Having seen live football in Brazil and Argentina, I was keen to see what the game was like in Bolivia. I looked into it and it turned out my apartment was just 3 blocks from the home of Sucre’s top flight team – Universitario – so getting along to a game or two was going to be easy.

On further investigation (football is one of the few things I’ve found plentiful information on in Bolvia) it turned out one time champions Universitario were struggling towrads the foot of the 12 team table. Sitting 3rd from bottom, with 2 teams due to be relegated at the end of the season and about 6 games to go, they were by no means safe. So the first home game that came up against current champions Oriente Petrolero seemed like a pretty big one. I went and bought my ticket that afternoon from the little shed that is the ticket office and was quite impressed by the large modern stadium that sat imposingly behind it. The ticket set me back 25 Bolivianos (roughly £2.20) and would get me into the covered main stand. I also managed to pick up a Sucre ‘replica’ shirt (nothing here in Sucre is official) for the same price…

The game itself was a Wednesday night game and there was a little bit of a buzz outside the ground when I arrived 15 minutes before the 8pm kick off. One thing that struck me immediately was the range of stuff on offer outside the ground. One of the side effects of Bolivia being so poor is that many of the people seem to make a living as independent sales people of some sort (there also seems to be little regulation regarding who sells what and where). So there were loads of make shift merchandise stalls, a full on impromptu market down one side of the ground and more variety of food and drink than I’ve ever seen at a sporting event; cooked meats, sandwiches, popcorn, roasted nuts, home made crisps, jelly and cream, toffee apples, incredible bright coloured fruit drinks… there seemed to be almost as many traders as fans.

The ground itself holds 32,000 according to Wikipedia, but I’d estimate there being somewhere between 5-6,000 fans inside. The atmosphere wasn’t electric and there was a notably less fanatical way of spectating amongst the locals than I’d witnessed in other parts of South America. There was plenty of banter, but very good natured and speaking to the local guy sitting next to me there’s never any crowd trouble or unrest at these games.

The game itself was pretty entertaining. I’d put the standard of football somewhere equivalent to good level semi-professional football in England – Conference maybe. The pitch wasn’t great and the game was played at a much slower pace than you’d see in Europe, but it was a real battle and Universitario held there own against on paper a much better side. The first half was a little bit scrappy with all the excitement coming just before the break as Universitario won a controversial penalty. To me eye it was a blatant dive, Universitario’s Argentine centre forward going over before he reached the goalkeepers arms – he wasn’t going anywhere though really so you’d have to say the keeper was a bit foolish. The same player got up to take the penalty and justice was done as the keeper made the save – all hell broke loose when the referee appeared to order the kick to be retaken. Someone, I’m not sure who, from the Oriente bench came steaming onto the pitch – followed by about 30 military/police officers in full riot gear. All completely over the top this lead to a 5 minute break in the game with about 50 people (including riot police and all 22 players) surrounding the ref. Miraculously once all the hulabaloo was over, the ref had changed his decision and the game restarted with a corner – I’ve never seen anything like it in a football match, a complete farce!

A big opportunity blown I worried a little for Universitario in the second half, but they came out strong and were the better team for most of the 45 minutes. With the score stuck at 0-0 and 3pts vital, all this seemed to have counted for little as the game entered the 89th minute. Then as the seconds ticked away Oriente finally wilted – conceding a fairly scrappy goal after an inswinging corner (see the video below). It provided a very dramatic end to a messy, but entertaining game of football – and put Universitario in a much healthier position in the league.

There are 2 more home games and as I’m here for a while I’m sure I’ll be here to witness the climax to the Bolivian season.