Two Thursdays ago, my friend Rachel called me and asked if I’d be interested in going to a fútbol game. Colo Colo, one of the two most popular teams in Santiago, was playing Liga de Quito, a team from Ecuador. Her host brother Alvaro is a huge Colo Colo fan and was gracious enough to offer to escort a bunch of gringos to the game that evening. I’m as much of a soccer fan as the next American (meaning I played as a child, watched the US women’s team win the World Cup in 1999, and watch part of a game if I catch one while channel surfing), so I was really looking forward to it. Fútbol is synonymous with Latin America. Everyone and his mother plays and would lay down his life and his first born for his team of choice (with the curious exception of my host family – they prefer tennis).
So we all headed over to Rachel’s house to meet up with her brother, decked out in his Colo Colo jersey, and we were off to the game. Rachel’s host mother warned us not to bring large bags because they’d have to be checked and to leave our pens, pencils, nail files, and box cutters at home. All with good reason – we arrived at the stadium and were searched before entering, not unlike airport security only without the luxury of metal detectors. The carabinera (Chilean police officer) and I became very friendly very quickly. At this point, I started getting a little nervous. I’d forgotten until that instant about all of the headlines I’d read over the years about stampedes and deaths by trampling at fútbol games. Whatever, I told myself, I can run quickly, right? (An overreaction, of course, but when you look around and start to notice carabineros in their riot gear, you start to get a little nervous).
Alvaro then led us into the stadium to find seats. We got ourselves some stadium food (in this case sandwiches with your choice of ham or beef and, of course, the obligatory avocado) and settled in for the game.
However, the excitement began long before the players took the field. We Americans might think we’re big sports fans, but we’ve got nothing on the Chileans. They have at least seven different cheers, most of which are incomprehensible to the extranjero. This didn’t stop us, however, from attempting to join in, which resulted in a lot of yelling of random words punctuated with “uno, dos, tres, cuatro” or “Colo Colo” because they were really the only phrases we could recognize. Also, the Colo Colo fans have the most interesting and shrillest whistle that I have ever heard. We entertained ourselves for a good ten minutes trying to replicate it. Unfortunately, the closest we got was a pathetic buzzing noise…we’ll have to work on that.
Finally, the game was underway. The entire first half passed without a goal but that’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining. Some of the Colo Colo fans were getting a little upset with the referees. If you want to learn some new if not colorful vocabulary in your host country’s native tongue, just take a trip to a local sporting event. You’ll hear things that would make a swearing sailor blush. Of course, I wouldn’t have known what most of the words meant if it weren’t for Alvaro who found explaining them to us very amusing.
The second half rolled around and the real excitement began. Colo Colo scored three goals in the span of about eight minutes. Needless to say, the Colo Colo fans went crazy. There was cheering, chanting, and yelling, especially at the few bold Quito fans who had found their way into our section. There were streamers, confetti, fireworks, and flares.
Yes, that’s right. Flares.
After the first goal, a bright red light began shining from the other side of the field. No one else seemed to think it was odd that an enormous red flame was burning in the stands. (What I want to know is how that guy got that thing through security…) Not only was it not unusual to the other fans, but after the second goal, another fan set off a second one. This time, however, the carabineros were less amused. The dejected fan was escorted from the stadium, flare burning the entire way out. He may not have been able to watch the rest of the game, but what a way to go…
The game finally ended and Colo Colo reigned victorious. The fans were ecstatic and so was I, not just because the entire game passed stampede-free but I won’t say that that didn’t contribute to my contentment somewhat.
Overall, I would say my first experience with fútbol in Chile was a resounding success. I have yet to make plans to attend another game, but I have a lot I need to do before then, like buy a jersey, practice my whistling, memorize some cheers, and figure out a way to smuggle flares. I think I have my work cut out for me.