Monday, 19 February 2007

guestTread: El Salvador

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2007 Central Prel. Comp.
Estadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador

This article comes courtesy m'chum and fellow Hawk, Mr. Adrian Lord [at centre in the top picture], currently giving it his best Phileas Fogg around the Americas. I certainly hope there will be more to follow. Great stuff. - Skif

Hola from El Salvador, home of central america's only shopping mall, the Pet Shop Boys' last remaining fan base and the 2007 Digicel Copa de Naciones! Basically, its the central american equivalent of our Euro Championships but with better weather and cheaper beer.

Possibly the world's most poorly publicised tournament, arriving in the capital San Salvador all I knew was that the tournament was being hosted in the city and that there were two stadiums. With my spanish vocabulary being limited to "please", "thank you", "beer" and "toilet" it was always going to be a struggle. On the taxi ride to the youth hostel we drove passed one of the stadiums so I pointed at the stadium and asked the taxi driver "Copa de Naciones?", "Hector Gonzalez" he replied. Thanks Hector.

On the morning of the opening day myself and Philippe from Argentina went on a quest for tickets. The Estadio Cuscatlan was a hive of activity and one of the security guards had made a big mistake- they'd left the player's entrance gate open. We casually strolled passed the armed guard and the press room and into the stadium. Luckily for us we'd stumbled upon the Costa Rica training session. Philippe got talking to a guy from a Costa Rican radio station about their prospects in the tournament. As the players left the field we got a few greeting nods but our friend from the press dragged the captain aside and said: "This is my friend from Argentina and this is my friend from England". With a firm handshake the captain cheerily said "Nice to meet you!". Unfortunately I have no idea of the man's name, although I did recognize him from the World Cup 2006 Panini sticker book- he was one of those players everyone had about 5 swaps of and nobody wanted.

And so to the opening games. With the Estadio Cuscatlan hosting all of the games, tonight's entertainment was to be Guatemala v Nicaragua followed by the main attraction El Salvador v Belize. Having paid the princely sum of US$2 for entrance to both games (they use US dollars here), our international entrage found ourselves in what was essentially a yellow and red striped bowl with seats for the privileged and concrete bleachers for the paupers. The Guatemala game passed as if it was merely the support act for the big El Salvador game. The only incident of note was a first half goal for Guatemala. An over enthusiastic backpass from a Nicaragua defender led to a corner, which was swung in and bundled over the line by Guatemala's finest.

It was almost as if the game was being played in the background as we found ourselves overwhelmed with the variety and value of refreshments available. Back in Blighty you´d invest half time in queing for a burger straight from the microwave. In El Salvador they have a barbeque at the front of the stand with people bringing food to your seat. Good quality burgers, chicken, ice creams, crisps, fresh fruit, all for no more than a dollar. Now thats hospitality!

The beer service had similar attributes: a man would be roaming the stand screaming "cerveca!"at the top of his voice whilst lugging a milk crate of warm flat beer around. If the more refined beer drinker wanted fresher, cheaper beer, you had to go down to the concourse to the man outside selling beer through a hole in the gate. He'd hand you a pint glass and pour beer through the hole, then you'd hand him a dollar bill. Just like beer through your letterbox.

As the Guatemala game dragged by, El Salvador fans were streaming in from all directions. In a quick paced action packed game our hosts saw off Belize 2-1 with smart play and tidy goals. Once again, it was almost as if the game was happening in the background due to the mayhem and chaos raining down around us. Naturally the atmosphere was electric: singing, chanting, drums, flares, flags, scarves, mexican waves and a motion that can only be described as the motion to 'row row your boat'. A floodlight failure caused restless fans to spark into the age old game of throw, in fact pelt, beer/food/water/anything disposable to hand at anyone not in an El Salvador shirt. This involved the passer by with poor fashion sense getting bombarded head to toe until removing their shirt to ironic cheering. Bizarrely, this was all good natured fun with the victim grinning and laughing at his misfortune.

Sitting in our group from the youth hostel of english, dutch, argentine, american, japanese and finnish friends we naturally looked completely out of place. This drew a mixed response from the crowd. Having all bought shirts, headbands and hats our enthusiastic support potentially drifted into satire. On the bad side of things Patrick from Washington DC was bombarded with water on his way to the toilet that cleaning products forgot, and you can't say you've lived until you've had 2000 people chant "arsehole" at you in spanish. Although it was all meant in good humour, I was glad of the four riot police armed to the teeth stood behind us.

We befriended the fans immediately around us, introduced ourselves and shared a few rounds of beer. They seemed intrigued as to what we doing there and were very welcoming. We'll see Oscar and Jose at the next game. Going to the toilet alone in this environment was always a cause for concern. I strolled down the stairs to shouts of "Gringo, gringo!" and replied by geeing up the crowd with "Salvador! Salvador! Salvador!". The international language of football had saved me this time.

The game finished and the fans left the stadium running for buses and taxis in a street where people were drifting about celebrating and cars reversing into bystanders. It was absolute mayhem but without a doubt the best $2 I've ever spent.

Adrian Lord

ADDENDUM (20feb07):

Just to let you know the mighty El Salvador got themselves into the semi final against Costa Rica but alas no further. The stadium was jammed with about 40,000+ people and they had to lock the gates to stop people getting in. Two quick Costa Rica goals early in the first half killed off the Salvador. The fans then got a bit restless and started throwing cups of piss at eachother and starting fires. Luckily we got out alive! In the final Costa Rica beat Panama on penalties having equalised at 1-1 with 5mins left. Awesome tournament, great memories.


Ben said...

A good read, that. Slight more exotic than my guestTread, it has to be said...

Anonymous said...

it was so cool i will go to a 2 dollars football game, a lot of fun for just 2 dollars!!