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The Millionaires' Palace

This isn't normal. The ground itself is shaking. Not the stand - I'm not in the stand – I'm on solid earth and it's shaking. If you've ever felt a small earthquake where the floor feels kind of like jelly for a moment, wobbling of its own accord, then picture that, but repeatedly. The Bogota derby is its own minor earthquake. Oh, and everything, including most of me, is blue.

 

Millonarios was once considered the best team on earth. When a players' strike caused an exodus from Argentina in 1949, Colombia, and especially Millonarios, reaped the benefit and swept them up, most notably including Alfredo Di Stefano. Millonarios won the lot over the next few years, including three straight league titles before beating the great Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. Soon, though, FIFA had enough and suspended Colombia for having so many overseas players in its league without a permit. The foreigners left, Di Stefano packed off to Madrid and the party years were over.



These days they remain one of the leading clubs in Colombia, but not the wider world. But they go into the Bogota derby - El Clasico Capitalino - in the lower depths of mid-table, 11 points behind local rivals Santa Fe.



I arrive at El Campin, the ground both clubs share, around three and half hours before kick off. It's a rugged old concrete bowl, right next to a highway, surrounded by chain link fencing. There's already a fair amount of activity. People are selling shirts, scarves and beer up and down the street. Armoured policemen stroll about. At each end of the ground, the ultras of both teams are rolling out their banners, fenced off from the rest of the public. It's good to see in South America – in Argentina away fans have been banned for years.



I walk slowly around the ground towards the eastern side, where I'd been told most of the home fans would be in the bars. The atmosphere is light, almost party like. The streets are full of people drinking and laughing. Music blares from speakers. Colombia is on the northern coast of South America, a place where the continent of samba, tango and salsa meets the Caribbean, and its music bubbles with the energy of all.



I take a photo of a group sitting with drinks on the pavement outside a cafe. As I stand up, I bump someone behind. 'Mother fucker,' I hear, as a body spins around my side. I probably didn't want to step on a Colombian ultra who's had a few cans. I look up at a large, hairy man in a leather jacket - and he's smiling down at me. He absolutely insists that I take his photo as well. By the time I've done so, the first group have poured me a shot of a local spirit called aguardiente, which the hairy giant is beckoning me to down. The surprise with Latin America's alarming crime rates is that its football tends to lack the menacing edge that can be found in Europe, and feels much more welcoming.



I head back to the ground. I'm meeting Julian who runs the club's media content and he shows me round. We go outside, via the home dressing room, to where the players will be arriving, and fans have massed on the pavements, on the concourses, on the overpass across the highway. Everywhere they might be able to catch a glimpse. Cheers greet each player, some louder than others, and soon they're all safely in the dressing room.




I make my way pitchside. Fans are setting up, tying banners, waving flags, and the stands fill out. Songs are beginning, a giant chicken smoking a cigar appears. There are two warring ultra factions vying for supremacy of the southern end of the ground: Blue Rain and the Comandos Azules Capital District. Their banners denote which part of the stand belongs to which group, while the east and west stands are the quieter, calmer options. Despite the friendly atmosphere elsewhere, violence is common both between the two groups and with rival ultras. Indeed, Blue Rain are banned indefinitely from the stadium shared by Medellin's big two clubs.




The teams come out and once the national anthem is done, huge cannisters of blue and white smoke billow high into the air, reaching way above the stands. As I get back to my spot in the southern corner, the ground is covered by ticker tape and blue smoke dust. My bag, my tripod, my water bottle; everything I hadn't brought with me to the players' tunnel is now blue, as, within moments, are my hands and shoes. Even faces in the crowd now have a blue tint to them.




With the game going, the noise reaches new levels. When the fans start jumping, the entire place starts to shake. The ground beneath my feet wobbles. Flags wave endlessly, there's at least one band in each of the ultras stands. It's a chaotic swirl of passion and energy, with a relentless noise that simply does not ease off for the entire game.




After 35 minutes, the Santa Fe striker is brought down by the keeper and the ref gives the penalty. There are some howls from the stands but they can't really complain. It's put into the top corner by captain Hugo Rodallega (yes, an older, rounder version of the one who played for Wigan and Fulham years ago), who then celebrates smugly in front of the south stand.



Santa Fe seem the better side, but as the end of the half approaches, Millonarios equalise, before taking the lead deep into first half stoppage time. In truth, the goals do little to the noise levels because the baseline noise is already maxed out, but the ecstasy on the faces makes clear how much it means to them.



In the second half, Santa Fe keep pushing but can't break through. About halfway through, Millonarios break down the right the wing. A cross comes in. The fans rise in anticipation. It hits a defender and is turned into his own net. There's an explosion in the stands. 3-1, and the derby victory is secured.




At full time, the away fans are, unusually, emptied out straight away, while the home ultras stay and celebrate their win. They seem in no rush to leave, and as soon as they spot me taking photos I'm getting calls from all over the stand from people posing for the camera.



To many in Europe, Boca v River is the South American fixture - and it's rightly on everyone's bucket list - but the evidence piles up that it's not alone. The Bogota derby has been a loud, raucous, wild night, and it matches up to any football experience South America has to offer.



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