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July 20, 2011 11:26:42 | in art, culture, lifestyle

Do you like football? Becoming a soccer fan in Peru

By Larry J. Pitman

I often get asked if I like football. Then I have to pause and think about how to answer. Since this is South America, I have to assume that they mean soccer rather than American Football. However, when I arrived in Peru five years ago, gridiron was definitely my first choice. Now I’ve become Peruvian enough to say that I watch a lot more soccer than American Football. Gradually, my interest has shifted.


In California, my sons both played soccer, and I went to watch their games for more than ten years. Even so, I never paid much attention to the professional league in the U.S. or when the national team was playing. It just didn’t grab me the same way emotionally as did my beloved San Francisco Forty-niners American football team.

Things have changed. The truth is that I have become a passionate fan of soccer and especially of the Peruvian national team. My heart starts pounding a little faster when I watch Peru play another country. My palms also get sweaty and, if Peru is ahead, I hope the game will finish soon. Why? Because I have found that anything can happen when Peru plays.

Following the Peruvian national team is much like being in love with a beautiful, but extremely complex woman: while being intrigued by her, you know that you risk having your heart broken at any moment. Consequently, rooting for the Peruvian national team requires hope, faith and perseverance through some very difficult and unpredictable times.

I watch the national team play with fingers crossed, holding my breath. Talent there always is, we have some great players, but that doesn’t always result in a successful team. They look like they will be good, and then something happens to get in the way of success.
It is the eternal element of hope that is at play. I can turn away from my television in disgust at some horrible play, and vow never again, but the next time there is a match, I turn it on. I can’t help it, I’m addicted.

When the national team plays, I now realize that the pride of the whole nation is at stake. Radios in cars and taxis and many homes are all tuned to the same station. In fact, during an important game, Lima slows down dramatically. When there is a goal, I hear cheers from all the houses around me. When something bad happens, I can also hear the groans that match mine

I know how my addiction began. When I first came to Peru, I decided to read the sports pages every day. I had two reasons: to practice my Spanish and to give me a topic for discussion, something in common, with other men. It has worked very well, and I get surprised looks from Peruvians when they realize how much I know. The result, however, has been my gradual emotional attachment to the national team.

Right now, with a new coach, the team is on a roll. We have had the best result in the Copa America, an important tournament, in years. Hopes are rising. The future may be bright. Keep your fingers crossed.

Editor's note: This column was written before Peru's 0-2 defeat to Uruguay in the Copa America semifinals.

Larry J. Pitman is a college professor and writer who moved to Peru in 2005. He is part of the Peru Writers Group. Read his essays every Monday at LivinginPeru.com.

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6 Comments

# Martin Zavaleta says :
20 July, 2011 [ 02:11 ]
dear Larry i dont know you but sometimes -like this time- you really write articles in a very endearing way. 
# Rico says :
20 July, 2011 [ 03:07 ]
For us Peruvians living abroad, watching the national team or the local teams of our liking, although nerve racking, it is quite enjoyable. We always look forward to these events whether they are local or international matches.  It really is one more thing that keeps us connected to our homeland. It brings me memories when an uncle, a real aficionado, would take me as a very young boy to the Estadio Nacional for the required indoctrination to our national pass time. Reading other individuals experience about something that is dear to me also brings joy.
# Peter W. Robinson says :
21 July, 2011 [ 03:07 ]
...the occasional goal would be nice...and penalty kicks are no way to decide important games. 
# Ricardo Alayza says :
21 July, 2011 [ 08:11 ]
You're right while comparing Peruvian football with a beautifull complex woman, therefore you need two of them. When your football girl dissapoints you, switch to the other one. The later should also be a passion but from a different subject. I  found is the best way to avoid a real bad time when our national team losses badly.
# Johnny says :
26 July, 2011 [ 03:38 ]
Nice read, Larry.  Wish you had been around in the '70s when Peru had one of the top teams in the world.  They were a top-8 finisher at the 1970 and 1978 World Cups (didn't qualify in 1974) and Copa America champion in 1975.  They were still decent afterwards.  Semifinalist at both the 1979 and 1983 Copa Americas, qualified into the 1982 World Cup, but minus a brief return to form in the late 1990s, it's been downhill ever since.

Even after this great run I don't think Peru has the horses to touch their Golden Era.  I doubt they're even as good as the late '90s teams (Nol Solano, Chorri Palacios, Chemo del Solar, Camello Soto, Flavio Maestri, Condor Mendoza, Oscar Ibanez) but they just might have the smartest coach in the world right now!  

We'll see where Acasiete, Rodriguez, Vargas, Guerrero, and Chiroque (none of them all that young) can go under Sergio Markarian's expert leadership!  
# JC says :
27 July, 2011 [ 05:54 ]
After 7 years in Peru, I still can't watch more than the first 10 minutes and the last 5 minutes of any soccer game.  I fail to see why the world loves this game so much.  Maybe if the players would stop "flopping" on the ground, crying for a penatly, it would help.  Regardless, I don't enjoy watching any sport which tends to end in 1-0 or 1-1, or worse... 0-0.  Seriously, zip-zip? Isn't that like watching paint dry? Being a fan of "American" football and its hard hitting toughness, I can't get enough of the NFL and NCAA football.  However, if the day comes when teams start playing to 7-7 ties or not scoring, I will stop watching "gridiron" as well.  I don't think that will happen because the rules officials would change the rules to make sure we always have a lot of offense is in the game.  Why don't make the goals in soccer larger? Or get rid of the off-sides rule. These two changes would make the game much more watchable.  I know... spoken like a true gringo.

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