Football is the world’s sport. In many countries, its players enjoy great fame and it is prized as the primary athletic focus. As a sport, it is an elegant mix of tactical theory, finesse and pure physical fight. I myself live and breathe football, and have had the distinct privilege to play pick up the […]
Football is the world’s sport. In many countries, its players enjoy great fame and it is prized as the primary athletic focus. As a sport, it is an elegant mix of tactical theory, finesse and pure physical fight. I myself live and breathe football, and have had the distinct privilege to play pick up the world over. I have thoroughly enjoyed living in Chile during their national team’s bull market, winning Copa America twice and losing to the host nation, Brazil, in a gritty World Cup display of talent, sweat, and tears that any country would be proud of. I have often heard the sentiment either from proud Chileans or misled foreigners that Chile is a country of football fanatics. I can only shake my head quietly to myself in disagreement. Chile, though it would fancy itself a football-obsessed nation, lacks the passion that exists in many other countries.
Chile is not a one-sport country. I will concede that football and the Chilean Futbol League win in viewership, but Chilean sport participation is varied. When I poll Chileans in my approximate demographic, age 25 to 40, I often find people who play basketball, rugby, tennis, volleyball, wrestling, field hockey, biking or track. Chile also has a growing lifting/CrossFit/gym rat community mirroring many other developed nations. With a diversified portfolio of sports comes a dilution of single sport intensity. Yes, there are football fans that dedicate the entirety of their free time to watching football and analyzing nuanced technical decisions on substitutions and formation along with player evaluations, but the majority of Chileans only tune in if the national team is playing and judge performance based on the superficial marker of who won the game.
Perhaps it has to do with demographics as well. I live in the city center, and in the professional working class population, it is unpopular to sport a football jersey as relaxed attire. Even on game days, walking the street in the morning you wouldn’t be able to tell the national team was playing at night. Only at the actual time of the game does the Chilean team support become visually evident. Compared to other football-loving countries I have traveled in, this is a stark contrast. In other countries, on any given day, residents from various walks of life can be seen wearing jerseys and supporting their team. On the day of an important game, it is impossible to miss because even walking down the street you are visually bombarded with reminders of the day’s game. The only group I have seen in Santiago wearing sports attire is blue-collar workers and even then, it is certainly not ubiquitous.
The popularity of football as a recreational activity enables the support of football culture and enhances fan bases. In Chile, playing football presents additional complications not present in some other countries. Kids take physical education classes in schools, but organized sports are largely community club based, and thus players need to work out transportation to and from the club. As an adult, there are very few full-field recreational leagues. Most of the available football is small-sided. In many countries, there are set times for pick up at a field and anyone can show up to play. In Chile, the short-sided football fields are booked for set teams and it is difficult to organize an impromptu game. I have had limited success showing up at the fields to try to join a game in which the teams are uneven, mostly because the majority of the time, the contracted players all show up. These restrictions pose a challenge in player and fan recruitment. Playing a sport motivates one to follow that sport and become a smarter observer. By deduction, a lack of player recruitment negatively affects Chile’s potential football fanaticism.
Chileans may also point to the large-scale congregations at Plaza Italia after important football games as proof of their zeal for the sport, but I politely disagree. I was extremely lucky to grow up as a sports enthusiast in Chicago, a proud sports city blessed with a number of teams and players whose athletic prowess unleashed butterflies in my stomach and brought tears of joyful exuberance when unfathomable feats were magically accomplished and insurmountable deficits equalized: Da Bears of American football, both the White Socks and the Cubs of baseball, the Bulls of basketball, and the Blackhawks of ice hockey. My mom is a broad-based sports fan and appreciates theory and athleticism in a variety of sports when played at a high level. My childhood is peppered with positive memories of family time spent watching games together either at home or at the stadium. In the Chicago streets you can see people wearing jerseys, supporting their teams. After important games or championship wins, the streets come alive in celebration. I do not believe though that the show of celebration after a game defines Chicagoans as sports fanatics for any particular sport though. In Chile, after important football games, people often congregate downtown at Plaza Italia to celebrate or drive the streets honking their horns and waving their team’s flag. This is similar to how this action in Chicago only proves team support and not sports fanaticism, and I remain unconvinced of Santiago’s singular dedication to football.
