Standing in the middle of the celebrations in Plaza Italia, I felt excited  but at the same time I was just a little nervous. Around me on every side there were drunk people, jumping and chanting. Heads and shoulders bobbed up and down and people bumped into each other – and me – as they screamed their voices hoarse: “Porom pom pon, po rom pom pon…”  The plaza was alive and it was wild. A happy kind of wild but wild nonetheless. I joined in the jumping.

 

In every direction blue and red flags were waving up and down and back and forth, as if they had a mind of their own. Confetti rained from the sky and, thanks to an enthusiastic reveller with a can in his hand, there was a passing beer shower as well. In front of me people lit flares and the smoke filled the air, its bitter smell mixing with the whiff of marijuana that hung over the crowd. Behind me crackers were going off. BANG. The sky lit up for half a second. BANG., BANG. Everything went bright again. The chanting stopped, the crowd cheered and then the chanting started again.

 

To my left, someone had climbed up a traffic light pole which swayed slightly as he struggled to maintain his balance. Settling into a comfortable position, he continued to chant. Not far from him, someone else was perched on top of an advertising hoarding with a huge grin spread across his face. Down the road, a dozen people had scrambled on top of a bus shelter which shook and groaned as they jumped up and down. Somehow the it managed to support them.

 

To my right, four guys had stretched out a flag like a parachute and they urged their mate climbed on top. They threw him high into the air and caught him as he fell back down to earth, like a chef flipping a pancake. They repeated the process four times but on their last attempt, they came close to spilling their human pancake onto the footpath and decided to stop.

 

The reason for the madness?La Universidadde Chile had once again produced a fairytale performance to emerge as the 2011 champions inChile’s domestic soccer competition. After losing the first leg of the two-match grand final 2-0, the boys in blue needed to come out and beatLa Universidad Catolicaby a margin of at least three goals. It was a big ask.La Catolicahad been the dominant side all year and although the true fans, ‘las hinchas’, never doubted that their team would come out on top, few others gave them a chance.

 

I had gone with Leo to watch the game on the TV at a friend’s apartment in centralSantiago. Jorge, the friend, was a large man for a Chilean, with a thick mane of black hair, a heavy metal t-shirt and eyes that smiled. The other friend who was with us, Enzo, had even longer hair and an AC/DC t-shirt. A passionate fan of ‘La U’,he began sharing his chants with the neighbours from the small third-floor balcony before the game had even begun.

 

Fifteen minutes before kick off, the others began to give their predictions for the game. I sat quietly, listening carefully to understand the slang-filled Spanish football talk. Most of it went over my head but Jorge made a simple prediction that even I found easy to take in.

 

“Four-one,” he said with compelling confidence. “That’s what the score will be.”

 

Right from the kick off, the game was entertaining. It might have lacked the precision demanded by football purists but there was plenty of passion on show. Unlike the match I had gone to see at the stadium,La Uwas playing an attacking brand of soccer with the kind of hunger you’d expect from a team that had to win by a three goal margin.

 

La Catolicaon the other hand, was playing defensively and, at times, lazily. They kept making unnecessary contact and the trigger-happy referee responded by fishing into his pocket for cards. By the end of the match he had handed out three reds – two toLa Catolicaand one toLa U– and almost a dozen yellows.

 

The result couldn´t have been scripted better. Helped by quite a few penalties and a numerical advantage,La Uemerged victorious, 4-1. Jorge smiled with an air of satisfaction but little surprise. Enzo screamed from the balcony. On the screen riot police surrounded the referee asLa Catolica’splayers lined up to show him what they thought of his decisions: “You robbed us of the game!” they yelled as he was whisked away to safety behind the thick, plastic shields.

 

After an emotional victory lap and a passionate but tuneless rendition of the team song, theLa Uplayers received their championship medals and lifted up the cup. The stadium’s PA system started belting out Queen’s We Are the Champions.

 

Enzo kept screaming from the balcony. Then he stepped inside, looked around the room, and said: “Why don’t we go to Plaza Italia?”

 

A quarter of an hour later, the four of us were packed inside Leonel’s faithful shopping trolley, heading for the giant roundabout on the other side of the city where Chile’s football victorious fans always gather to gloat. The streets were filled withLa Ufans. They marched along the footpath, piled onto the buses and hung out the windows of cars, chanting, waving flags and honking horns. There were also riot police everywhere. They filed out of their dark green armoured buses and arranged themselves on street corners, waiting for something to do.

 

We parked a 10 minute walk away from the plaza and proceeded on foot. Here, the streets were closed and fans in blue jerseys poured forward, singing as they went. Few seemed louder than Enzo. Filled with energy, he was running back and forth, singing, shouting and hugging strangers. He even tried to engage a group of riot police officers. They stared back at him with stony faces.

 

When we arrived the crowd of fans had already formed, filling up Plaza Italia with their bodies and their noise. There was no focal point or leader – just 10,000 fans who chanted the same songs and jumped to the same rhythm. At first, I stood back with Leonel and watched from about20 metresaway. I noticed that there was a police truck with a water cannon trained on the crowd, ready to strike at any moment. Then Enzo appeared and dragged us into the action. I followed, trying not to become separated from the group.

 

In the middle of the action it was impossible not to get drawn into the celebrations. The place was alive. But after 20 minutes I was ready to move on. Things were just beginning to get ugly. Close to where we were jumping, there were some teenagers with long sticks. They were waving them in the air with lots of joy and little regard for the people around them. An older guy tapped one on the shoulder and told him to be careful. A fight almost broke out as the teenagers sought to pounce on this opportunity to defend their right to bear sticks. Thankfully, Leo and some others managed to hold them back.

 

We decided it was time to go and started pushing towards the edge of the crowd. As we broke free from the chaos and began walking back to the car, another cracker went off. There was a brief pause and then the chanting continued. We were the champions, after all.

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