This game is dedicated to the victims of the terror attack in Manchester and to the belief that our love, kindness and unity is the only way through these dark days.
Walking out into the blazing sun of Medellin on Tuesday morning, my heart was heavy with what had gone on in Manchester the previous evening. More than a bit paranoid and nervous, having heard so many stories of tourists being robbed and worse here, I took a deep breath and climbed into a taxi to San Antonio Plaza in the centre of this frenetic city, infamous for its violent past. San Antonio Plaza is a paved space where, in 1995, a bomb was detonated during a concert, killing 23 people; a sickening echo of what had just happened in Manchester.
I sat on a wall in the shade of a tree and looked out as a tall, slender man in virtual rags first ran, then fell to his knees in the middle of the plaza; tilting his head back and lifting his arms, he offered his despairing soul up to the vast blue skies. A few homeless men lay next to the famous sculptures of Fernando Botero which are dotted around the plaza's perimeter. I spotted Albert Aguilara Cancino and Alexis Marin Duuan sitting chatting close by. Plonking my jumpers down, I went over and asked them to play. Before long we were joined by some other young chaps who were mulling around, including the very cool Ricardo Esteban Canola (20), Yimy Romano Perez (27) and Dubenas Bemal Espinosa (28). With one or two more additions, it was game on. 4 v 4. I was in the goals for Yimi's side. He was a fantastic player; rangey with great skill and energy. Ricardo was very composed on the ball too but we were no match for Albert's team. They quickly ran into a 5 goal lead, largely due to a sweaty mound of Lancashire lard in the nets ! None of them had broken sweat and I looked like I'd just been chucked in the Irwell ! (Ah, so this is why European teams rarely win this side of the equator!) The opposition were rock solid in defence. Albert in particular was Bobby Moore-esque, coolly breaking up play and laying the ball off with vision and great timing. The swift and skilful Señor Espinosa in attack was proving deadly too. Spotting my deficiencies, Yimy went in goals and I turned official camera man when another player showed up. This badly needed tactical switch seemed to do the trick. Ricardo pulled a couple of goals back in quick succession. We even got to 5-3 before Albert's team ran in comfortable and deserved winners at 7-3. A brilliant, technical and committed game with plenty of flare on show. The South American way I guess?
The best part about today's game was the absolutely natural and cool way that this group of random lads joined in, played the game, then sat chilling together afterwards, like they were long time friends and had all the time in the world. Like every Colombian I have met so far, they exuded warmth, kindness and friendship. They could all play a bit too ! Not for the first time on my trip, I felt truly humbled and uplifted. Even in one of the toughest places on earth, love and kindness had found a way to survive and prevail amongst these marvellous folk.. Great game too ! Thanks lads ! Onwards !!!!