El Clásico Soccer Rivalry – Medellín versus Nacional

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and it is good to see that the popularity of soccer has grown substantially in the U.S. over the last 20 years. Major League Soccer (MLS) now has 20 teams, and 4 more teams will be added by 2020 … and incredibly, most of these teams play in their own soccer-specific stadiums.

People in Spanish-speaking countries are mad about soccer, or fútbol as it is known here. I often see groups of kids playing spontaneous games of soccer in the street or anywhere they can find space, and weekly adult leagues are very popular.

There are more than a few classic rivalry games in professional soccer, such as Barcelona versus Real Madrid in Spain, and Boca Juniors versus River Plate in Argentina. In Colombia the most prominent rivalry game is known as “El Clásico” and it is a fierce battle between Atlético Nacional and Deportivo Independiente Medellín (DIM), two teams that share the same stadium here in Medellín. Even the team colors are part of this rivalry, for this game is also known as the Reds (Medellín) versus the Greens (Nacional).

Tomorrow March 20th at 3:15 PM is the next installment of El Clásico, and I am fortunate to have a ticket because the game (as usual) is sold-out. It should be a raucous affair.

But who should I root for?

I am just a visitor here for a few months, and if the game was Medellín versus the capital Bogotá, it would be easy to choose because I would root for the local team. But with both teams based in Medellín and sharing the same stadium, how do I choose? Or should I choose?

Neutrality is not an easy option … just ask the people of New York where both the New York Jets and the New York Giants share MetLife Stadium, which strangely enough is not in New York but in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Do the fine people of New Jersey even want New Yorkers rooting for their teams on Jersey soil?

One of my adult English students told me that virtually everyone in Marinilla supports the Green Team Atlético Nacional, so in order to bond with my students I went ahead and bought a white and Green Nacional t-shirt for me and a Green ball cap for my lovely wife. The next day I told my class about my purchases thinking that everyone would be excited, and to my disappointment I discovered that more than a few students as well as my best friend here are fans of the Red Team Medellín. I felt a bit snookered by my student who convinced me to go Green, however I don’t fault him because I am sure that he only sees Green.

Should I let the Universe decide who I root for? I actually bought my ticket from a scalper because when I arrived at the stadium I discovered that the game was sold-out, and the scalper had strategically placed himself within sight of the ticket office. As I walked away I noticed that the scalper was gesturing for me to come to him … I knew immediately what he was selling, and since I was disappointed not to have a ticket, I thought that I would at least listen to his prices.

I knew enough about the stadium to know that the “orient” (or East) section was in semi-neutral ground between the fanatical opposite ends of the stadium, however the scalper’s starting price for a ticket in this section was probably 3 times the already high face value so I did not even bother to negotiate for this ticket. At the time I did not know which fans sat in the North part of the stadium and which fans sat in the South, and I don’t think there is a West section because I think the fan sections wrap around toward the middle where during this game the Colombian National Police have dozens of officers stationed to form a barrier between the respective fan sections. So, I began my negotiation with the scalper for a ticket in Norte General, the North section of the stadium where there are no assigned seats and probably bedlam regardless of which set of fans sits there.

The scalper kept looking warily at the ticket office as he pulled the “stash” of tickets from his pocket, and I can’t deny that I felt a little surge of excitement as we began to do a little deal. Another gentleman even moved in close to watch the deal unfold. We went back and forth on the negotiations, and at least 4 times I tried to end the discussion and walk away. Each time he would re-start the conversation with a new lower price … on hindsight, I probably could have kept walking away until I got the ticket for near face-value. But I knew the game we were playing, and my attempts to walk away were just my ploy to drive down the price a little. We started at 50,000 pesos and finally settled on 36,000 pesos (about $12 USD), which was a little less than double the face value of 22,000 pesos. (FYI, I’ve been told that the average taxi driver in Medellín makes about 80,000 pesos a day, which is about double the minimum wage here in Colombia).

With ticket in hand I still did not know with which fans I would be sitting … and later I discovered that the Green Nacional fans are known as Los Del Sur, or “Those of the South” part of the stadium, and thus I would be sitting with the Red “Rexixtenxia Norte” Medellín fans. I have no idea what “rexixtenxia” means because it is not a Spanish word, but my hunch is that it comes from “resistencia” which means resistance.

Thus, tomorrow I will be sitting with the Red North Resistance … and I probably should not wear my Green Nacional t-shirt. That’s a bummer too because I really like this shirt – on the front the Spanish is translated as, “I am Green, I am Happy.” So, it looks like I’ll have to buy a Red Medellín shirt as well. What do you get when you mix Green and Red?