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Day 26 – La U

November 5, 2010

Location: Lima, Peru

Date: Friday, November 5, 2010

Today I should have left Lima for Bolivia. I should be on a bus. I should also be six foot two and . . . .wait. I did this already.

Scratch that. I did have a bus ticket to Arequipa that left today. I didn’t make it. Not to worry, this time it was on purpose. I was packed up, all set to go, when Doug said to me, “Man, it’s too bad you’re leaving today. Karem’s dad has tickets to tonight’s ‘U’ game.”

A week ago, this would have meant nothing to me. That’s before I learned that Karem’s family is Universitario de Deportes to the bone. That “La U” is one of the two most famous futbol (soccer) clubs in all Peru (the other being Alianza Lima, La U’s rival). And that their team colors are red and cream (thus the nickname “La Crema”).

When I did learn all this, I bought a La U practice jersey in solidarity (also, because red is such a pretty color). I even wore it to the fulbito game I played with Doug and Karem’s dad.

So when Doug tempted me with tickets, I switched my one for the bus to leave tomorrow. When will I next get a chance to see the team I had only just pledged allegiance to? Who cares if it was against a lesser team (“from an outer province”)? Bolivia could wait one day.

That night we hopped a cab and braved an hour and a half of rush hour traffic to get to the stadium. The stadium is an immense, concrete structure. The stadium was mostly empty. Universitario is a popular team, but their opponent tonight was less than stellar. It doesn’t help that La U hasn’t been playing well this year.

The opposing team, Inti Gas, came on the field to whistles. A few minutes later, La U emerged to warm up and the crowd went wild.

In that moment, I discovered why men go to war. I learned why a bunch of idiots charged into the fray with William Wallace. I know why three hundred of Gideon’s men thought they could defeat an army of thousands.

At most, there were 300 people in the stadium for warm-ups. It sounded like 10,000. The fanatics at the far end of the stadium pounded drums, sang, clapped, and stomped their feet. This small contingent had me so pumped I felt like I could take on Inti Gas by myself. The fans were in a frenzy and we were still 10 minutes from kickoff. No wonder their concrete bleachers were ringed with police in riot gear.

It was only the beginning. The crowd behind the goal swelled. Another group sprung up across the stadium from we were sitting. For the whole game, these groups battle for fanatic supremacy. The group at the far end usually prevailed because of sheer numbers. All game, though, songs echoed back and forth, flags waived, fans hopped up and down in unison, banners flew, drums pounded, trumpets sounded. It never stopped.

The closest you can get to this is a college game back home, but even then, the crowd takes breaks. Their energy wanes. A team calls a timeout. We have to go to commercial. In futbol, the action is non-stop for 45 minutes at a time. The crowd goes non-stop, as well.

All this for a game against a team no one cared about in the middle of a mediocre season. I can’t imagine what the “Classico” game will be like next week, when La U plays their bitter rivals, Alianza. I think they may need more police.

How was the actual game? La U dominated possession but were only able to score one goal. The game looked well in hand when, in the last minute of the game, the ref called a foul on La U and gave Inti Gas a free kick. An Inti Gas player hit a ball that sailed over the wall of La U defenders, hit the cross bar, and went straight into the ground. Goal. A one in a million shot. Inti Gas players go crazy. Tie game. As fans exited the stadium, they rained down abuse on the departing refs.

The papers the next day were about as kind. La Crema were supposed to win.

As we waited for our cab outside after the game, something strange happened. Inti Gas players came out of the public gate a few at a time. They bought some snacks at a food cart, then in groups—some with their girlfriends–hailed cabs.

These guys had just upset one of the two biggest teams in Peru and they had to find their own ways home. Even the Minnesota Timberwolves have a charter bus to the hotel. Futbol is big time in Peru. Some teams, however, seem to be more big time than others.

A Random Picture – A Featured Pic That’s Cool But Doesn’t Fit The Narrative

GALLERY: Click through to see a picture of Mervyn and Doug living it up in the VIP section and for more shots of the game and the crowd.

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