“Milton Melgar will score the first goal of the 1994 World Cup!” – Jonny Blair and Paddy Campbell (16.05.1994)
My trip to La Paz while backpacking in Bolivia would have been incomplete was it not for a visit to what is a cauldron of world football – Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz. This is Bolivia’s national football stadium, and happens to be the highest national football stadium in the World. This was a sentimental journey on my particular life’s corridor and I dandered in alone, almost nonchalantly like a school kid seeing a monster he once read about. This was my dream, and this was Milton Melgar’s golden dream…
You see, back in 1994, around the time of the completely infamous “Great Exam Heist”, Paddy Campbell and I had World Cup stickers for our Panini book. First out of the pack, and next to a “Johnny” was…Bolivian stalwart and legend Milton Melgar…well the question goes…
So much so that FIFA once tried to ban Bolivia from playing there! How ridiculous, as this is the point of home advantage.
So I was staying at Loki Hostel in downtown La Paz. I had heard many bad reports about La Paz before going there. One from my good friend Richard “richboy” Ingram who marked La Paz off as “shite”, and “somewhere to avoid” another from the Lonely Planet book which claimed “La Paz is full of scams and can be dodgy.”
Of course the glory of travelling is that people are different,and while Richard “richboy” Ingram didn’t find his charm with La Paz, I certainly did. Loki Hostel itself was amazingly well situated for visiting the national football stadium.
I could have easily jumped in a collectivo (these are mayhem and there are loads of them in La Paz) and got a ride there for a few dollars.
But on a brisk early morning, I felt like a stroll through the mayhemic rush hour and up hills, getting out of breath on a special journey for me to see this football treasure chest.
I left the hostel alone on the walk to the stadium. I passed many people going to work – no tourists were around. The walk took me up Illimani Calle until it came to a busy roundabout junction at Plaza Del Estadio (Stadium Square).
And there in it’s grey sprawling city like grandeur was the beast itself – the very venue where in 2009, Bolivia smash dunked Maradona’s Argentina 6-1. Bolivia’s home record at this very stadium is fucking immense. They rarely lose here.
And it’s no surprise. I struggled for breath myself, even on a dreary mild morning.
It was high up, but La Paz even veered higher again to my left, heading into hills of almost lego like blocks, similar to the ranchos in Caracas, of Venezuela fame. This stadium eclipsed everything in sight.
The stadium is officially called Estadio Hernando Siles, named after the 31st President of Bolivia, who was in charge when Bolivia played in the 1930 World Cup finals in Uruguay.
I crossed the very busy rush hour roundabout to arrive at the football stadium, which is basically almost just a massive roundabout itself, with a road circling it. The main entrance was totally shut and at 8.30 am ish there wasn’t going to be much chance of getting inside, which was my dream.
Some graffiti celebrating the massive win inflicted on Argentina the year before I visited La Paz. The goals are below on the video link – a 6-1 thrashing!
Once I realised the stadium looked closed and the chance to go in had probably gone, I decided just to do a loop of the whole stadium on the off chance I could somehow get inside. It was almost 9 am, as I walked slow that day due to the high altitude and the need to keep breathing at the normal pace.
But once I rounded the corner, I saw this green door with a lock on it, which looked to be passable. The lock stretched across the two doors, but the inner door was unlocked, A door within a door. So in I went…
It was actually one of those scary moments once inside, but the eagerness and passion I had to actually see this beast of a stadium in the flesh over-rode everything else. I closed the first door behind me – the street behind was quiet and nobody had seen me sneak in. Yes I was trespassing, but I’m a football fan and if I only have a few days in La Paz I want to stand on the pitch and look around the stadium.
Next challenge was through another gate inside, a yellow one – this one also by luck was closed over but not locked so I took my chance and in I went.
And there it was in front of me – I feasted my eyes on this marvel. A well enclosed stadium and now I was standing where Bolivia had bate Argentina 6-1.
There were a few morning joggers there – I gathered they came from the gym which was attached to the main stand in the stadium. Nobody approached me to ask what I was doing and I guess if they had of done I would have just told them how much I love football and how much I wanted to see Bolivia’s famous national stadium.
It felt unreal to be in there and because we were so high up, there was NO NOISE coming from outside. It was like another world. Busy beeping collectivos fly past outside in the mayhem. Inside a pin could drop and you hear it.
Nonchalantly I walked onto the pitch.
I pretended to hit a pelanty into the nets.
The height of La Paz gets even higher than this beyond the football stadium.
The rising suburbs of La Paz go beyond Estadio Hernando Siles, tower blocks similar to this one give La Paz a grey/dull colourful “block appeal”.
Standing on the pitch.
The Northern Ireland flag had to come out as well of course.
Ball boys view of Argentina getting smashed 6-1!
There was bizarrely a poster up advertising a marathon and a runner called…Jhonny – surely this was a sign that I was meant to have gone in there.
Nobody saw me leave either. I was content. I closed the door on my way out. What a great experience. Wonder how many goals they’d tank Northern Ireland by in their cauldron…
Bolivia play their home games at Estadio Hernando Siles, which has an altitude of 3637 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest football stadiums in the world. Many visiting teams protest that the altitude gives Bolivia an unfair advantage against opponents. On May 27, 2007, FIFA declared that no World Cup Qualifying matches could be played in stadiums above 8,200 feet (2,500 m) above sea level. However FIFA raised the altitude limit after months of campaigning against the ban, thus allowing the stadium to continue holding World Cup qualifying matches.
Estadio Hernando Siles is a sports stadium in La Paz, Bolivia. It is the country’s largest sports complex with a capacity of 42,000 seated spectators and is named after Hernando Siles Zuazo, the 31st President of Bolivia(1926–1930). The stadium is located in the Miraflores borough of La Paz, at an altitude of 3,637 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest professional stadiums in the world. The Stadium was opened in 1931 with a match between The Strongest and its classic rival, Universitario, with The Strongest winning 4-1. It is the home ground of three Bolivian league football clubs, Club Bolivar, The Strongest and La Paz F.C..
The stadium has been the site of historic moments in Bolivian football history, including Bolivia’s 2-0 defeat of Brazil in the 1993 qualifiers for World Cup 94, Brazil’s first defeat in 20 years of playing the qualifiers. Another such moment of this history, occurred on the 1st April 2009 when Bolivia defeated Argentina 6-1, inflicting the worst defeat for Argentina in 60 years. Most recently defeating an underweight Brazil 2-1.
KEY SONG: OASIS – THE HINDU TIMES (“I get so high I just can’t feel it”)
AND THIS ONE SOMEHOW SEEMS APPROPRIATE FOR ANY AWAY TEAMS VISITING LA PAZ: THE PRODIGY – BREATHE:
OUTSIDE ESTADIO HERNADO SILES, LA PAZ:
ON THE PITCH AT ESTADIO HERNANDO SILES, LA PAZ:
BOLIVIA 6-1 ARGENTINA (01.04.2009) from Estadio Hernando Siles:
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