The Number 31 bus pulled up near our hostel and we jumped on. Dingy, worn, well travelled and running smoothly, the bus took us to an area called Sajonia. Once out, I used my Asuncion map to find the stadium.
The stadium name is Estadio Defensores del Chaco and I was there in November 2010, the same year that Paraguay had won their group in the World Cup in South Africa. They eventually lost to later winners Spain in a topsy turvy match. Once again the Paraguayans had exceeded themselves on the world stage.
In an area which was quite rundown, the stadium looked impeccable and stood out obviously. It was a beast for sure – much larger than I had expected – and a lot bigger than Northern Ireland’s National Stadium – Windsor Park.
At first we tried to gain access through the main entrance using our Spanish and the fact that I was on holiday and loved football. I even mentioned Roque Santa Cruz and Jose Luis Chilavert to try and wangle my way inside, but the sturdy security guard, holding a gun said “no way Pedro” so we decided to wander on round instead and do a lap of the stadium, plus grab a few decent photos from the outside.
I was adamant and certain we could get inside though, and it was a hot day without rain so I gathered there might be a contracted grass cutter around lawn-mowering the turf. Once round the other side of the stadium, we were in luck.
Whether it was the grass cutter or just a cleaner, we’ll never know but he let us into the stadium AND onto the pitch with no questions.
The gentleman, blatantly a proud Paraguayan wearing some national team regalia, allowed us to do our own thing. I probably could have got out a football and had a shot you know. But there wasn’t one about.
Standing on the pitch.
Instead I sampled the atmosphere and vast-ness of the ground and imagined what it must be like on a matchday. It was a pretty good stadium.
The red white and blue of Paraguay’s national flag were in abundance from the seats to the adverts to the flag flying high.
Believe me, that is a rarity, but I did of course have my travelling Northern Ireland flag and Gregory kindly took a few photos of it out, while I stood in the centre circle where Chilavert once won a coin toss and I brandished a flag of a country never ever to have played against Paraguay.
Having walked on the pitch and flown the flag, I was pretty impressed and also done with my experience of being at Estadio Defensores del Chaco. So we headed back out onto the side streets and caught a bus back downtown Asuncion.
The side streets.
I don’t think I’ll ever return to the national stadium of Paraguay, unless of course Northern Ireland ever happen to play there, in which case I’d be bursting to return and see it. And pop into the boisterous restaurants and bars of Asuncion while I’m at it.
Maybe that will bring John Hart to Asuncion. My old Northern Ireland away trip buddy from a few trips over the years went to World Cup 2010 to support Paraguay. John even made his own Northern Ireland and Paraguay flag for the World Cup and is pictured above with it, and with Toddy (Garreth Todd) another prominent figure and regular attendee to all matches Norn Iron down the years. Yet John never made it to the country of Paraguay itself. I had gone there and dedicated my photo to him. John – let’s hope for another Northern Ireland away day together soon – maybe even Paraguay…who knows. I don’t want to make any asuncions however…
* The last two photos are copyright John Hart
Bus Number – 31
Who Went – Jonny Blair, Gregory Ortiz
Who Plays There – Paraguay National Team only (no club team play there)
Who Has Gigged There – Paul McCartney
Paraguay Honours – Been to 7 World Cups, Won the Copa America twice
Star Player of all time – Jose Luis Chilavert (a goalkeeper who liked to take penalties and free kicks)
There In Spirit if Not in Person – John Hart and Toddy
My Video from standing on the pitch at Estadio Defensores Del Chaco:
Key Song –
MARK KNOPFLER – POSTCARDS FROM PARAGUAY (ironically live in Berlin in 2007, one of two times I was with John Hart in Berlin as part of a NI away trip):
A Few Videos of Jose Luis Chilavert:
Top Goals and Saves:
Chilavert scores against Argentina:
Top Five Scoring Goalkeepers: