Arica, a city in the far north of Chile has had a twenty-seven year wait for its football club to win promotion back to the top flight of Chilean football. I have followed San Marcos de Arica since moving here in April 2011 by attending nearly every home match in that time. Under the scorching hot midday sun on Sunday 4th November 2012 San Marcos ended their barren spell. Below is my personal account of how the final day unfolded.
First we had to queue up for an hour or two just to get a ticket earlier in the week. Then when the day arrived we had to wait hours outside the stadium before we gained access inside. It was a year in which San Marcos de Arica led for the majority of the season and they headed into the last game just needing a point to gain promotion, they could even afford to lose if Barnechea failed to win against Nublense.
San Marcos de Arica are a well-supported club by Chilean standards, regularly attracting 5,000 fans even in the bad times but many Chileans even if they support their local club will also feel like they have to support one of the big Santiago clubs as well. The impressive performance of the team this season has helped in attracting many new fans to the stadium. There seems to be a lot more pride in supporting their local side, the sky blue shirts becoming an ever increasing sight in the city as the season progressed. In June they had already won the Apertura (Opening season) title which meant they would have two more chances in the play-offs if they didn’t make it automatically by winning the Annual season. Attendances have been on the up with more than 10,000 fans turning up as the promotion race heated up towards the end of the Clausura (Closing) and Annual season.
The day started with joining a queue that snaked it’s way through the streets of the city for around half a mile joining the hundreds of fans that had queued overnight to secure their favourite spot on the terrace. Most of these loyal fans that had been through the heartbreak of a play-off final defeat on penalties to Palestino in 2010 and were praying for no such heart-break this time.
There was no doubt San Marcos de Arica had the wobbles as the finishing line neared. Two home defeats on consecutive Saturday’s including one to promotion rivals Barnechea had created some tension between those dedicated fans who go every week and ‘hinchas de carton’ (plastic fans) who had started to turn up but added a noticeable negative atmosphere when things didn’t go to plan. Shouts of yetas (jinxes) rang around the terraces when hundreds of fans headed for the turnstiles in the last few minutes of the penultimate home game of the season. It was clear from some of the comments around me that some of these fans hadn’t been much in recent months perhaps preferring the comfort out their living room on the late Saturday nights San Marcos de Arica usually contest their home matches. Due to cultural and climate factors games usually kick off at 22:00 in the far north of Chile.
CDF, the Chilean cable television station dedicated to football that shows numerous Primera A matches every week and 1 live Primera B game most Sundays were also in Arica. They screened the game on their premium channel which Chileans need to pay to see. CDF monopolise live domestic football in Chile, no game from Primera A or Primera B is on national free to view TV and all are shown on CDF Premium. Inexplicably this was the first time San Marcos de Arica had a home game shown live this year despite being the best team in the division. Arica is a long way from Santiago and there is quite a bitter feeling as to how CDF covered the Primera B season, many claimed it was clear they preferred the Santiago based Barnechea.
Once the game was underway the tension at times was unbearable inside Estadio Carlos Dittborn, the nerves appeared to have transferred onto the pitch where the home side struggled to find their find rhythm. Deportes Concepcion looked a bit livelier going forward and just before half time they managed to silence the partisan crowd by taking the lead after an error in the San Marcos defence.
Regular updates came through on radios and mobiles from Chillán more than 2000km south where Barnechea had to beat Nublense to secure automatic promotion ahead of Arica. Nublense themselves had been in the title race for much of the season and at one point were favourites having gone unbeaten for 19 games. Despite going behind early promotion rivals Barnechea were leading 3-2 heading into the final minutes of the game and looked set to spoil the Arica party.
In Arica it felt like the clock was ticking quicker than ever as time begun to run out for the home side, they hit the bar with 20 minutes remaining but they hadn´t created much apart from that as the pressure looked like it had got the better of them. They kept pushing on but the Deportes Concepcion defence stood firm, the away side knew they had to win to keep their play-off hopes alive. Countless free kicks inside the opposition half were hacked away, The Arica DT (manager) Luis Marcoleta looked on with his hands on his head in ever increasing disbelief and made a couple of changes that seemed to re-energise the team. The home side knew they just needed an equaliser and then with just 4 minutes remaining the ball fell kindly for rising star Renato Gonzalez, he chipped it to Pablo Frances in the area, the Argentine drilled it across the six yard box, Estay missed his kick but Maurico Segovia didn’t! The big lanky defender swept the ball home into the roof of the net to spark an explosion of colour and noise inside the famous old stadium. In the midst of the celebrations was Joel Estay who finished as Arica’s top scorer in this glorious campaign. The bulky number 21 stood with just the match ball for company and seemed totally lost in the moment and thanked the heavens. Meanwhile the unlikely hero Segovia was brought down to the floor by an avalanche of San Marcos players and coaching staff with many a Tardelli celebration on show.
The stadium was now bouncing with jubilant locals, a Deportes Concepcion free kick came to nothing and Arica then broke on the counter, sub Piña was brought down and the ref played advantage, Estay took a wild shot but the ref controversially decided to bring the play back and give Arica a free kick. Piña stepped up and saw his free kick take a big deflection and bounce into the corner of the net to spark wild celebrations around the city. Moments later the referee blew his whistle and with that ended almost three complete decades of hurt for the San Marcos de Arica supporters.
The local radio station describes the San Marcos de Arica goals in this video…
Hundreds of fans poured onto the pitch from all sides of the terrace to carry their heroes on their shoulders, Pedro Carrizo, the captain, goalkeeper and strong candidate for player of the season held aloft the trophy amongst a sea of young San Marcos fans and then led a lap of honour around the track of the stadium. The celebrations carried on for around an hour inside the stadium. The party wasn´t finished there as the players were soon off to the city centre to parade the trophy whilst packing into an open freight on the back of a lorry. Fans danced, drank and sang in the street for hours, it was a real carnival atmosphere.
San Marcos de Arica will join a host of clubs from the north of Chile in Primera A next season including their fierce rivals Deportes Iquique (promoted in 2010) who have just qualified for the Copa Libertadores. The transition between the two divisions has been bridged successfully by many sides in recent years. San Marcos with the potential to get crowds over 10,000 on a regular basis could well be the next club to thrive in the top division.
Barnechea meanwhile conceded a late equaliser which means they will face Nublense again in a 2 legged play-off. The two late goals from Segovia and Piña cost Deportes Concepcion a play-off place and it will be Everton Vina Del Mar who will contest a play-off match against a side from near the bottom of Primera A. At the other end of the table, Puerto Montt, the team furthest south geographically in the division were relegated on the same day the team furthest north were promoted funnily enough.
That Nublense equaliser in Chillán also meant that San Marcos de Arica added the Clausura to their Apertura and Annual titles. The Primera B treble in 2012 is an emphatic way to end the drought after 27 years. The club and the city is now set to compete with the elite of Chilean football again.