The Passion of Cienciano

We all know that football in North America is still outside the mainstream of sports. Yet in all MLS and USL cities we can find passionate, hard core supporters who never miss a minute of action, never stop singing and with every kick of the ball feel they are just as involved as the players on the pitch. Those supporters are just as devoted to their clubs as anyone in London, Buenos Aires or Istanbul. What we in North America are missing is that same level of passion throughout the stadium. I was hoping to experience that Wednesday night in Peru.

Peru

I’ve abandoned my comfy seat at Toronto’s BMO field this season for a year of travel and hopefully several football matches worldwide. Having never seen a match outside of North America I almost feel like I’ve been missing out on something. This week finds me in Cuzco, Peru and as luck would have it just in time for Wednesday’s Copa Libertadores match involving local club Cienciano and Brazilian giants Flamengo.

I actually had no idea this match was even happening, even though I’m always online trying to find a match occurring in a city that I may be passing through. I’m travelling with Jordana, fellow TFC supporter, footie freak and my wife. We spent the last few days out of contact with the world while visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu. As we left our hotel Wednesday morning we immediately noticed on every block people selling some sort of tickets: usually it’s lottery tickets here in Latin America. As we settled in for breakfast we noticed the entire staff wearing Cienciano jerseys. Outside people sold flags, hats and shirts all with the double C of Cienciano. A man stood near the entrance of the cafe yelling out, “Occidente! Oriental! Norte! Sur!” He was selling tickets for the four sections of the stadium. I approached and inquired how much and who was playing. He seemed a bit shocked I didn’t know Flamengo was in town and the importance of this group match. After looking through some tickets I choose the Occidental or west end. For less than the price of a beer at BMO Field ($10) we had tickets to the match.

As the day wore on you could feel the buzz in the city. A parade of Cienciano supporters with full band marched their way to the stadium at 3pm, even though kick off wasn’t until 8pm. We hailed a taxi and arrived at the stadium to find all the surrounding streets closed to traffic. Cars had been replaced with rows of souvenirs that lined the streets. We lined up to enter the stadium and were both surprised at the lack of security. It seemed if you hid something (a bottle of whiskey) then you were in the clear, if you carried it than you had to toss it.

Peru

Walking up the ramp to our seats I was immediately struck by the energy already present in the stadium and the fact that with over one hour to game time the entire 42,000 seat stadium was full. I have never experienced anything like this before. We both confusingly looked up to our section for seats. Seating here is unassigned and there was not an open spot to be seen. We figured we would walk to the back of the section and maybe stand there. People even sat on the stairs leading up to the seats. It was quite evident this match was way oversold. Finally we found a spot standing next to the National Police. The officer next to myself was a very friendly guy. I wasn’t sure whether I felt safer when he told me, “Don’t worry, you are safe here. We are all police.” Were we not safe elsewhere in the stadium? He was in charge of security for Flamengo and was quite curious to know about MLS. The only team he had heard of was D.C. United. “I know D.C. United. They are best in your league, No?”

The buzz in the stadium grew as game time approached. As Cienciano entered the pitch I got chills listening to the roar of the crowd. In the North end the main Cienciano supporters group, Furia Roja lit bright red flares. In the south end a smaller group lit flares and smoke bombs, and throughout the stadium fireworks were shot in the air with streamers raining down.

Flares for Cienciano

Even though Cienciano outplayed Flamengo in the first half there was no score. I was actually quite surprised the crowd wasn’t more vocal. Outside of the Furia Roja, some Flamengo supporters and some other small groups nobody sang all that much. To be honest it wasn’t all that different than an MLS crowd.

Of course, there were differences. The entire crowd was separated from the pitch by a tall barbed wire topped fence. Every time Flamengo took a corner, riot police with shields would run over to protect the player from a rain of debris. The other main difference was that though most of the crowd may not have sang every song and screamed every chant, I’ve still never seen a more passionate bunch at a match before. If Flamengo took possession, the stadium filled with a deafening whistling. When they crossed over half women would scream as if someone had just stolen their baby. It was if they could feel pain every time Flamengo neared the Cienciano goal. Men and boys screamed at the ref, screamed for a goal and twisted their bodies while pulling out their hair with every missed opportunity. Even the police officers next to us were loudly involved: they tried to keep straight faces but as the match wore on they were involved as much as any other fan. Soon I was pulling for the underdog Cienciano as well.

All that energy and passion quickly came to an end as Flamengo dominated the 2nd half. They scored three times and clearly showed they were the superior club. The Cienciano supporters now sat quietly as they watched their frustrated club outplayed.

As uncomfortably crowded as the stadium was, it was an amazing sight to see. Over 42,000 people literally sitting upon each other to watch their beloved club. There was no music, gimmicks or halftime show. Back home at BMO field I know we have a large group of truly dedicated fans, but I also know that many people are there for the show. Its become a trendy weekend outing. Outside of the few other tourists we spotted, this crowd was here for football. Nobody lined up for overpriced beers or foot-long hot dogs. They watched 93 minutes of football as if the result would somehow affect their own lives.


9 thoughts on “The Passion of Cienciano

  1. Angelo

    great post. this is what american fans need to see. im brasilian (and hate flamengo) but as a fan of Atletico Mineiro and going to the games, there is NO seats, over there its gates. so you could wherever you want in a section. outside the stadium, there are ppl selling tickets, maybe some drunk ppl hanging around, and the police inspecting everyone before entering the stadium (Mineirao). at halftime, before the game, and after, there are no pa speakers. no music, no festivities (only if its a championship game) and i know why, its not needed there. ppl of all ages scream at the ref, theres a Natural reaction when a goal is scored in the fans, and thats why it gets so loud when goals happen around here. the mls fans are Missing the Natural sense of when theres a goal, you erupt into a million pieces and scream your heart out. sometimes in the usa, theres a goal, and all you hear is “yeah” then a few claps 2 seconds later. i think the love and passion for mls clubs needs to be enforced to make great fans. unfortunatly, flares and flags are not allowed b/c we make homemade flags and sometimes you the bamboo stick to fight with other fans, but, if you want to see a real rivalry, head to belo horizonte (state:minas gerais) and see Atletico Mineiro vs. Cruzeiro. they both share the same stadium and they seperate the fan supporters in half & the police is in the middle. there is currently a Campeonato Mineiro (state championship) going on and atletico mineiro and cruzeiro are both in the semi finals, its likely that both rivals will head to the finals which is held in may. send an email if more information is wanted. great post, and dont hesitate to go to games in the brasil. theyre currently in state championships. peace !

  2. Micah

    You can’t go wrong with a hopping mad atmosphere. But I’m still suprised that people fail to grasp that North America simply does not have the same sporting culture as the other continents. It’s not that people don’t support their favorite clubs it’s just that we’re more laid back when it comes to sports.

  3. Matth

    I don’t know about that, Micah. We Chicagoans are pretty hardcore with the Bears. And the Cubs. We might not kill people, and we might not go so absurdly hog wild while in the stadium itself, but I’ve definitely been to viewing parties with enough passion to fill a Kop or two.

    What we do not have, however, is the seamless transition from supporting a local club to supporting the nation on the international stage, which is present in soccer.

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  5. Robert

    Michael, you almost feel like you’re missing out on something? Let me tell you . . . .you are missing out on a whole lot; namely, the very essence of this great game of ours.

    I read your piece with great interest having just got back from a ten day jaunt abroad watching my favourite game in my favourite country . . . Mexico.
    The article reveals more than you realise about the very topic uppermost in your mind. Passion. It reveals how tenuous is your affiliation to football. It reveals how much further you have to travel in your journey before you reach an understanding of the passion the game generates in the hearts of millions of followers worldwide.

    You talk of “a year of travel and hopefully several football matches worldwide”. Several matches? Come on man! My understanding of “several” is, at best, five or six. So you mean to tell me you’re going to travel the world for 365 days and to satisfy your thirst for football you plan to take in five or six games? What are you going to do the rest of the time? Museums, cathedrals? Get a grip!

    I was in Mexico for ten days and saw 7 games. And that was without busting a gut; without racing around making last minute connections. For a fanatic with a lifelong passion that amounted to a leisurely stroll. Jeez, I even had 4 days off! What was I thinking of? I should point out though that on one of those days off I spent six hours in a queue for tickets for game 7. That’s passion.

    How could you possibly have had “no idea this match was even happening, even though I’m always online trying to find a match occurring in a city that I may be passing through”. Just how hard do you try? This was a Copa Libertadores match you saw not some kickabout for high school girls. Do you know what that means? Copa Libertadores! Say it like it is. COPA LIBERTADORES! The words have more power than a wizard’s spell. When your time comes, whisper them to St Peter and he’ll wave you straight through! What sites were you looking at as you hunted exhaustively for news of upcoming fixtures? NFL.com ? CNN? Oprah.com ?
    Search for “copa libertadores” and you have dozens of sites to choose from. It’s all there. Hell, some of them are even in English.

    You got lucky and I’m pleased for you. The game just happened to coincide with your visit to the city and you could hardly have seen a bigger game, at the group stages at least. Me, I had to do some work, to put in several hours of research on the net but it paid off. I found there were two consecutive days when Guadalajara played host to two of the legendary names of South American football. First came Boca Juniors, with Maradona in tow as special guest, to play Atlas. No sooner had the beer cartons and peanut shells been swept away than Santos swaggered into the Estadio Jalisco. Guadalajara really was the place to be because this time Pele was on hand to lend his support to his former team against local opposition in the form of top Mexican side Chivas. Just like the Argentinians 24 hours earlier, Santos too were left to make their way home with their tails between their legs, their hopes dented by defeat. But Pele will have enjoyed his trip having been serenaded at half time by thousands of Mexicans who have a special place in their hearts for a man who took football to another level with his skill and spread the message of “the beautiful game” worldwide.
    Worldwide, Michael. You hear that? As you gallivant around the globe you’re going to find people everywhere you go who are in love with football, who depend upon football to lift them up out of their gloom, their poverty, their hopelessness. Sure, some of them will tell you about how they stayed up till the early hours to watch last year’s Superbowl but that’s an occasion they think about one day a year. Football, as the rest of the world understands it, is on their minds every day. It’s a language you can use to make friends everywhere you go.

    You say the most when you close with the line “as if the result would somehow affect their own lives”. Oh Michael, you just don’t get it! It DOES affect their lives. For many of them, rightly or wrongly, football IS their lives. That’s how passion shows itself. When someone spends all week looking forward to the game and, the moment that one ends, to the one after that and so on and so on, that’s passion. When a fan’s mood and indeed their very well being, is determined by the results of the team they follow, that’s passion. Football is a generally peaceful alternative to war. How could we prove we are better than our neighbours, our rivals, our enemies, if it weren’t for football? We’d have to take up arms. We’d have to break some heads, we’d have to launch an invasion, we’d have to fire a few missiles. Let’s do it on the football field instead where the winner is crowned with glory and the loser gets to fight another day.

    I envy you Michael. You have so much to look forward to. So many new football experiences. And the best bit is that with every one you will be drawn closer to the game and your love for it will increase until the time comes when you can’t live without it. That’s passion.

  6. Meester

    One of the best things about Cienciano is that they have beaten both River Plate (Copa Sudamericana final 2003) and then Boca (Recopa Sudamericana 2004). Upa Upa U-pa-pa!!! So if you find yourself in a taxi in Buenos Aires, feel free to mention to the cabbie that Cienciano is your favorite team. If the cabbie doesn’t start driving fast and acting like a jerk, he will likely say something like “yeah, but they won on penales…..”

  7. Amiga SWOS

    That must have been a very special experience Michael, thanks for sharing and for the great photos, i think it captures some of the passion Robert is talking about!
    I saw Cienciano – River on tv, doesnt feel so long ago. if i remember right their stadium is located in high altitude, River didnt play well and lost that game. 3-0 or 3-1..

    You really lucky to have seen a match like this..i have a dream to travel to South America some day and see lots of football, Boca for sure!

  8. TONY VALLESCAS

    I went once to Peru and saw a Copa Libertadores match. I was amazed watching Universitario’s main supporter’s group named Trinchera “U”. the stadium was buzzing. They lit lots of flares, the conffetti stained the four galleries, thousands of balloons when the team appeared. It was amazing. When Universitario scored the chills were defeaning. It was an unforgettable experience and I became one more Universitario fan.

  9. juan

    It’s nice to hear this report since fans get really hardcore in south america from the heights of quito to the coasts of rio de janeiro and buenos aires, Copa Libertadores is a tournament every american club from mexico to argentina dream of winning and it’s a survival test of the teams and how far they can get.
    Also copa libertadores is well known for the fans of the teams, those “hinchadas” or hardcore fans get really wild from lightinf flares to fireworks confetti streamers and smoke bombs, when you get the chance to catch a game from the round of 16 upwards the stadiums are easily filled to capacity with flags of country and the team, flares, streamers or anyway the home fans decide to receive and celebrate since the sport of soccer in south ameirica means joy…
    I had the chance to experience this in the final of the past copa libertadores 2008 when my team Liga De Quito received Fluminense from brasil, it was the third time an ecuadorian team went to the finals and if they won (which they did) they would be the first ecuadorian team to win. The way the people from the city of quito received the stadium in seconds literally filled itself of paper falling from up high while fireworks in the sky and flares lighting up the stands, while the game went on Quito fans were singing and chanting for the home club Liga because of this huge support Liga managed to beat Fluminense 4-2 and went to brasil with a 2 goal advantage to face the second leg in brasil where it was decided by penalties and Liga won.
    The message is south american people love soccer and have true passon for their teams and show it by receiving them the best way they can, that’s why they make soccer and copa libertadores a true woth watching experience