Why watch football there?. Like Buenos Aires, Montevideo is home to all the country's top football clubs and ideal for the visiting fooball fan. Montevideo has over 1 million people, in a country of only 3.5 million and is the same in population as Wales. Unlike Wales and for that matter England, Uruguay have won the World Cup twice (1930 and 1950), and also two Olympic Golds ( 1924 and 1928) when the tournament was effectively the world championships . Uruguay has also notched up 14 Copa Americas that equals Argentina and dwarf’s Brazil’s 8 titles.
Montevideo and Uruguay’s top two football teams are Penarol and Nacional who between them have won 6 world club championships. Nacional v Penarol is also the worlds oldest football derby or classico outside UK and atmospheres off the pitch are apparently on a par with Rangers/ Celtic or Independiente/Racing. On the pitch things can get quite lively. For example in 1990, a player brawl towards the end of a Nacional/Penarol classico ended with all 11 Penarol and 9 Nacional outfield players (plus a couple of substitutes), collecting a grand total of 22 red cards. In 2000 another Nacional/Penarol classico ended with another brawl that resulted in 9 players from both teams spending upto a month each in prison. Imagine that happening in the English premiership?.
In recent years Danubio, a club located in the northern periphery of Montevideo has recently joined the the big two, winning a championship in 2007 and regularly churning out talented youngsters from its youth academy.
In recent years, Uruguay football has suffered from the exodus of talented players to Europe. Such a drop in quality on the pitch, has not affected the atmosphere on the terraces.
Aside from Nacional, Penarol and Danubio try and check out matches between Ramplas Juniors and Cerro, who are both located in the poorest part of Montevideo. Both sides have plenty of supporters and a long history of rivalry to ensure good atmospheres at the fixturres. Defensor , River Plate and Wanderers are also good derbies. There is a football team based in the city called Liverpool FC Montevideo, but be warned if you fancy picking up a souvenir Liverpool hat/shirt to impress the folks back home. Liverpool FC Montevideo’s colours are what I would best describe as Everton blue!.
Getting There. There are no direct flights between UK and Montevideo. We flew from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires (Argentina), via Madrid on Iberia Airline (www.Iberia.com) . You can fly to Montevideo from Aeorparque Airport in downtown Buenos Aires on Aerolinos Argentinas ( www.aerolineas.com.ar). Our preferred option and the scenic route was a ferry across the Rio de la Plata. Located at the Puerto Madero terminal in Buenos Aires, we took a ferry with Buquebus (www.buquebus.com) for three hour direct crossing to Montevideo. Adult return was about £60, booked a day in advance as we travelled over busier weekend period. If you have time on your hands, you could get a ferry (3 hours) to Colonia del Sacramento with Colonia Express (www.coloniaexpress.com). You then can catch a bus (2 hours) to Montevideo.
When to go The Primera Division Uruguaya (Uruguay’s First Division) operates with two small championships. The Opening Championship (Torneo Apertura) runs from August to December, and the Closing Championship (Torneo Clausura) is from February/March to June. Now this is where the format gets complicated and had to ask my Uruguay contact to explain. As well as points earned from both championships, there is also “ an annual points board. At the end of the year, the two teams that win the Apertura and Clausura AND a third team that accumulates more points in the Apertura and Clausura between those teams, then compete in a series of play-offs”. Clear?. No, me neither.
These play-off matches normally take place in January, but the Uruguayan league was suspended for a few weeks due to an almighty battle which took place on the pitch following a match between Danubio and Nacional. ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0zmvRkfZOI
Fortunately for me, the Championship play-off final was played in the weekend we were in Montevideo. Primera Division Uruguaya fixtures are normally decided in February/March of each year, with matches typically played over Saturday/Sunday. The leagues smaller teams normally play in morning, whilst the big two of Nacional and Penarol always play in the afternoon, kicking off around 15-16.00 hours. As in Argentina and Brazil, Uruguyan teams also compete in Copa Libertadores whose fixtures are usually held mid-week. The best ties are normally when the Buenos Aires football clubs come to town. Boca Juniors and River Plate will often bring around 5-10,000 supporters with them on the short ferry trip from Buenos Aires.
Match Practise Football fans in Montevideo tend not to get into stadium too early due to the ban on alcohol sales inside . This means fans tend to congregate in bars or gather in the park (that surrounds the estadio centenario). Fans here often drink Pilsen or Patricia beer , but wine is also alot in evidence on matchdays, generally because it is cheaper. Only Nacional fans have the opportunity to buy 'season tickets' and £56 will get you into every Nacional match for the season. Strict security checks usually means long queues to get into busy ends of stadium. Once inside the stadium, the smell of marijuana is noticable but has not inhibited the activities of the fans. Flags, fireworks , drums and banners are much in evidence and the sight of masses of fans chanting and jumping around the terrace was one of the most amazing sights witnessed in South American football.
