I’ve never been interested in sports. When I was a kid, I preferred to sit inside and read books instead of get sweaty or risk injury playing outside. During PE (physical education) class, I was the one who would ask my classmates to cut me in line so I wouldn’t have to swing a bat or kick a ball.
The aversion has continued throughout my adult life. I could never understand how some people can be so dedicated to a sport, buying hats and shirts and posters, never missing a game on TV and letting the topic infiltrate every conversation.
But a live game is a lot different than watching men run around on a flat screen. Feeling the contagion of excitement, unification with others rooting for the same team, and the high of a win in a group atmosphere is cool. So when I was invited to watch Medellin’s local team, Nacional, versus one of their rivals, Cali, I decided to take up the offer. Of all the aspects of Latin American culture I’ve explored, futbol fever is one I’ve never bothered to plunge in to. Until now.
After a tight metro ride, waiting in line for ages and getting felt up by a female cop, we run into the stadium just in time for the beginning of the game. A sea of Paisas in green shirts fill the bleachers. In the ultra-fan section, massive banners that throw their hood up line the rows. Those not decked out in green and white striped jerseys are shirtless, and what they lack in uniform they more than make up for in intensity.
Since we are in Medellin, Cali’s fan base is excruciatingly small in comparison. On both sides of their designated area are empty bleachers, save dozens of police and Colombia’s SWAT team equipped with riot shields and helmets.
We settle into our seats and join the chanting, singing, clapping, and foot stomping that persists through the entire game. Little kids make up some of the most devoted supporters – tons of them are decked out in Nacional jerseys waving flags and throwing their hands up when they score.
The clock runs out and Nacional wins the game 4-0. The Cali fans leave 10 minutes before the game ends to prevent any conflicts. The crowd cheers and chants, “Ole, ole ole ole, Medellin, Medellin.”
In spite of my general dislike of sports, seeing the game live and experiencing the atmosphere was an experience worth repeating.
Maybe Colombia will turn me into a football fan after all.
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