Colombia’s maddest derby…we were there

Football hostilities – on and off the pitch - in the Colombian city of Cali reached a new low on Saturday night as a mass riot during the heated derby match between America de Cali and Deportivo Cali forced the game’s abandonment.

Around 60 people were injured in the brawl at the Pascual Guerrero Stadium, ignited when members of the America supporters group – the Baron Rojo Sur – began fighting amongst themselves with their side trailing 1-0 to hated rivals Deportivo.

Sadly, it came as no surprise to FourFourTwo. Saturday evening’s violence is merely the latest addition to a long list of clashes between the two teams, something we witnessed at first-hand on a visit to Cali last summer. (The full story appears in the July 2007 issue)

It had taken four months of delicate negotiations with the Frente Radical Verdiblanco, one of Deportivo Cali’s largest organised hooligan groups, before gaining permission to accompany them into battle against near-neighbours America.

And when our man eventually did join up with the all-singing, all-dancing, alcohol-fuelled entourage on their way to the stadium he narrowly avoided a beating from the baton-wielding riot police as tempers flared between both sets of fans.

Colombia is still a country at war after 40 years of government forces, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries waging a three-way fight for power, killing thousands in the process. And with Cali set in the heart of the Norte de Valley cartel, the largest drug-trafficking organisation in the world, it is no shock the city’s two football clubs have grown to despise each other.

The first encounter between the sides in 1931 was intended to be a friendly but was really anything but. After finishing top of the second division, America wished to test themselves against a top-flight team and arranged a match with Deportivo. But after having two goals disallowed for offside, America published flyers denouncing the ‘irregularities’ of the match and were subsequently suspended for a year.   

On November 17 1982, the clubs’ hatred came to a devastating head after drawing 3-3 at the Pascual Guerrero. Reports suggest drunken fans urinated on rival fans below causing a stampede, which injured 163 people and killed 24.

And it was only around 18-months ago when 22-year-old Stevenson Galeano Rivera was shot through the head during a clash between the two groups.

FourFourTwo’s visit to Cali lived up to the fixture’s fiery billing, with Deportivo Cali winning 2-0, but the match exploded in the latter stages with three players sent off in a five-minute spell as the red-mist descended yet again.

Saturday’s events mark yet another sorry tale for a football nation riddled with conflict and carnage, and with groups who state they: “model ourselves on the ultras of Italy and the hooligans of England,” and include films The Football Factory and Green Street as their ‘bibles’ little is likely to change any time soon.

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