Posted by: powellpjc | February 3, 2009

Dragons in the Desert.

Iquique Dragon supporters

Iquique Dragon supporters

 

In December, 2008, the soccer team from Iquique, the Celestial Dragons, won a couple of big games and thus advanced to the first division of Chilean soccer, la Primera Division. There was no rioting that night but the streets were full of honking cars, trucks and buses until three in the morning. And the deciding game was played 2,000 km from here.

This year the season started today, February 1st, for the Dragons in their home stadium here in Iquique, the Estadio Tierra de Campeones and I was keen to go to the game. I know nothing about soccer. Of course, it’s called football in these parts of the world and it is on TV all day, every day. I saw the ad for the game in the local rag and asked a taxista what time to get there and also, if they sold beer. The taxi driver said it would be no trouble buying a ticket—just get there a little early—and no, they don’t sell beer.

The day, like all others here on the northern coast of Chile, was hot and sunny. From the balcony of my apartment I could see the cheap seats of the stadium jammed with supporters. Perhaps there were earlier festivities.

I took a cab and arrived at the stadium at 3 o’clock. The game started at 4. That is, I got to within two blocks of the downtown stadium when I was told to leave the cab. The streets for blocks around the playing site were closed off with steel barricades manned by glum police. I asked a policeman where to buy the tickets. He shrugged his shoulder and told me to follow the people but there are no tickets. Kind of an ambivalent answer. I went to the nearest gate. There were about as many policemen on watch as fans trying to get in. Ticket sales had long since closed seeing as there were no tickets left for sale. The end zone seats were overflowing with noisy fans, fireworks and railway flares.

Fans and fireworks

Fans and fireworks

 

The police were attentive and numerous. One cop said there were 1,000 on duty around the stadium and another estimated 200. I’d say the figure was close to 500.

 

Carabinieros on caballos

Carabinieros on caballos

 

Cops on every corner

Cops on every corner

They were in cars parked at the intersections; on foot in the intersections; on motorcycles; on horseback; at every gate dressed in combat fatigues; lounging in the riot wagons and the hard workers were dressed in riot gear patted down everyone that entered the playing grounds.

Copping a feel.

Copping a feel.

 

No booze on sale inside and don’t try and bring your own.

 

And don't mess with me

Don't mess with me.

A shout from two motorcycle cops and four mounted carabinieros took off at a gallop, their whips whipping.

Horse-whipping

Horse-whipping

 

A few moments of shouting, dusty pushing and shoving—all accompanied by the hooting jeers of the crowd—and four hooligans were smartly shipped off to detention before the teams took to the field. This looked like fun.

I tried to get a ticket from a scalper. I knew there were scalpers from the disorganized cluster of eager fans crowding around a single person, the scrum constantly shifting with the pushing and shoving, the folded bills of money raised high in the air. The police didn’t care. I couldn’t get close to the first guy before he sold out. I waited for another bait ball to form. This time it was a woman. She took money with one hand and dispensed tickets from her purse with her other. She was a pro and kept the maniacs around her in order. Best I can tell, she was charging $40 for a $6 ticket. Fair enough. I pushed my way in, waving my money but I didn’t stand a chance. I was a spectator and I was competing with real fanatics. I took pictures of the swarm instead.

The Scalper's bait ball

The Scalper's bait ball

 

The fast money

The fast money

 

I did a complete circuit of the ballpark but no luck. Bored policemen and no entry.

A proper riot wagon locomotive

A proper riot wagon locomotive

 The national anthem was played and the noise level rose. I decided to go to a downtown hotel to watch the game. The walk on the sidewalk was a deathly contrast to the frenzied tension of the stadium neighborhood.

 

The hotel bar didn’t show the game. It was only on a local cable service. The hometown ‘Celestials’ lost the game convincingly, 4-0 and the streets were quiet last night.

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