That moment when you feel your taxi slowing down to survey Seventh Avenue ahead of you. Yep, there’s no way through. All one can see three blocks of us are the lights and sirens of police vehicles as if framing a slow-moving slurpee of blue and white. Then I recalled skimming a headline in El Tiempo…today was the 70th anniversary of Bogotá’s Millonarios football club. Blue and white, Millonarios, blue and white, mostly blue. I was carrying a big red bag, red, the colour of Millonarios’ detested cross-city rivals Santa Fé. Time to get home and fast.
“I’ll get out here and walk, there’s no point in continuing,” I said to the taxi driver.
“Be careful,” he warned. “These marches can get violent.”
Now, I have been going through a certain amount of disillusion of late with football as a sport and the political entities running it. The FIFA scandal has basically damaged my love of the game and then the violence surrounding European matches in France has left me wanting as well. Yes, I will watch a game here and there, but a light somewhere within me has been extinguished dampening my enthusiasm for the sport.
And, I have to admit that I don’t really follow Colombian domestic football. I suppose I don’t mind Santa Fé (red, and where my affection comes from my investigations and research into the life and times of Jack Greenwell their English Coach), don’t really like Millonarios (blue), have a bit of a soft spot for Junior of Barranquilla (red and white) in addition to Alianza Petrolera (yellow and black like my beloved Watford FC) of Barrancabermeja and thoroughly abhor Atletico Nacional (green and white like Plymouth Argyll) of Medellin.
So, I was initially wary of venturing back out into the crowds to watch the march and take some photographs. In any case, my time wandering, with faithful Monty the Weimaraner in tow, was punctuated by the merry chanting of the Millonarios fans. The ambiance was jovial up to a point from the beginning of the march to about three-quarters of the way through when there was clearly the presence of a more sinister element. The riot police were in force as well.
Being the gringo in this melee I was offered illicit substances on at least five occasions. The oily smell of marijuana was omnipotent and tell-tale lingering clouds of smoke could be seen everywhere. Those not brandishing a box of aguardiente were the odd ones out. Girls and women bared midriffs and exposed legs through large tears in their jeans. Flags were swung, weapon-like as if looking for someone to challenge the bearer. A fight broke out between drunk hinchas. No police arrived. It was resolved, eventually, by members of the immense family in blue. Not before haymaker punches and kicks were landed.
Poor Monty was dragged into the celebrations too.
“Feliz cumpleaños,” said the fans to me.
“Feliz cumpleaños,” I said in return.
“Where’s the dog’s millonarios bandana?”
“El no tiene.”
“Try this,” and before I could protest a flag was removed from the shoulders of one supporter and slung around Monty’s neck and haunches. He remained still allowing for photographs, if perhaps a little bemused by it all.
“Feliz cumpleaños,” I said.
“Gracias por tu humildad, y bienvenido a Colombia,” they said, shaking my hand one after the other and returning to their march.
Did you know that Richard McColl has launched a crowdfunding campaign to launch the “Colombia Calling magazine” a spin-off from his popular podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud. See the Indiegogo campaign here and spread the word!