Last week I had the pleasure of attending my very first Peruvian fútbol (soccer) match. And oh what a match it was.
As it happens this year was the inaugural year of the sub-20 version of the Copa Libertadores. The Cup, which includes teams from across South America, has been going on annually since 1960, but for the first time a separate tournament was held for teams with players who were under 20 years old. As it turns out, two local teams were pitted against one another in the semi-finals; Julio’s favorite local team Club Universitario de Deportes (often simply called “Universitario” or “La U”) versus Alianza Lima. It seemed like all of Lima was taking sides, and it certainly promised to be an exciting match!
Julio, his girlfriend Neysi, his cousin Michael, and I headed out 3 hours prior to the game – you have to get there early to get good seats! Our tickets had been bought the previous day – his cousin took one for the team and stood in a huge line for over an hour to get them. One of the great things about Peruvian soccer is that, unlike American sporting events, games are super affordable. At 5 soles ($2 US) each for such an epic match, it was a deal no one could really pass up – and it certainly seemed like all of Lima was in line!
During our (long) journey to the stadium – it was rush hour – we passed several groups of rowdy people sitting on the side of the road with the police. Julio’s explanation – soccer hooligans.
Upon arrival to the stadium, we were greeted by a throng of fans numbering in the thousands. As we were funneled toward the gate closest to our seats, I noticed that there were only other U fans surrounding us, and none for Alianza. The reason? Lima does things the right way by separating the stadium by fan-base. Each section is team-specific. There are even 12-foot spiked gates separating each section to ensure no mixing. And when the event is over, fans leave through separate exits to ensure no post-game fights! Ingenious!!!
This doesn’t, however, mean that there isn’t some good old-fashioned bragging going on in the stadium. Home-made banners adorn the section separators, and team chants can be heard throughout the game. In addition, fans sneak through the mediocre security screening toting fireworks and sparklers, setting them off (and sometimes starting small fires!) during exciting moments in the game. With all of this team enthusiasm, it’s hard not to enjoy the game, even for this non-fan.
The game was dominated by good defense and great goalie work, and at the conclusion of the second half there was still no score. Luckily there were still penalty shots, and La U came out on top, beating Alianza 6-5. The crowd went nuts, and chants of La U’s song could be heard reverberating throughout the stadium. It was wild!
I have to say, for this non-fútbol fan, it was quite an exciting night. If you have the chance while in Lima, no matter what team is playing, I definitely recommend checking out a game or two. The atmosphere is unbeatable!
UPDATE: La U went on to win the finals and take the Cup!
Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.