Friday, April 12, 2013

Foreign Football in Cali and the founding of Aston Huila!

I recall living abroad for the first time in Chile 5 years ago.  One of things I missed most about  life in England was having a regular game of football with a group of mates, an event to get together every week, do some exercise and share a few jokes and beers afterwards.  I felt the same sentiment when I started living in Colombia, and it took me a year and a half in Cali to find a good group of guys who invited me along for a kick about.  The crew I stumbled across were a mix of foreign teachers and a rag bag bunch of Colombians from all walks of life, some of whom have been playing together in the same place, at the same time, more or less every week for the past 8 years.  Obviously some faces have come and gone due to moving jobs, changing girlfriends and the like, but the tradition lives on and we meet every Friday, at around 6pm, for a game of 5 or 6 a side, on top of a multi-storey supermarket car park, with a view of Cali and in the shadow of the towering Andes.

The two teams that kick off are generally comprised of foreign transfers, it could be said, with a few homegrown Colombian talents who've managed to penetrate their way into the first team.  The quality of the game varies and niggling injuries persist, backs crack here and knees creak there, but we normally play for at least an hour, sometimes running up a rugby score with a few 'Golazos' in the process, but then always sitting down for a few beers and a good catch up afterwards.  Post match rumours have occasionally circulated about possible 11-a-side games and potential opponents, but it has taken until last Saturday for a full sided game to be arranged on a good quality pitch, with kits, opponents and, the hardest bit, our own 11 players!

Pre-Game Team Talk
'Captain' John Driscoll, who christened us 'Aston Huila,' did the lion's share of organisation, sending the team out by facebook, buying the oranges and even arranging a fake German away kit to wear, with a few pairs of accompanying Liverpool shorts, raising eyebrows amongst certain team members.  The venue was Deportivo Cali's training complex, in the south of the city and on the edge of the Cordillera mountains, which comes complete with a few pitches, pool, steam room, gym and even a bar and restaurant.  Our opposing team were all big 'Cali' fans with the relevant club membership to play at such a place, which is how we got the invitation to come along, otherwise there's no way we would have got the chance to show our skills (!) in such extravagant surroundings.

Being the first time most of us had ever played 11-a-side football together, as well as with the game taking place in Cali's suppressing afternoon heat, we didn't exactly have expectations of a possession, pressing based 'tiki-taka' style of play รก la Barcelona, but we thought that with our virtues of organisation, communication and team spirit, as well as a few skillful players dotted around the team, we might be able to spring an upset on the Colombians.  However, like everything in life, preparation is paramount.  The star striker got lucky on his big Friday night on the town, with inevitable consequences, the intended left back couldn't make it due to his own toilet committments and the right back, myself, had barely eaten for the previous 2 days due to stomach problems of my own, as well as one centre back only just passing a late fitness test on his back.  All in all, not great and when we saw the size of the pitch we were going to play on, our childlike enthusiasm was replaced with a less gung-ho attitude, based around the need for energy conservation and maximising substitutions.

Being punctual foreigners we arrived one hour early, but being Colombia, the game was of course slightly delayed due to the referee's late arrival.  Eventually at about 3.45pm we kicked off and tentatively got to grips with our positions and sussing out our direct opponents.  Mine seemed to be a fairly silky skilled left winger, he wasn't having any of my banter intended to put him off his game and I opted not to put a Ron Atkinson 'reducer' on him early doors to make my presence felt, for fear of being turned and skinned, and then potentially sick chasing him down on my starved stomach.  Nevertheless, we had a fairly solid start with some good tracking of players and preventing chances, and even some good passing and a few chances of our own.  Having never defended a proper corner together, set pieces were never going to be our strong point, however, and it was from the first corner into the box that a towering free header put us 1-0 down after about 15 minutes.  The challenge now was to keep our heads held high and get ourselves back on track.  Luckily, a quick reply came thanks to some tidy build up play on the right and a nice finish from Canadian creative midfielder, Andy Harris.  1-1 and game on!

Unfortunately we couldn't hold on for long and we went off at the break 3-1 down after a few well worked goals from our oppenents.  Fitness was proving to be an issue, with most of our team sporting pasty white skin which was proving extremely attractive to the overhead sun, and the tropical heat wasn't helping the situation either, meaning regular substitutions, affecting the set up of the team.  It goes without saying that the half time oranges were a very welcome sight.  It turned out as well that the referee, who was having a pretty good game in general, had only given us a 40 minute half, but he said he'd rectify it by giving us a 50 minute second half, not that much of the team were interested in actually playing the whole official 90 minutes at that moment in time.

The second half started well for us, but the left winger, their best player, scored two goals in quick succession, leaving us an uphill battle for the last 25 minutes.  We still managed to get a few shots away and had we taken our chances, especially at 3-1, who knows what would have happened.  The game eventually finished 7-2, with the half highlights being Harris' stupendous second goal, a 25 yard screamer leaving the keeper hapless.  A mention must also be made for our goalkeeper, Luke Whelan, whose own goal was a sight to behold, clinically smashed in the top corner of his own net from 1 yard out after a goal mouth scramble.

So, the game finished, handshakes were exchanged and the rather tacky trophy was passed over to the victors, leaving us to reflect on Aston Huila's first outing.  After a quick dip in the pool and some time in the steam room to rest sore muscles and aching joints, a few beers slipped down easily in the sumptuous surroundings, with conversation revolving about when future possible games will be and areas for improvement as a team.  The sun, heat and humidity proved a lethal combination, and adding on our general lack of fitness, it was no surpise that most of the squad was left absolutely battered, so there we have one area identified for definite improvement in the future.

Post Friday Footy Beers!
Looking back a few days later after the knocks have faded away and we've all got our breath back, I'm sure we can all say it was a great day out.  It's not every day you get to play at one of the most exclusive places in Cali, surrounded by palm trees, the Andes mountains and with tropical birds serranading you as you run around a football field.  It might have been hard work, and we didn't win, but as with all team sports, it's not just the actual game that defines your enjoyment of the occasion, but more the actual people you play with.  Who'd have thought that all those Friday evenings running around on top of a supermarket, releasing the pent up anger from the busy week at work, would have lead to such a fantastic afternoon.  And so we'll meet again this Friday evening as the daylight fades, captains will pick the teams, the game will feature a few good goals, and a few scrappy ones, but of course we'll all sit down afterwards for a few (too many) well earned beers!