Santiago has not impressed me with an overwhelming dedication to football. I have found it more difficult to play here than in many other countries, and at times I have been frustrated without an outlet for expression. The barriers to playing, the lack of full field availability, the overall sport diversity, and Santiago’s sizable population of citizens lacking interest in football all together as a hobby, dilutes their fanaticism and commitment to football. My conclusion after having lived here for 3 years is that Santiago supports football, but Santiago doesn’t live football.
For those interested in watching sports games in Santiago, there are a number of good viewing bars. I have detailed some of my favorites below.
Though they mainly advertise themselves as an artisanal beer spot replete with beer tastings and courses on home brewing, Loom is a hidden gem even for active beer avoiders such as myself. Its customer base is a nice mix of Chileans and foreign-born residents of Santiago, and it maintains a sophisticated, modern and relaxed feel. While thoughtful cocktails are not in their wheelhouse, they do have stellar sangria spiked with fireball and champs for those wanting a non-beer option. They also recently added a hard cider, which is a gluten free beer alternative. Their bar food is delicious and well worth the calorie splurge. It’s not merely an afterthought for drunken patrons absent-mindedly consuming to curb the next day’s hang over. They have the best buffalo wings in Santiago, hands down. They also have tasty burger varieties. For sports games they have nice quality flat screens, but they are not particularly large in size. For big games they have a projector on the ground floor as well. Though I have watched a number of different sporting events there, there is a limit to their game access. I have struck out trying to catch unpopular national team qualifying games on a few occasions. It is located in Bellavista, slightly removed from the main hustle.
Address: Bellavista 0360, Bellavista, Santiago
Hours: Monday through Saturday Noon to 1:30 a.m.
Cervecería HBH is a popular sports bar for Chileans. They have an extensive beer menu and respectable pizza. It is a sizable establishment with many small flat screens. Seating is tight and the bar overall has a dive bar feel. They carry most mainstream football games, but it would not be an apt choice for other sporting events or less prominent teams. If you are looking to watch a Chilean Futbol game and want a feel for local flavor less tainted by foreign integration, I recommend catching the game at HBH and having a Michelada with a slice of pizza. It’s centrally located in Ñuñoa.
Address: Av. Irarrázaval 3176, Ñuñoa, Santiago
Hours: Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to Midnight; Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Flannery’s Irish Geo Pub
Flannery’s is a well put together traditional Irish pub with a purposefully dimly lit interior, hard wood and stained glass with a mix of booths and table seating. It is a narrow three stories and has terraces both rooftop and in front on the sidewalk. Flannery’s has a nice variety of tasty bites, anchored in elevated bar food, but also including lighter options such as salads and ceviches. Though their drink focus is a wider selection of beers, their mixed drinks are decent. Overall the bar has an attention to detail uncommon in sports bar establishments. The bar is frequented by both Chilean and foreign patrons and has large flat screens and also projectors for big games. Flannery’s takes reservations for popular sporting events and does fill up, so plan ahead. It is in Las Condes, easily accessible by metro.
Address: Encomenderos 83, Las Condes, Santiago
Hours: Open late every day of the week, check website for hours
Dublin Irish Pub
Dublin is part of a chain of restaurants and maintains a typical Patio Bellavista locale. The only real highlight is the nice clean aesthetic and the patio seating. It offers overpriced and uninspired food, including offerings from Mexican, Italian, Chilean, and Irish cuisines, all poorly executed. It’s overall a tourist trap. It has a decent beer selection but poorly crafted mixed drinks. Dublin has flat screens for highlighted sporting events.
Address: Constitución 68, Bellavista, Santiago
Hours: Monday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. or later, check website for hours