Our brief stop in the Chilean capital has been, like our stays in BA and Montevideo, action-packed, educational and utterly unforgettable. Once again, we’ve been shown kindness and hospitality that has done enough to restore my faith in the human capacity to evolve on a social level. Well, almost.
We arrived in the smoggy capital on Thursday 11thearly doors, checked-in to our apartment and went for a walk around the barrio of Providencia which is where I used to live. Memories came flooding back and I had one of those moments where I asked myself, ‘where the F did 7 years go’? I think it’s the first time in my life I realised I’m not immortal and an existential crisis seemed pending.
I managed to avert a journey down a philosophical hellhole by throwing myself into work. Thursday afternoon and evening meant contacting people and arranging interviews whilst Mike cracked on with sorting through the 100s of videos and photos we’d taken in BA and Montevideo.
Thanks to our Argentinian friend Romina we had a contact. I left a message with Waleska Fuchschlocher who replied more or less instantly and invited us to come and spend some time with her at her office. Her place of work turned out to be the ANFP – Chile’s FA and we’d managed to score an interview at its headquarters. Unexpected and most welcomed.
Thanks to our Uruguayan amigo Agustin we had another contact. I arranged for us to meet with Union Española superfan Pato Hidalgo the following day. And what a day Friday turned out to be.
We met with Waleska who gave us a tour of the HQ where an U17 Chilean club tournament happened to be taking place. We got to chat with the coach of O’Higgins, a side based in the city of Rancagua just outside of Santiago. Fernando Vergara told us about how O’Higgins are revolutionising the recruitment of young players in the country and how his teams had played against Newcastle sides at the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland 3 times (2 victories for NUFC and 1 for O’Higgins). To think the lads we were watching were at most 17 was pretty frightening. Absolute giants.
We spoke at length with Waleska for a podcast and video and learnt about her fascinating career, what inspired her to push ahead in football during an era in which it was thought inappropriate and not the done thing for a young girl to play the game, how she’s been the driving force behind changes at the FA and what she thinks of the current Chilean national team and club game. An absolute driving force of a human being.
We rushed back to the city centre for an afternoon meeting with Pato. Over chips and beer we discussed his thoughts on the game and his love for his team. It was interesting to here his comments on how the game is run and being developed in the country as they certainly offered a different perspective to what we head from Waleska.
As luck would have it Pato’s team had a cup game the following evening that we decided we’d go to. Pato couldn’t make it due to it being his wife’s birthday but he put us in touch with his mates who would be going. He also casually mentioned that a mate of his who owns a bookshop is a football historian who wrote a chronicle on the Robledo Brothers for a major national newspaper a while back…..
He gave his mate Francisco Mouat a buzz and within 30 minutes we were legging it to the other side of the barrio to meet with this man. And what a meeting it turned out to be. Not only was Francisco engaging, intelligent and warm, he also did a reading of the chronicle for us in the bookshop. This was recorded on video and, once it’s been edited with subtitles, is well worth a watch. A truly beautiful experience.
Friday night saw us go for a few pints with a TF Patreon subscriber. Andy is a Santiago resident of 5 years and the opportunity to meet and talk with him was a genuine thrill. Meeting a Patreon on the other side of the world to discuss just how shite NUFC is right now was hugely enjoyable and not something I ever envisaged doing.
Thanks to Waleska, via a couple of other people, we managed to secure a meeting early Saturday morning at Colo Colo’s Estadio Monumental with Pavel Piña, Colo Colo fan and a fans liaison officer, and Sebastian Salinas, fan and historian.
These 2 got us access to the stadium where we got to record a chat about the Club’s history, what it means to fans and Chile as a whole, and we got the full lowdown on George Robledo. It turns out that his impact on the Chilean game was huge and he is considered one of the country’s best of all time. There are photos of him in the museum and, incredibly, Pavel brought a load of his memorabilia with him which included the original contract he signed with the Club, amongst other items such as photos, magazines and the present given to him when he first signed for the club.
The stadium itself must have one of the most spectacular backdrops of any in the world. The snow-capped Andes mountains in the distance really make for one surreal view. If the match is miserable then I think it’d be easy to spend 90 odd minutes just staring at them.
We left Colo Colo around 1230, rushed back into town and recorded a podcast, ate and then headed over to Union Española’s San Laura stadium for the cup quarter final match against Deportivo Valdivia.
As we were entering the Stadium I spotted a bloke across the road. That bloke was Pato who’d negotiated with his wife to attend the match as he wanted to be there with us. What a man.
The stadium is aesthetically pleasing and again has views of mountains as a backdrop. With the sun going down as the match started it made for one of the most dramatic looking kick-offs I’ve ever seen. Pato’s mates were absolutely bang on and the fans throughout shouted some of the funniest/disturbing insults I’ve ever heard at a game. I shit on your mother being one it’ll take a while to forget. The game itself was a dour 0-0 draw but did contain some fairly spectacular violence. Why anyone in Chile would choose to be a referee is beyond me.
We knew we had to get up at 0430 for an early flight to Brazil the next morning but Pato invited us back to his place for a post-game drink. How could we say no? A couple of bottles of wine were shared and both he and his wife Catalina showed so much generosity. Although the mild hangover didn’t help our patience in the taxi to the airport at 0530 in the morning when the taxi driver asked us questions such as ‘how did the English invent football’ and ‘why do Americans speak English’?
Every person we met with made these 3 days surpass our expectations. I left Chile in 2012 with a few demons. They’ve duly been exercised thanks to the power and kindness of football fans.