Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Los Wanderers

Valpo is a great place to attend your first South American futbol game. Every porteño (person from the port, in this case Valparaiso) is crazy about the sport but the games still maintain Valparaiso's overall chill vibe. Valparaiso's team is confusingly called the Santiago Wanderers. They are the oldest club in Chile, started by British immigrants in the 1850s, which explains the English name. Our friend Jorge says that if you are not a fan of the Wanderers you are not a true porteño.

We met Jorge at Plaza Pinto and got a ride with his friend Susana to the game. On the way we enjoyed one of the best sunsets of the trip. When we arrived, the stadium was glowing under orange and pink skies. Estadio Playa Ancha is a bowl-shaped cement coliseum built into the side of a hill which holds 18,000 fans. The seating is divided into two sections, Pacifico and Galeria. Pacifico seats are on the sidelines while Galeria seats are behind the goals and both sections are general admission. We had accidentally purchased the more expensive tickets for the Pacifico seating, so Jorge and Susana talked the guards into letting us into the Galeria, explaining that we were gringos who bought the wrong tickets. Entering the stadium we were surrounded by fans with green and white team flags around their shoulders or waving them in the air. We were prepared with our green shirts showing our porteño pride. We sat right next to the dividing fence and the military guard between the two sections.

When Melipilla, the visiting team, took the field everyone whistled- this is how you 'boo' in Chile. When the Wanderers appeared the whole stadium broke out into song, "El Himno de Los Wanderers". We were given a copy of the lyrics the day before at the club house where we purchased our tickets though we had failed to memorize the words. There are no ceremonies before the match starts, no announcement of lineups, no national anthem. They just warm up then start playing.

When the match began La Hincha took over. La Hincha are groups of die-hard fans who hang green and white banners with their group names all over the stadium. The largest of the groups is Los Panzers, who sat right behind the goal. The rest of the stadium was pretty tame and spent a lot of time watching Los Panzers. They start out with chants accompanied by a large drum. Then come the fireworks and flares. About 20 minutes into the game a section wide mosh-pit broke out and turned into a real brawl. We were safe many sections away. The military guards appeared on the scene and tried to separate the fans. The older fans whistled their disapproval at the Panzers and the military.

Meanwhile, the game was still going on but was in a bit of a lull. After a fast start by the Wanderers they appeared to be getting tired and slow even before halftime. In the second half they got their energy back but Melipilla appeared to be the better team. Melipilla started getting some calls and more importantly a lack of calls which would have benefited Los Wanderers. Jorge was incensed by the refs and became our section's main heckler and comic. When a foul was called on a slide tackle by a Wanderer, the Melipilla player rolled around on the ground acting like he was in grave pain. Jorge shouted (in Spanish) "In the meantime you can eat some grass, Cow!" The whole section loved it. The joke is that Melipilla is a small town in the country where there are more cows than people.

With about 15 minutes left in the match -there's no clock in the stadium so you just use your wristwatch- Melipilla's best player, #10, had a breakaway, faked out the goalie and scored the game's only goal. The place fell silent, then everyone whistled. After that the Wanderers got sloppy. The game ended with most of the fans filing out. Everyone was disappointed but no one was distraught. The friends Jorge ran into would comically frown then quickly snapped out of it to make plans for the night, which wasn't even young yet. On the way back to the car I said to Jorge, "Que lastima, las vacas ganan" (What a shame, the cows won).

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