millos player to gleefully tap in an equaliser and produce a huge roar around the stadium.
Parity was not to last for long, however, as about 10 minutes later, Medellín retook the lead with a nice passage of play starting in the centre circle and ending with the simplest of tap-ins at the back post from Cano, who’d looked a useful target man with good feet up until that point.
The half time whistle blew soon after, and I’d received a message informing me that a dinner date had been brought forward an hour to 8pm, thus giving us little time to rush out of the stadium after the final whistle. I scouted how the taxi situation might look through the gap in the fence at the back of the stand that gave out to the main road, and I figured that it’d be best to make an exit a little before the end so as not to be caught up in the mob and have to wait for ages around the stadium to get on our way.
A special mention for the rather attractive cheerleaders here who pranced around in their skimpy skirts throughout the game, entertaining each stand in turn. I enjoyed their artistic abilities…
Anyway, back to the second half, and Millos came out with a little more intent, trying to get their number 22 play-maker, Vargas, on the ball a little more. I’d compare him to a wannabe Pirlo, flowing locks and all, who sits deep and always looks for the ball, but often tries the over intricate Hollywood pass. The type of player that is good on the eye, but doesn’t really benefit the team. Yet for those fans of pure football, I’d argue it’s better to have him on the pitch than blocking machines such as Fernandinho so often found at the fulcrum of top teams’ midfields.
The home side had a flurry of free kicks and corners, and the aforementioned Vargas, incidentally the smallest player on the pitch, headed against the bar from a corner, and the keeper strode forward to take a free kick from the edge of the area, coming remarkably close to bending the ball into the top corner.
Inevitably, gaping holes were left at the back for Medellín to exploit and after a handful of wasted counters, they finally got their third goal as Cano had the freedom of half the pitch to close in on goal and smartly finish to notch his second of the game.
At this point the win was in the bag and Millos heads dropped whilst Medellín just looked to kill the game. However, there was no halt to the chanting from the ultras, so fair play to them. A message then appeared on the big screen informing the pocket of a hundred or so Medellín fans that they would be escorted out of the stadium ten minutes before the end of the game, presumably to avoid being attacked by hordes of their seething Millos counterparts. Sad they weren’t allowed to revel in their team’s great display and clap them off at the end. They’d even go on to miss their team’s fourth goal and the completion of Cano’s hattrick in the dying seconds. But safety first, I suppose.
On about the 85-minute mark, we too took our leave along with streams of home fans and when passing behind the ‘Sur’ stand on the way to catch our taxi, several Millos fans aggressively shouted at us that we were mother fu****s for abandoning the game before it ended. The taxi driver then told us we were lucky to get a cab at that time as Millos fans tended to brick anything on wheels near the stadium after a loss.
On reflection, the experience was interesting and I was particularly impressed by the passion showed by the Millos fans towards their players, and I deep down enjoyed the whole hostile feeling to it all. From a footballing perspective, effort wasn’t lacking, nor was technical ability. Millos were definitely wasteful in possession and perhaps guilty of overplaying at times, whereas Medellín looked to have a gameplan, not surprising given their coach laid the foundations of the current Millos team, and used the ball swiftly and decisively to play an effective and attacking form of football.
All in all, just the football fix I’d needed.