Corner Kicks And Cartels
During my stay at the Happy Buddha Hostel in the upmarket district of El Poblado, Medellin, I am approached by a gentleman in a football jersey. He keenly promotes the playoffs match that evening featuring the widely supported local team of Atletico Nacional against Deportivo Cali. I had no hesitation in putting pen to paper for a seat at what was described as the equivalent of a bullring.
Atletico Nacional was associated with the infamous drug Lord Pablo Escobar who owned the club during the 1980s. Ironically this was the club’s biggest era of success in terms of silverware. He attracted the country’s finest talents with heavy financial backing through his Medellin Cartel empire.
At 5pm local time and not Colombian time (excuse the pun) we crowded up in our departure bus. Our guide was insistent that the Atletico Nacional flags he gave us must be displayed outside the windows. Those sat closest to the doors had the unenviable task of maintaing a firm grip on the flagpole for the whole duration of our journey to the stadium. Suffice to say that going with local fans allowed us to immerse ourselves in their religious pastime of ‘futbol’.
On arrival at the Atanasio Girardot Stadium we were ushered by our guide to the stall displaying a plethora of green and white. Indeed these are the football colours of Atletico Nacional. It was as good as mandatory to purchase a jersey each and that in turn led to a snapshot of us all with flags and scarfs aplenty to make it postcard worthy. Thereafter every second word we said was ‘Nacional’ as we chanted to the drumrolls of the partisan atmosphere prevalent outside the ground.
Given the thankless task of organising a group of 25 tourists to attend the game amongst the soaring local crowds, our guide gave us our tickets and yelled (a rare illustration of urgency amongst the locals) ‘go’ as he directed us into the entrance area to where our seats were located. Once seated we had a one hour pre-match build up and this was just as pulsating as the game itself. Different factions of the crowd were singing in celebration of the club’s most storied players.
At 8pm local time the match was underway we were all desperate to witness a home goal in order to hear the gargantuan roar of approval that awaited from the home fans. We got our wish and were lifted off our seats and felt a different type of ‘high’ than the one most synonymous with this city.
Whilst in decades gone by there were question marks over the legitimacy of Atletico Nacional’s matches, there was no disputing the result on this occasion. A 3:1 victory gave the home fans an excuse to carry on their celebrations post-match and the theatre only ends once the lights go out in this panoramic stadium.
Links to previous articles: