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el clasico del astillero

(July 2006)

Real Madrid – Barcelona (de Catalunya), Boca - River, Manchester United - Liverpool, Wycombe – Col U. Derby matches that attract the attention of the world for the passion and history of the tie. The Clasico del Astillero (Shipyard Classic) in Guayaquil may have passed under your radar but for the rival factions of Emelec and Barcelona (de Guayaquil), once the greatest teams in Ecuador, now both in a period of decline, these games draw out feelings that little else in life can match.

My girlfriend’s family are Barcelonistas and have tried their hardest to direct my soul in that direction. However, watching dismal performances in the immense but often near empty Estadio Monumental left me unaffected. Every time we drove down the wide and straight streets into the south of the city, I yearned to enter the Estadio George W. Capwell, which tucks itself between Avenues Quito and Juan Pío Montúfar in the heart of the city and a residential neighbourhood where people look out from open windows or sit around on corners under the concrete overhangs of the low rise buildings, confident that each day will pass much like the last.. The stands painted in the grey and blue of Emelec, rise up precipitously so that the stadium only actually occupies two blocks. And Emelec were the underdog. When 80% of Ecuadorians support Barcelona what difference does one more fan make to them?

So in 2006 when I returned to Guayaquil I was determined to make it to the Capwell for a match. And fate determined that the first match I could go to would be the one that would settle my loyalties; the Clasico, Emelec v Bareclona. On the Monday before the game I invited Francisco, my only Emelecista friend. He considered that to really experience the atmosphere, we should go in the general enclosure high up in the newly opened stand behind the goal at the Quito end, where the passion and furies of the Emelecistas erupt.

Tickets for general only went on sale at 9am on the Sunday, 9 hours before the start of the match. So at 8am on the day we turned up at the stadium and joined the line which was snaking around the corner from the sales windows. The queue didn’t seem too long or disorderly, but after the windows opened, more and more people started to push in further up and our progress was tortuously slow. The tiny police presence and total absence of officials from the club to monitor the line didn’t help. Some entertainment was provided by Barcelona fans crazy enough to walk past the queue in their yellow shirts. I saw four different men pass by and each was quickly surrounded, his shirt torn from his body and ripped into pieces. The first was allowed to continue with only a few taunts. By the time the fourth was spotted, a mob of thirty were ready to surround and threaten him and it required a policeman to get through and protect him.

As the queue neared the corner, people wrapped their arms around each other to form a single file human train which no-one could force into. But men and boys continued to come forward brandishing $6 and asking anyone to buy their ticket. Worse than this, around the sales windows themselves, a crowd was allowed to gather and push at the people who had made it to the windows, urging them to make extra purchases. By 11.45am, when I could see this clearly, we were agonisingly close – only twenty people separating us from the windows. Suddenly the few policemen disappeared and the crowd encroached further still. The tickets were all sold and they had closed the shutters with barely a whisper of explanation. We deliberated for fifteen minutes, then bowed to temptation and bought two tickets from a tout for $10. She was selling them for $8 at 9.30am but now she had a growing crowd around her as the news filtered back. In Ecuador she is only called a vendedor (seller). This is how it is done.

Feeling semi-satisfied, semi-deflated, we retreated from the scene and drove home to take another shower and to eat bolón (fried pork mixed with egg and plantain). At 2pm we caught a bus back down town. The streets were quiet and as close as a few blocks from the stadium it could almost have been a normal Sunday afternoon with just a few groups of fans around. But as we crossed Avenida Machala and looked beyond the police manned barriers onto Quito, we saw why –most fans were already in the long queues to enter.

We joined our line, about 8-men wide along a wall, with cavalry up ahead trying to push people into single file. The horses sweated with nervous energy and I felt a similar surge in my veins as I watched them. A moment later there was a rush from behind us and as we settled down I realised a photocopy of my passport wrapped around a dollar bill in my pocket had disappeared. I hadn’t even felt it. Fortunately my ticket was better protected and at least it heightened my awareness as we scrummaged for position against the wall. The police had things a little better organised now; as we reached the corner we were pushed forward in groups of ten, merging with another line on our right to get across the open street to the Platea Alta gate, protected and surveyed by a human barrier of armed police either side of us. At the gate we were literally thrust through, one attendant grabbing our tickets, two officers making a cursory attempt at a pat down that could only have located the largest and most obviously concealed weapons. And we were in.

With over three hours to go until kick off, the stand already seemed mostly full, although more fans continued to enter and search for space for at least another ninety minutes. Passing the first two stairwells we confronted a wall of bodies, already overflowing out of the terraces and jostling to get a prime position directly behind the goal. So we found a spot further along near the corner, almost in line with the cow shed where the Barcelona fans were incarcerated.

