(This is what happens when you try and write about something (coffee) and get distracted by a random other topic and go off on a tangent too long to plausibly fit into what you were writing about…)
Those of you who know me will know that I am not the biggest football fan (understatement) and that I have never quite managed to sit through an entire match. You will no doubt be as surprised as I am by the topic of the current post, coming as it does from one so poorly versed in this most global of sports.
During my time in Colombia it was the Copa América, which, from what I recall, took place in June. I made no fewer than three attempts to watch a match from start to finish, all of which failed. During the first I was very far from the screen in an overcrowded and noisy bar (WHY oh WHY are vuvuzelas allowed INDOORS??) in Bogota’s Zona T, so escaped halfway through, fairly exasperated and bored out of my mind, and took refuge in a nearby Burger King. The second time I was too tired to try and lasted a meagre 20 minutes. The third time the match got postponed for an hour after half time because of rain and thankfully I was with like-minded people who couldn’t be bothered to wait that long either. We lost anyway.
Despite clearly not being the biggest fan, caring at all about the score or knowing the rules to the game, I am always very intrigued by the significance of football (and by football I mean the national team) in Colombia. One of the things that struck me is that, despite not knowing the first thing about the sport (and certainly not the fixtures), in Colombia I was always able to tell when it was a match day, simply because of the sheer number of people sporting that dazzling yellow shirt. On match days the number of street sellers peddling all kinds of football related merchandise increased tenfold – shirts, caps, those bloody vuvuzelas, flags, jewellery – a veritable sea of yellow, blue and red. Obviously people in the UK are very supportive of our national football teams, I mean, we have enthusiastic pub goers and, er, bunting. But it’s just not the same. I have mentioned this difference on many occasions to Colombian friends only to receive a bemused expression, a shrug of the shoulders and a “pues sí, somos muy patriotas/folclóricos/futboleros…” (well yes, we’re very patriotic, happy and big football fans). This didn’t really help to explain it, as people in the UK are obviously all of the above too. I think maybe Colombians on the whole are just more willing to celebrate. Even if they lose.
For me, the proof of just how important football is in Colombian society is how it seems to pervade all non-football related areas of life.
On the hellishly long bus ride from Quibdó to Pereira that I foolishly subjected myself to, a woman stood up in the middle of the bus to talk. As you do in Colombia. She proceeded to lecture us in all seriousness, and none too lightly, about God. Despite its length, I never really got the gist of her speech and I don’t think I was the only one. What surprised me was that a fair few people were genuinely listening and questioned her about what she had said (as opposed to the stony silence she would no doubt have received here, if she even stood up). Hilariously, one joker suggested that she pray for the national team in the upcoming game… A proposal to which she very earnestly agreed.
One afternoon in Cartagena Ivan and I were sitting on the beaching waiting for the sunset (after having evaded the hoards of women offering us massages) when, on an impulse, I decided to get a braid (23 going on 13). I kid you not, the friendly hair-braiding lady was all set to do it in yellow, red and blue “for the game.” As if I didn’t already look like enough of a tourist.
I guess what I most liked about Colombia’s love of football is just how contagious it is. Men and women of all ages – even those who aren’t the biggest sporting fans – go all out to show their support for their team. They genuinely care. Indisputable proof of the spread of this infectious, football-loving spirit is the fact that I, the self-confessed football phobe, own a Colombian football shirt.