You read right. I went to a Copa America match featuring host nation Chile against Bolivia, and so here (in no particular order) are the remarkable things that stood out.
1. The Stadium
Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos is the cornerstone of Chilean football and has been the home stadium for host nation Chile throughout the Copa America thus far. It has its own history behind the stands and when it’s full of cheering, chanting Chilean fans the atmosphere is amazing.
2. The Red Sea
I have heard people describe certain sporting events as ‘similar to being in a sea of (colour)’. That feeling had never really hit me until the match last night. When I arrived at the Estadio Nacional, the first thing that met my eyes was a blanket of red filling every seat, every staircase, every inch of free space in the stadium. Not only does this say wonders about the spirit of Chilean football fans, but of football in itself – absolutely incredible.
3. The Fans
Now, luckily enough Chile managed an impressive 5-0 victory over Bolivia last night to seal their fate past the group stages of the Copa America. In response, every single Chilean fan was going crazy for the full 90 minutes with horns, balloons, streamers, chants and the crowd-wave. Not only this, but there was an inherent bond between each and every fan, regardless of whether they knew each other or not. Friend, stranger, relative – whoever you were, if you were there to support Chile, then you were together with everyone else and that is only one part of what makes the Beautiful Game, beautiful.
4. The Chants
As an Australian who loves football (the true football, not rugby), being able to experience chants as powerful as those in last night’s match is an opportunity often lost in the lack of strength the game currently has in Australia. Socceroos fans are consistently strong, but the nation’s support falls far further towards rugby and AFL than it does for the A-League. And so, being immersed in the middle of more than 40,000 chanting fans all singing together to the tune of ‘Vamos, Vamos Chilenos’, or ‘No se pare un Chileno’ literally gave me chills. For the full period of play and throughout half time, the fans were relentless in their continuous singing, chanting and cheering.
5. The Anthem
As with all sporting events, the Chilean national anthem was played at the start of the match last night. Not only does the Chilean anthem sound cheery and passionate, but when it’s being belt out by thousands of Chileans all at the same time, it brings tingles to your ears. For me this was heightened last night by the fact that, in the stand that I was so privileged to have been in, a huge Chilean flag was unfurled from the bottom of the stand right to the top, covering all of us. This cover amplified the singing and shed red, white and blue colours over the faces of all the fans underneath it. An unforgettable experience to say the least.
I have left this particular aspect of the Chilean national football squad alone for most of this week purely for the sake of a lack of facts regarding what has happened. However, for those that are unaware – key squad player Arturo Vidal this week was found at the scene of a car crash where he had totalled his 2-day-old $300,000 Ferrari. It was later discovered that he had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Now, usually for an international sporting squad, this inherits an immediate exclusion from the team. However, for a large period of time the facts of the situation weren’t released, leaving head coach Jorge Sampaoli with no other option other than to keep him included on the basis that there was no confirmation of serious wrong-doing, suggesting that the crash was an accident, and that to take away the Copa America from a Chilean player with so much passion for the Chilean people and the Chilean game would be unfair.
And so we arrived at the game last night, Vidal included. The teams started to take the field for the pre-match warm-ups and the commentators read the names on the team list. “Numero 8 – Arturo Vidal.” Cue the craziness of a Chilean crowd.
There were no boo’s, there was no banter and nothing was being thrown. Instead, there was support. From each and every seat filling the Estadio Nacional last night, there was cheers and positive words. The people forgave Vidal because Vidal was remorseful to the people. This is what football is about. If you make a mistake, you pay the consequences – which Vidal has done by relinquishing his driving licence and now being expected to visit the Chilean consulate monthly, but the Chileans forgave him and wanted to see him rise above his mistake – by helping his team surge towards the cup.
And so, there you have it! Last night’s match was the most electric, exciting and eye-opening football experience I have had to date in my life and it was the above, amongst many other things that made it well worth the effort to get there.