We never thought we would end up going to a professional football (soccer) match in South America. The fact that we are Canadian and haven’t even attended an NHL game speaks to our general interest in sports entertainment. In South America, football isn’t just a sport, it is everything, arguably more important then religion or governement… people live and die for football. Medellin, Colombia as we found out is one of the best places to see a game. If you’re ever drinking at a hostel bar in Colombia and your new German friends ask you if you want to go to a football match with them tomorrow, you say “YES”.
Medellin has two home teams, Deportivo Independiente Medellín and Atlético Nacional (previously owned by Pablo Escobar). Atletico Nacional has the most local support by far, green and white jerseys can be seen all over town. Although the red team (Deportivo Independiente) seems to have fewer fans they are not lacking in passion. Watching either of these teams play is an intense experience. But, when they play against each other it is literally insane! The two local teams hate each other, its a longstanding bitter rivalry, red vs. green. Risk levels increase at these games, police give full pat downs when entering the stadium and its not uncommon to see tear gas used to disperse the crowds when the game ends.
As fate would have it, this was the game we had just bought tickets for…
We signed up for a package deal from the Happy Buddha Hostel which included pre game drinks, a jersey, shuttle to and from, a local guide and of course the ticket. This cost 85,000 COP. We were informed the day of that all the extras were cancelled, we would only get the ticket and a 5000 COP refund. We probably ended up over paying for the ticket only but it was suppose to be in a safer seating area and we were pretty stoked about going regardless so didn’t mind paying. We were a bit concerned to lose the local guide but we talked to some people and learned a few basic safety tips that put our minds at ease. As an added feeling of security we ended up rolling with a decent sized crew, made up of some of the classiest new travel pals we’ve made, Adam from U.S., David, Robin and Vanessa from Germany and Stephen and Danielle from Australia.
Some useful tips are:
- Wear neutral colours (don’t appear to support either team)
- Ask where safer seating area is for tourists
- Attend the game with a larger group or local guide
- Dont hang around stadium after game
- Don’t wear or bring flashy/expensive items
We took an Uber down to the stadium and found a local place to have some drinks before entering, these games are alcohol free. We did as the locals do and got primed up good beforehand. After making it through the two phases of security lines we made our way to the seating area. Assigned seats don’t really apply, as long as you are in the correct area. Our area was the buffer zone between red and green, a small strip of seats that separates the two, right in the crossfire… really Happy Buddha? This is the safe zone? Hmm. We laughed it off, got some snacks and prepared ourselves for the game. Turns out we felt comfortable pretty quick, the locals were very friendly and welcoming, it wasn’t overcrowded and it gave us a good view of the opposing fans. The people are as much fun to watch as the game in our opinion. For all the hatred that exists between the two fans, our section had a comical mix of spouses and family members sporting opposite jerseys and enjoying themselves together despite their obvious differences.
The game kicks off with loud music and cheering, both sides with their own percussion section, clouds of green, white and red smoke bombs fill the air. The crowd excitement never stops throughout the whole game, its a continuous shit show of dancing, singing, cursing, yelling and even crying. We’ve never witnessed anything like it.
The game ended 3-1 for Atlético Nacional (Green). We opted to wait a few extra minutes for most of the crowd to disperse before attempting the exit ourself. A lot of words were exchanged between the opposing fans and fighting was provoked but we didn’t see any violence…yet. Police in riot gear helped to tame the scene inside the stadium.
Outside the police presence was still strong but as we were discussing where to have some post game drinks, a man pulled out a machete and attacked someone nearly 25 feet from us. He was taken down by police seconds after attempting to slash another fan. We weren’t sure if anyone was hurt. After that we all agreed we would get the hell out of the area and have drinks somewhere else. It was a scary moment but its worth mentioning again that we did feel safe and comfortable for the majority of the experience, 99% of the locals were super helpful, friendly people and we would recommend seeing a game to anyone.
We had to bring the GoPro along and we were glad we did, check out this footage of the game.