The Paisa Derby. The biggest match in Colombian football. In the red corner we have Independiente Medellin, the older club at 102 years old. In the green corner we have Atletico Nacional, 68 years old and the most successful Colombian club side. As a reflection of this, they are known locally as “The king of cups”. Nacional were the overwhelming favourites. Both sides play at the Atanasio Girardot Sports Complex. The capacity is about the same as Stamford Bridge, around 44,000. Pretty good!
What wasn’t quite so good is that these 2 sides have not played each other in 2 years as a result of riots and murders occurring at a previous game. Pretty serious stuff. Lets be honest, it’s hard to fathom that a person is willing to take another’s life over a football match. Crazy stuff, but it happens. Colombia isn’t alone. England has had it’s issues with hooliganism but nothing as serious as that for many a year. In efforts to curb any violence I’ve been informed that the game had 1,800 police officers on duty before, during, and after the game. The experience of going to a game and feeling a little nervous for your wellbeing was something new for sure. However, i’d be lying if i said it didn’t make the anticipation all the more exciting.
You should have seen the police inside the stadium. Truthfully, it was like something out of a modern war film or Call of Duty. To say the officers were “kitted out” would be an understatement. Equipped with flak jackets, pistols, tear gas, riot shields, these guys were not here to mess around. Queue the saying “dressed up to the nines”. Based on appearance alone, it looked like they had arrived straight from a battlefield. Primed for war.
Along with Toby and Tim, my friends from school, I was in the North stand of the stadium. The North stand had a mixed reputation. The positives: unquestionably the place to be for the best atmosphere. The negatives: Notorious for being the area of the stadium with the most trouble. “Hmm”. “You guys shouldn’t go there”. Decision made. Not even a tough one. Call us stupid, but we obviously chose the North stand purely and simply because of the atmosphere. With regards to watching a sporting event, it stands as probably the best decision I’ve ever made.
The atmosphere was electric. Incredible. The stadium was moving – 100%. It was everything you thought it would be and more. To put it bluntly, the match itself was a sideshow. Flags waving, chants after chants, you get the picture. Standing there, watching the game with a beautiful mountainous backdrop whilst being in the midst of what was essentially a carnival, is something i won’t forget. Ever. Atmospheres at top arena’s during big games such as Wembley, Old Trafford, the Nou Camp or Twickenham may have double the capacity, but not a patch on the atmosphere in compar,ison to games like these. It’s a fact. I’ve never seem passion like it.The temperature felt like another 10 degrees warmer in the stadium. A cauldron. Normal people turned to animals. Back home when you watch big games live, you always see a few “die hards” with St George’s flags or club emblems tattooed on them. However, they are generally speaking, the minority of the fans, with the majority dressed up or having applied face paint. Not here. It’s totally the opposite. Tattoos are the face paint!
Each end of stadium had run off areas on the bottom tiers. Their existence as part of the stadium is to simply act as a run off area for when the fans celebrate a goal. After witnessing 2 goals in a 1-1 draw, I can safely say that those run off areas were completely necessary. Imagine a large dam suddenly bursting, you have thousands of cubic meters of water being released and nothing is going to stop it other than all water flooding out. Do this again, but replace the water with fans and the dam with the stadium. Absolutely mental. Beyond ridiculous. Like herds of sheep. If i witness a more vibrant atmosphere in a stadium, i will be utterly amazed.
The final whistle was the catalyst for fireworks and tear gas as sections of the opposing fans escaped their housing “zoos”. Not even leaving the stadium with your shirt over your nose and coughing was going to spoil this event though. What a day. What a game. What a fiesta.