The Quito terrace was the steepest that I have watched a match from but cleverly layered so people could comfortably sit or stand and with a barrier in front of each concrete row which helped relieve some of the vertigo. The corners of the stadium have not been developed beyond providing the entrance and exit routes and a flat roof. The one below us was commandeered by the riot police who clambered up clumsily with their shields from the stair rails to catcalls and whistles. Much further down we could see the enemy running up and down their stand, only pausing to gesticulate at us. The Emelecistas responded in kind. Over to the right, where rows of suites rise straight up like the Bombonera of Boca Juniors, another yellow shirt was forcibly removed and scattered amongst the baying crowd below. On the pitch an Under 19’s match provided some entertainment but little quality. It finished 1-1, giving everyone in the stadium some hope and 45 minutes to work themselves up to the climatic moment when the teams would enter the arena.

Foolishly, I chose this moment to go out to the toilet, taking less than two minutes to ease down though the crowd and burst out onto the steps, then another twenty to get back in and find a way through the initial wall of men, packed like sardines. Eventually I used the banister to hoist myself up and into the melee, where the fans conceded enough space, grinning and clarifying it was, ‘only for tourism’ to let me squeeze back up to the top of the stand to rejoin Francisco.

As dusk descended on the city and a breeze moderated the heat, the songs got louder, the huge flags were waved more furiously, people jumped higher and worked themselves up, until at 5.50pm, the Emelec team emerged onto the pitch from their corner. Three sides of the stadium shuddered as passion burst forth. Everyone was moving, waving their shirts above their heads, setting off firecrackers which submerged us in a thick cloud. Others threw toilet rolls out, hoping they would make it through the netting that had been hung up to provide some sort of protection. In our corner most found their way through. But opposite, a wall of white paper blew from the netting and blocked the fans of the pitch by the second half. Drummers directed the songs. Y ya lo ve, y ya lo ve, es el equipo de Emelec.

When the smoke cleared, it seemed there was fifty people on the pitch. Interviewers, cameramen, photographers, management, officials and hangers-on accompanied the players. And this was only for Emelec. Barcelona only emerged at 6pm, to an equally passionate reception of firecrackers and toilet rolls but limited to their single tier.

As well as a city’s passion, the teams had more in common on this day. Emelec had been founded 77 years previously on 28th April, Barcelona would celebrate their 81st anniversary the following day, 1st May. Both were struggling in the league But while both sets of fans had performed to their maximum, when the game started the superiority of the blues was obvious. Emelec were more organised, aggressive and incisive. Playing a 4-1-3-2 formation, the Argentine forwards, Mondaini and Escalada worked hard to hold up the ball and were quickly supported by the midfield and backs. Barcelona’s forwards were closely marked and their slower moves were regularly broken down in midfield.

By half time Emelec were 2-0 up, with a goal from each forward set up by good wing play. After the first, the Sur Oscura, as the Barcelona faithful are known, responded to the outpouring of joy around them by urging on their side. After the second, they tried to do the same but with less self-belief. With fifteen minutes to contemplate matters at the break, a number decided to resort to destruction. They started to break down poles which held up the netting in front of them and set to work vandalising the toilets. The resumption of the game brought a brief respite, but after a further 6 minutes, enough time for Emelec to score a third and to have a player sent off for a dreadful tackle right in front of the Sur Oscura, the energy of the vandalism overtook that of the match. The linesman on that side was hit by a bottle, cutting his leg. The referee halted the game and the players stood in the middle of the pitch, watching, along with everyone else in the stadium, as the fans broke down more poles, hauled down the netting, threw bottles, dragged advertising boards into the enclosure and proceeded to break the windows of the press boxes behind them, forcing journalists to flee or take cover as their equipment was snatched. A friend of mine watching the match from that stand said the glass smashed and fell down like rain. Several people were injured.

Through this period the police stood in front of the stand, impotent, watching the chaos unfold, occasionally charging at the remaining railings to prevent fans getting up onto the pitch, but really only boosting the vandal’s confidence as they realised they had free rein within the stand. The few police who had initially been posted inside had disappeared. The rampage lasted 45 minutes until some Emelec fans somewhere below us set off a series of fireworks aimed directly into the Barcelona enclosure. The effect was a mass panic as people rushed towards the far end to get out of range. Several people were injured, but surprisingly few considering the number of fireworks I saw explode on the terraces. The positive effect was that the mob were divided. At this point the police entered and charged down the fans. A few were arrested. Most were herded out of the stadium and onto the streets where more vandalism ensued.

Apart from those who let off the fireworks, the Emelecistas, the Boca del Pozo, remained reasonably calm, waiting with hope for the game to resume, but exiting sensibly when it was abandoned. A decision had been made to play the final 39 minutes the following day at 12pm behind closed doors. This seemed such an injustice that I could bearly believe Barcelona would have the temerity to turn up and contest the match. Not only did they turn up, they pulled back two goals. Emelec had a further two men sent off and with twelve minutes left, more goals seemed certain. But the remaining eight azules held on, against some abject attacking, for victory. Without the fans, however, the football seemed totally insignificant.

After this my destiny as an Emelecista was sealed although I still feel guilty in front of my parents-in-law and I’ll probably let them tempt my son to the dark side in recompense.


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