Always keen to get my priorities straight, the first thing I sought to discover about Trujillo – once I’d received confirmation of my job here – was the name of the local football team. Fortunately, in São Paulo I had my good friend – and walking encyclopaedia of South American football – Euan Marshall to consult on the matter, and quicker than you can say “R2, fire up the converters,” he informed me that the team you are looking for is Club Deportivo Universidad César Vallejo.
Master Euan then went on to provide an evaluation of César Vallejo’s current squad, although I must admit I lost track when he recited the name of Peruvian goal machine (apparently) Andy Pando. I was distracted, not just because it is unusual to hear of a namesake of mine of South American origin, but because the last thing you expect is to find a Peruvian with kinship links to a puppet from the UK.
Upon arriving in Trujillo my next concern, obviously, was to locate Vallejo’s stadium, a problem that was resolved soon enough during my tour of the NGO’s staff house when I spotted the tell-tale sign of floodlights from the terraced roof:
-Ok, so this is the roof and I don’t think there’s anything else to show you. Have you got any further questions Andy?
-Yes, is that the football stadium over there?
-Ok, no further questions.
My good fortune continued when I discovered that like Brazil the Peruvian football season kicks off in the new year, although unlike the former’s pointless state championships here things kick off with the Copa Inca, which besides offering the winners a spot in the Copa Libertadores (South American equivalent of the Champions League), must be the coolest name for a cup competition since Milk (as in the opaque white fluid secreted by female mammals) sponsored the English League cup between 1982 and 1986.
With Vallejo’s first fixture away at Universitario (a 1-0 win) in the capital, Lima, and first home game (4-1 defeat to Universidad San Martín) clashing with my amble around the Andes, I was keen to make sure I didn’t miss last weekend’s superclásico against Los Caimanes.
Prior to the game, my one hope was that it would be more memorable than my only previous experience of Peruvian football back in 2008: a 0-0 end of season dead rubber between Melgar and Sporting Cristal in Arequipa. Of that day I can only recall the following: a shocking hangover; sunburn, and; my friend and I pondering whether the Sporting player with red hair was a European chancing his luck in South America or a local with weird genes.
Clearly, what had been missing in Arequipa was our man Pando. Pulling the strings up front, Andy prodded in a cross to open the scoring in the first-half and then missed a penalty in the second shortly after Caimanes had equalised.
Yet despite Pando’s best efforts, the game was a pretty terrible spectacle that was given little assistance by an equally dire pitch. Green in patches but for the most part a strawish-yellow, the way the ball bobbled around gave the impression the surface was two parts Huanchaco sand and one part freshly sown field.
However, if Pando was one of the few highlights on the pitch, there was still plenty of curiosities off of it to keep this casual observer entertained. My main impression of the game was that it was somewhat like how I remember my father describing watching Gillingham in 60s and early 70s.
First, the sight of both sets of fans, unsegregated, standing just twenty or so metres apart on the ‘popular’ terrace behind the goal. Five Robocops stood in a gaping line in-between, although this seemed more a token nod towards crowd control than a response to any intel about potential trouble.
Not that crowd control was ever likely to be needed, as the populace of Trujillo clearly weren’t as enthused about attending the game as I was. Even with tickets costing just 5 Soles (£1.10, $1.7, R$4.1) and the game being played out in the ‘City of Eternal Spring’s’ glorious mid-afternoon sunshine, only 2700 of the city’s million residents came out to join me and the twenty-five or so Los Caimanes ‘Ultras’ who had driven four hours south from the province of Chiclayo.
The green and white army from the north – 5 of whom were well over 60 – were armed with wooden rattles, a snare drum and a green and white umbrella that matched the colours of their heroes. Meanwhile, the slightly more numerous Vallej-ooligans to my right contented themselves with banging their own drum and tying blue sheets between the fencing and the crash barrier a few metres behind.
Having assessed the potential threat, one of the riot police bought some popcorn.
Apart from the hardcore though, the remaining 2600 or so didn’t really appear that excited by the whole thing. Instead, it seemed to be more of an opportunity to meet up with friends and poke fun at the ineptitude of some of the football on display, which in many ways pleasantly reminded me of watching lower league football in the UK. It was also a welcome relief from the blind partisanship and humourlessness which often characterises a live football experience in Brazil. Vallejo’s goal was celebrated with a polite ripple of applause and all but a murmured whimper protested the foul that brought their penalty.
Perhaps the most salient indicator of Trujillo’s lack of enthusiasm for Vallejo was that replica Vallejo shirts were outnumbered by pretend Messis and Neymars in fake Barcelona ones. Whether this says more about the popularity of the respective teams or the relative cost of buying an official Vallejo shirt (170 Soles) against a knock-off Barça one down at the market, I’m not yet sure. Clearly though, there’s a Nuevo Sol or two waiting to be made in Trujillo printing up dodgy Vallejo shirts.
My first game in Trujillo was a curious affair, then. Reporting back to Brazil after the game, my wife pondered whether I might not bother go again given the lack of on-field entertainment.
“Are you kidding?” I replied, “This is exactly what us anoraks live for.”