Costa Rica Soccer – Football Frenzy Tico Style

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death.
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
– Bill Shankly

We have a day to kill in Costa Rica’s capital before heading to the coast, so we decide to take in a local football match. There is a game between two of San Jose’s suburbs, Alajuela and Heredia. We take a local bus to the stadium and buy a couple of bleacher tickets. Before entering the gate, a security officer points to my water bottle and says something in Spanish. “Agua” I say, assuming he thinks I’m trying to smuggle alcohol into the stadium. But, he insists I hand it over, pours the contents into a sandwich bag, sticks a plastic straw in it, throws the empty bottle in a trashcan, and hands me the bag. I realize the idea isn’t to prevent people from bringing alcohol onto the premises, but to disarm fans of any potential projectiles.

The scene inside the stadium is pandemonium. A chain-link fence encompasses the soccer pitch; everyone is shouting and yelling; the crowd behind one of the goals is chanting, singing, and bouncing up and down; and the players haven’t even taken the field yet. The stadium erupts when a goal is scored. The bouncing turns to jumping, the crowd becomes frenzied, and the fence separating the field from the stands is rushed. Some are trying to climb over it, while others shake it violently. From the other side, police crack knuckles and jab stomachs through the fence with their nightsticks. When play resumes, so does the more subdued chaos.

It Must Have Been The Hoodlum Drink

At half time, a good part of the mob descends upon the convenience store across the street from the stadium, and proceeds to consume all its beer. Another part of the mob hits the concession stands, which has now opened for business. Back home, there is no re-entry to sporting events, and alcohol sales shut down about ¾ of the way through a game. In Costa Rica, quite the opposite transpires. They don’t want you to get drunk in the stadium, but don’t really care about the condition you’re in when you leave it. When the game ends, the field is littered with everything that made it through the security check, and the crowd starts thinning out.

Outside on the street, a group of visiting fans has gathered and are exchanging pleasantries and expletives with some local fans still in the stands. It is “puta” this and “madre” that. When they tire of hurling insults at each other, they start hurling rocks at each other. Within minutes, pieces of concrete are flying through the air. Two groups of locals succeed in cornering the visiting fans by charging them from both sides of the stadium. That’s when the riot police show up, which is our cue to leave.

Costa Rica Soccer Shenanigans

On our way to the bus stop, we watch as some people are dragged into waiting paddy-wagons while others are escorted into ambulances, clutching blood-soaked bandages to their heads and other parts of their bodies. We can’t say if our intense introduction to Costa Rica soccer matches was indicative of the norm, but can only wonder what the atmosphere must be like come playoff time.


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