“It’s Still Better than Wrigley”

These were my first words as I walked in to the home field of Xela’s professional futbol club, Xelaju. For some context, keep in mind that the area beneath the stands is entirely unpaved, the vendors were local families (wo)manning a grill, and we couldn’t find a beer stand anywhere. Anna and I wandered up the concrete grandstand (with Anna avoiding the stares of the incredulous local men*) and found what we thought were great seats directly centered behind the southern goal about half-way up. Little did we know that our seats came with free non-futbol entertainment!

* The audience was about 95/5% men.

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During our last two weeks, we have heard that Xelaju’s fans have a bit of a reputation as being just a touch overzealous. None of this is confirmed, but rumor has it that some teams refuse to play Xelaju here because of previous incidents in the stands and on the pitch and because Xelaju is reportedly Guatemala’s version of the Chicago Cubs so it isn’t worth it for some clubs. Without exaggeration, I have heard the Cubs comparison more than twice. Xelaju’s opponent that night was a team from northern Guatemala that nobody thought too much about before the game. That changed during the course of this northern team’s 3-1 victory, and our knowledge of Spanish curses increased as Xelaju fell farther behind. The score of the game was unimportant because we had these guys to keep us entirely entertained:

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We sat about 5 feet away from Xelaju’s superfan section. They banged on huge drums, blared trumpets, strangled their noisemakers, and sang for the entire game. They didn’t even stop singing during Xelaju’s only goal! Take that, Ronny Woo Woo. Oh, and they lit fireworks in the stands, too.

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Kind of like Wrigley, the food options were less than good. You could have eaten food from the grills below the stadium (hello parasites!), bought what looked like pork rinds from a guy wandering the stands with bags of them, gotten gum or candy from what looked like a ten-year-old girl vendor, or drank hot pineapple juice (it was cold that night). They offered some familiar food as well:

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They also had one beer vendor for the entire section. He was just a guy walking around in jeans and a black sweater taking orders for beer by the liter, then returning with your beer from god only knows where. Even we have to admit that Wrigley’s beer situation is far better.

During the latter stages of the second half, a cameraman showed up from the local tv station. By this time, we had found two of our female friends from the Spanish school in the stands and were sitting with them. Without saying a word, this guy jammed his camera in the faces of Anna and the other two women for what must have been about a minute and a half, then just wandered off. He must have been working for the Guatemalan version of WGN, making the ladies that night’s WGN girls! I was so proud. We later found out from our teachers that the ladies were indeed part of the broadcast. Pun very much intended.

With all of the visible and audible enthusiasm these fans showed, it felt a bit like an NFL game in the U.S., except that they do this twice a week for months. Hat tip to you, Xelaju fans. Good show.

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