Watching a World Cup in person can be such a memorable experience. Even if one’s country is not one of the two competitors, it can still prove to be awe-inspiring. Jean-Paul Calbimonte aka jpcik!, is a Bolivian living in Switzerland. Recently on his blog South Side of the Sky [ES], he chronicled his visit to Gelsenkirchen to see a match between Ecuador and Poland on the opening day of the tournament, courtesy of a surprise ticket.
Upon my return from watching a Steve McQueen film, you know those in which he sends many to their demise, coming away without a scratch. I arrived home and checked my email. There was a message from FIFA World Cup 2006, “Come to Gelsenkirchen, the day after tomorrow, we have a ticket waiting for you.” It appeared that someone had purchased an advance ticket, but returned it for some reason. They must have decided to pass it along to those on the waiting list. One of those was me. I didn’t even think twice, as all of my weekend commitments were unilaterally cancelled and I began preparations for my emergency trip. I reserved a seat on the 9 hour train ride, with my backpack on my shoulder and we’re off to the World Cup.
Upon his arrival to the city, he encountered a festive atmosphere. He ran across many fans who were without a ticket and whose only hope was a ticket scalper.
After four hours of waiting around, the Ticket Center opened and half of the Polish fans came away disappointed. “Sorry, no tickets for sale, Ausverkauft!” However, the city organized a giant “Fan Fest” with beer, sausage and giant screens to show the games. Luckily, for me, I am not turned away. “What is your name?” Perfect, we have a ticket for you. Wonderful. With ticket in hand, I am now free to enjoy a bit of the city of Gelsenkirchen. Obviously there are no hotels available in all of Germany, so I must wander around all day. In the streets, there are thousands of food stands and even more drink stands. Tables are set up in the streets and the Polish celebrating as if it was there home, singing and chanting POLSKA POLSKA.
The scene around the stadium is festive, although the routine and security slow things up.
The number of Ecuadorans have increased. Alex Aguinaga is here, but this time as a only a spectator. It appears that the entire world surrounds the stadium, almost like two armies laying siege to a castle bombarding the other with chants. The FIFA guards and volunteers appear a bit nervous, as it is the first day of the World Cup. They try to control the crowds as best as they can. Once the spectators arrive, they are searched and their names are verified with their passports. Backpacks are opened, spectators are frisked and video cameras are barred from being brought in. After an hour of such a tedious task, they appear to become more permissive. The Germans also get tire, at least a little bit.
In the end, the match finished in a victory for Ecuador. Even though the winning country bears some resemblance to Bolivia, an Andean country with a smallish population and short histories in the World Cup, jpcik! adopts a stance reflecting his current country of residence.
Using the Swiss principle of neutrality, I celebrate high-quality football and today I salute the Ecuadorans. This World Cup has all of the makings of a great tournament. Cheers and have a good World Cup.