Terrace chants here have similar tunes to the ones heard inside Argentinian stadiums. Hooliganism is a problem in Uruguay, although the only trouble we saw at the match was some missile throwing between the two sets of supporters. At no time did we ever feel under any danger inside or outside the stadium. When Nacional scored, a few supporters behind the goals managed to get over the moat into a 'neutral area'. Local stewards who were dotted around the stadium, managed to corale the supporters back onto the terrace, before the arrival of heavily-armed riot police. We were also warned not to go into any unlit parts of the park that surrounds the stadium, after the match. I had been told stories of a supporter being killed in fights between rival supporters about once every couple of years, but you get the impression that bulk of violence is between rival hooligan gangs and you would have to be very unlucky to get caught up. After the match, home supporters were let out straight away and we followed the crowds back toward the city centre.
Half-time food Alcoholic beer is not sold inside stadiums, which probably explains the scenes of fans drinking cheap beer/wine outside the stadium prior to kick-off. Inside the stadiums you can pick up the ubiquitous coca-cola or eat a hamburger. Locals do recommend you try a kind of spicy sausage, called the chorizo.
Television Primera Division Uruguaya matches are shown on VTV channel.
Newspaper The most read newpaper here called EL PAIS has a sport supplement called OVACION
Internet I found these following websites useful for contacting Uruaguay football supporters and obtaining details about Primera Division Uruguaya fixtures:
Vocabulary HelloHola GoodbyeAdios or Chau ThankyouGracias Two beers, please Dos cervezas por favor. Please can we go to the Estadio Centenario (to taxi driver). Al estadio centenario por favor. Are you going to Estadio Centenario (to bus driver). Este me deja en el centenario? Two seats in the Platea America please. Dos tickets para la platea america por favor. Which football team do you support. De que cuadro sos ? I would like to buy a Nacional football shirt in large size, please. Me gustaria comprar una camiseta de nacional grande, por favor
Stadium Nacional has a 22,000 capacity stadium at Gran Parque Central in Montevideo. High-risk matches and classico matches with Penarol are played at the 76,000 capacity Estadio Centenario. Built for the inaugral 1930 World Cup, the stadium has been listed by Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) in one of their bleedingly pointless awards as one of the ‘world's iconic football venues’. As though we need telling!. If you are interested the Bernabeu, Maracana , San Siro and Wembley stadium are the other venues listed.
Getting to Estadio Centenario Taxis are ridicuously cheap, but if you want to go with locals to stadium, then bus appears to be choice of transport. All bus prices are the same flat rate in Montevideo, so make sure you have some coins handy and join a bus queue where there are plenty of Nacional shirts on display. If still not sure you can if that bus is going to the Estadio Centenario by asking “este me deja en el centenario”?
Getting a ticket/where to sit. Apart from the Nacional/Penarol classicos, you should be able to buy tickets on the day of the match. We went down to estadio centenario and ticket booths can be found in stadium wall, between the Tribune's Amsterdam and Olympica. We got seats for £6 in Tribune America, the most expensive seats in the Estadio Centenario.
They did provide best views of the pitch and explains why the radio/tv/press are also located here. Behind the goals you'll find the Tribune's Amsterdam and Colombres where the hooligans/loony fans tend to congregate. Impressions are that things can get a bit dodgy here, but if you stand to left or right I think you should be OK. As with most other ends in these type of stadiums, the atmosphere will be better, but your views of the match will not. The Tribune Olympica is where the families tend to go, so do not expect much terrace-diving here.
Clubshops There are no clubshops (as are seen at european clubs!) at any of the stadium. You can buy official merchandise at a number of sportshops in Montevideo. There are apparently 3-4 good ones at Punta Carretas Shopping Centre where you can buy Nacional , Penarol and Danubio shirts and other accessories. Outside stadiums on matchdays, you'll find lots of stalls selling unofficial flags, scarves, hats and shirts. Unique to Uruguay seems to be a hat in club colours, that can be best described as a cross between a beanie hat, bandana and tea-towel.
Famous former players to impress the locals with. Daniel Fonseca who played for Napoli in early 90's, was a Nacional player from 1988-90. Another export from Nacional ranks to Italy was Alvaro Recoba, who was to have a successful spell at Internazionale, Milan in 1990s.
Extra-Time To be honest Montevideo is not a major tourist attraction in itself, but it does have the Estadio Centenario. Underneath the Tribune Colombre part of the stadium, you will find a large Museo del Futbol. Apparently it has amongst a massive collection of football memorabilia, two Jules Rimit trophies. I cannot confirm this as on arriving on the Monday after the Nacional/Danubio match I found it closed, all day. It did open at 9am on a Tuesday, but I was already at port, catching a ferry back to Buenos Aires. If anyone knows opening times for Museo del Futbol , please let us know!!.
"Thanks to Augustin Mariatti for additional information "