Postcards from the World Cup #2: Pork belly, beer buckets and a horse's head with Colombians
#2 LA BODEGUITA, ELEPHANT AND CASTLE
ELEPHANT AND CASTLE SHOPPING CENTRE
Saturday, June 14. The shabby morning after the glorious World Cup night before: fuzzy memories of Spain's demolition, the winning betting slip, and the sozzled Twitter debate with former Liverpool penalty specialist Steve Nicol, who believed, somewhat absurdly, that the second of two wrongly disallowed Giovani dos Santos goals for Mexico against Cameroon was "offside". His reasoning? A ref had told him so. Though, at the time of writing, FFT cannot confirm whether it was the same ref that officiated the decision-making debacle of Thursday's opening game.
But onto better things, however. Namely, where to make merry hell with the fans of some overly excited nation not yet stung by the hornet of an opening-game defeat. And what a bleary-eyed choice! The fixture list reads like Judith Chalmers' to-do list list: Japan, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Greece, and there, twinkling on the wallchart in FFT Towers, Colombia. Land of the barbecued meat, where to grill is to thrill. A hungover dream.
So it is that we brave the Bakerloo line, emerging at La Bodeguita in Elephant and Castle, south London's greatest roundabout. And talk about adding some colour to a drab and dreary location. From the minute the train pulls in, FFT is dazzled by the flush of gaudy yellow on display, a dayglo shade worn by hundreds of Colombia fans milling around the district that's home to one of the biggest communities of South Americans this side of the Atlantic.
An estimated 11,000 Colombians live in the capital, and a large number have gathered here today, waiting for La Bodeguita – one of the area's most popular eateries – to open its doors. Fans mill around in cafes and bars, and a large queue has formed outside the restaurant; people park their backsides on any available seating space, including the swivel stools in a couple of photo booths.
There is noise, too. As the large army of South Americans wait patiently for their first beer, scooters decorated with the yellow, blue and red flag whizz past, parping their horns. It's like a little slice of Bogota has appeared in a region previously only championed by 'comedian' Jim 'Up The Elephant And Round The Castle' Davidson. "I've never seen so many Colombians in one place outside of home," says Juan, a local electrician and our guide for the day. "This is what the World Cup does."
The excitement is palpable. This is the first time Colombia have appeared in a World Cup for 16 years and the buzz inside La Bodeguita has been ramped up. A cowbell is tonked noisily in a corner (as with bongos in Brazil, an instrument not annoying when heard in a South American context) as a few hundred people jostle for tables and seats underneath one of several TVs positioned around the restaurant.
An otherworldly vibe is created by a dingy bar in one corner; a stuffed horse's head and flags of different South American nationalities hang from the walls. Meanwhile, bar staff balance plates of Picada Para Dos – a daunting but satisfying fried mix comprising pork belly, sausage, green plantain and tomatoes – as they dash between orders. By the time Pablo Armero has scuffed Colombia into a lead, the place is bouncing.
People sing noisily, buckets of beer are ordered in celebration and a social club vibe kicks in. Everybody seems to be at least on nodding terms with everyone else; for Colombians, La Bodeguita and football matches deliver a little slice of neighbourly love. "It is an excuse to forget your troubles," says Juan, "see friends, watch the game, and escape from your other half… if they are driving you mad at home."
The community here has experienced some cultural crossovers, however. When Greece nearly restore parity in the second half, Jose Pekerman's side are described as being "how you say? Bloody lucky b******s." A Colombian defender is rebuked for a reckless challenge, prompting Juan to perform his best Michael Winner impression: "Calm down dear, it's only a football match!" The spirit is good-natured throughout, even at times of stress, which very much isn't the case whenever England play.
But with all three points secured in the second half and three goals scribbled on the Colombians' tally sheet, there is much to celebrate. When the final whistle blows it's only seven o'clock, but La Bodeguita's mood has shifted dramatically. A colourful community centre vibe has been replaced by a mood of hard partying. The sun is yet to hide behind the Strata tower and the shutters on the shopfronts are only just being closed, but Colombia is bringing their late night hedonistic spirit to force.
And on top of all that pork, too...
WHAT WE ORDERED: Picada Para Dos £8, Coronas £15. There is a £10 entry fee for games, though you will receive two free drinks tickets.
Matt Allen will be endangering his liver in the line of duty for the next month. His aim to find the best World Cup-themed parties in London. If you know of any and won't be offended by a shambling drunk standing in the corner, please tweet him.
Postcard #1: Bongos, tramps and Caipirinhas in Camden with Brazil