While in Peru, I was able to take in the Copa Libertadores match between Sporting Cristal (Peru) and Huracan (Argentina). The match was great! even though it was not my beloved Lions on the pitch, I still loved taking it all in. As a supporter, your passion for the game runs very deep. It’s this love for the game that allows you appreciate the simple yet complex sport that is world football, regardless of who is on the pitch.
Even when it’s not your team playing, the energy and excitement from the thousands of supporters is unmatched anywhere in the sporting world. It’s an escape from the everyday grind. For 90 plus minutes, you find yourself consumed by the game and part of something bigger than you and you just allow it to take over.
A few days after the Copa Libertadores match, I was able to attend another match for one of the biggest clubs in all of Peru, Universitario de Deportes or “La U” as the locals call it. I attended with a couple of my wife’s uncles. They have been La U supporters since they were born, a tradition passed on to them by their father. I have found that this is common across Europe and South America when it comes to which football club people support. You don’t just choose a club, you are born into it and you follow it until the day you die.
However, there are a few defectors among the ranks of my wife’s family. A handful of them support Alianza Lima, the other big club in Peru. I am not sure how this happened, but if I had to guess, a couple of the Iberico (my wife’s family surname) ladies married Alianza supporters, and their kids were raised to support Alianza Lima. These are the two most decorated clubs in all of Peruvian football. It’s been said that 65% of all Peruvians support one of these two clubs. In a country of over 30 million, and a league with 16 clubs, that is a lot of supporters for just two clubs!
One thing I noticed when entering the stadium for the match is the relaxed security. At first I thought, this was going to be a very thorough and intimidating affair, but it wasn’t. The cops are dressed in riot gear throughout the stadium, and you get the feeling something is about to pop off! But when all was said and done, there was no pat down, and all I had to do was show my passport. It was much different than what goes down at the Citrus Bowl on match day. At the same time, our security is not walking around with riot shields, helmets, and batons.
There is no alcohol allowed in the stadium. I was a little shocked by this… Maybe this is how it is everywhere else in the world, but I am used to being able to have a few beers in the stadium when I watch a match. The only options I had here were Pepsi, juice, or water. All three are served with no ice, in tiny cups. So for me, drinking warm Pepsi out of an 8 ounce paper cup was a little strange. I did however have a delicious chorizo on a roll while I was there.
You get the feeling there is no “official” concession company running the show inside the stadium. In all honestly it seems like a bunch of random people just selling whatever they were able to get into the stadium. Which is cool because no two matches are the same and the variety of snacks is all over the place, depending on what made it into the stadium.
The supporters were different at both matches as well. For the Copa Libertadores match, Sporting Cristal had three different supporter sections in the stadium. One behind each goal on the north and south ends of the stadium, and one of the second level right at midfield. It was a bit strange because all three sections did their own things during the match. All three sections were loud and non stop for the full 90 minutes, but none of the chants were in sync. The only thing that was done in unison, was the balloon release at the beginning of the match. A side from that, it was three separate shows from three separate locations in the stands. Before the match started, there were a couple of drummers down near the pitch playing in front of the supporters at the north end. But after the match started, the drums were silent.
The match for Universitario de Deportes (La U) was similar to what I am accustomed too. There was one section behind goal with about 5,000 supporters called La Norte, or The North. They did not have drums, but they did chant for the full 90 minutes and it sounded amazing. It seriously made me miss being in The Wall. One thing they did that was a bit different was a card display tifo right before the second half. In all there were about 35,000 in the stadium for the match, and all of them knew the chants whenever La U would score a goal. The place would erupt into one very loud, very passionate, celebratory chant. It was awesome! Hopefully we will have that same response when Orlando City scores a goal in the coming seasons.
I have to say my trip to Peru did not disappoint. The food was great, the people were great, and the futbol was equally great! This past Sunday was my first Orlando City match of the season, and it was amazing!
Orlando is where reigning MLS Cup Champions come to be humbled. Last year it was LA Galaxy getting beat up on 4-0, and this year Portland Timbers ate a big piece of humble pie, going down 4-1. I was able to watch the first three matches when I was in Peru, but I have to admit I was a little homesick when I had to watch the lads play on TV from 3,000 miles away.
I had a taste of what I was missing and now I can’t wait for April 17th, when the Lions take on New England here in the Citrus Bowl. Good seats are still available for this match up. Visit orlandocitysc.com/tickets for more info!