February 2012

Bolivian Football – 1
Australian Journalist – 0?

For this writer, his first Bolivian football match was not about the players on the field but the fans in the stands. Flares, cheers, fires and fights created an unforgettable experience..

By: Aidan Jones
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Adelaide – Australia

San José Match
Photo: Aidam Jones

For many South American’s, football is life, and Bolivians are no exception. Since I arrived in Cochabamba in mid-October, one of my Bolivian friends, Andres the San Jose Fan, had been saying; “you have to come and see my team play, our fans are the craziest in all of Bolivia.” With an endorsement like that, I don’t know how it took me two months to get to a game. On Wednesday the 7th of December, after stalling and stalling, I finally made it. The team that Andres the San Jose Fan was talking about was, of course, San Jose Oruro, and the game was against Cochabamba’s Aurora for a place in the semi finals. The crowd did not disappoint, nor did the game itself. The craziness at this football game was something that lit my eyes up like a fire at midnight.

We marched through the gates of the stadium ready for anything. If the hype was to be believed, the real show would be in the stands tonight – come for the football, stay for the party. My head buzzed with excitement. The flares stuffed in my socks and hidden by my jeans caused a few drops of sweat on the palms of my hands as I walked through the entrance. Four khaki police officers sporting shotguns flanked me but it was all cool. Inside, the place was filling quickly, but we were still an hour out from kick off. This small smuggling operation set the scene somewhat for the rest of the evening, with the San Jose contingent, of which we were a part, fighting a constant tug-of-war battle with police for control of the Southern stands. No one seemed to care that lighting fires and throwing toilet paper on the pitch isn’t generally considered an integral part of a football match, atmosphere was the ultimate goal here.

“It felt like all game had been leading up to something – a beautiful victory maybe, but that was not to be”

First minute; GOAL! AAAAAAAAGH YES YES YES! “This is it!” screamed the sea of white San Jose fans, “the game is ours, a lead one minute in.” San Jose had to win 3-0 to get through to the semi finals, due to an administrative squabble that I will not burden you with here. Suffice to say, the San Jose contingent were not pleased with the prospect of losing the game on paper, even though the first leg of the final, in Oruro, had been victory for them as well. Chants of “no puedes ganar en la mesa, necesitas ganar en la cancha” was heard throughout the game. Turning to Andres, he expressed to me what could only be described as ‘extreme distaste’ at the referees´ handling of the game. Apparently, he said, the bastards had bought him. Whether or not this claim was indeed true is not for me to debate here, and will probably never be known – at least not in print. Such accusations are inevitable though, and in a country with a system as overtly open to manipulation as Bolivia´s, they are also, sadly, all too plausible. Nevertheless, the game should be won on the pitch, with heart – “that’s what San Jose is all about,” said Andres the San Jose Fan; referee or no referee, 3 goal deficit or no 3 goal deficit, rain, hail, snow, fire, or bloody murder, and always with the flares firing overhead.

The fans grew restless as the night wore on; the frenzy in the stands matching that on the pitch for intensity. This game is limited for time, 90 minutes with a 10-minute break halfway, but the fans and the crazies dressed in sky blue to the north and white to the south, they know there is more to tonight’s proceedings than just 22 guys kicking the ball around. I’m still not sure where the real action is tonight and what I may have unwittingly become a part of. Scream the maddening chants and light the fuses on fire; this is football.


Police at Stadium
Photo: Aidam Jones

Half time came and went, and so did another goal, and the crowd were whipped into a frenzy for the remaining thirty minutes of the game, but at full time, no third goal, no fairytale ending – the final score 2-0 – San Jose. It felt like all game had been leading up to something – a beautiful victory maybe, but that was not to be. Before I had a chance to look, the stands around me were emptying of fans. As Andres marched past he threw me an excited warning, “they’re waiting at the exit and we’re going to meet them.” I hastily put two and two together and guessed that I wasn’t going to go with him. As the comedian Dylan Moran once said, “I’m not a fighter, I’m a bleeder”. Looks like my foreign friends and I will be sitting tight inside the stadium until the violence outside subsided. I did not intend to run out all ‘Braveheart’ and plunge, face first, into a line of angry Aurora fans. Maybe the final melee outside the stadium’s walls is just another act in this brutal tragedy. The fire, the explosions, the chants, the frenzy; all game they had been screaming and thrashing about, but for what?

We snuck out with a thousand or so other people away from the strange shift of events out the front of the stadium. I went home to change out of my San Jose shirt. Walking back through the still-buzzing streets I heard a car alarm, the last few fireworks cracking off into the night sky, the last kicks of the struggle. Did I just attend a football game, or a planned and carefully contained riot? Did I just run away from the main event? I spot three people walking down the street, looking dishevelled and worn; “one of those fuckers kicked me in the back!” laughs Christian with a smile, “that was crazy dawg.” Our friend, Andres, is not so fired up. “We still have to wait until Friday to find out whether we make it through or not,” he explains, “we played with heart on the field, we deserve to win.”

Some people come for the experience, some come for the fight, some come to take notes and maybe light a flare or two; but the true fans come to support their team. The rest is just a sideshow.

Life in Fresh Air:
Scouting in Cochabamba

According to the article ‘Scouting’ (Anna Infantas, El Deber, 19 August 2007), it is said that the primary person of the scouting movement in Bolivia in 1911 was Chilean professor Adolfo Piñeiro - a follower of Baden Powell, the founder of the scouting movement. He arrived at Tarija with a group of foreign teachers hired by the Minister of Higher Education, Juan Misael Saracho, in order to support the education’s progress in the city. This very first scout brigade was called Ramon Rojas..

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