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The pounding of drums, colored smoke, a fireworks display right above my head. This is how I was introduced to soccer in Medellín. The energy in the stadium matched any I’ve experienced in sporting events in both the US and Europe, and the palos de queso, the cheese sticks they serve in the stadium, were pretty good too.
If you want to enjoy soccer in Medellín, there are two teams you can root for: Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, both of which play in Estadio Atanasio Giradot in Laureles. Whether you want to watch in a bar or brave the crowds to watch it in person, here are my tips for making the best of the experience.
Living in Europe I’m very used to the phenomenon of soccer teams becoming associated with specific demographics or groups. If there are two teams in a city, the Right roots for one team and the Left the other, one team is more working class while the other is more posh, etc. I was sure a similar division must exist in Medellín and so went asking everyone from business executives to taxi drivers to learn what it was.
In truth it doesn’t seem that the division is as pronounced as it tends to be in Europe, but there are a few stereotypes associated with both.
Atlético Nacional is the most successful team in Colombia with 16 league titles, five Copa Colombia and two Superliga Colombia. It’s also the team with the most fans across the whole country, so it’s also the most visible and celebrated team in Medellín. You’ll see the green jerseys and banners everywhere.
Atlético plays in the Primera A category with the best teams in the country. In 2021, they came in third of the 20 teams in the league. Aside from Independiente Medellín, they have an intense rivalry with Millonarios, a club in Bogota.
Atlético Nacional is considered somewhat more bourgeois than Independiente Medellín, but it’s not a strong association because in reality, Atlético Nacional has fans from every part of the city and social class. This is why it’s probably the more accessible team to root for as a foreigner, especially if you want to follow them even when you’re not in Colombia.
While not as successful as Atlético Nacional, Independiente Medellín is the much older team, having been founded in 1913. They’re also far from a bad team having won the Primera A category six times and the Copa Colombia three times.
Independiente Medellín doesn’t have the national fanbase that Atlético Nacional does and is primarily supported by proud Medellín natives. It’s considered somewhat more working class and has a lot of support in these parts of the city like Comuna 13. That said, which such a long history, there are families all over Medellín that have been fans of the team for generations.
Buying tickets for a soccer game in Medellín can honestly be a bit frustrating. There are three ways you can do it, each of which comes with its own problems:
This is actually a big deal. The energy in Atanasio Girardot Stadium can get intense. Generally speaking, the north and south ends of the stadium have cheaper seats, but it’s where the rowdiest fans sit. In an Atlético Nacional game, the south section of the stadium especially gets really intense with lots of green thunder sticks and a giant banner that the whole section holds up at the beginning, not to mention the band. The same happens on the north end for Independiente Medellín.
This could be fun, but you’re likely to get lost as a foreigner. Most foreigners, as well as calmer, older fans, tend to sit on the east or west side. The most expensive seats are usually those on the second level on the west side because they give you the best view of the entire field and are behind the teams’ benches. Really, though, anywhere on the east and west sides is a good choice.
Any soccer game in Medellín is a fun time, full of energy and drama. However, the most intense game by far that you can attend would be the Paisa Classic between Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín.
Just be careful. Fans get really rowdy during these games, especially Los del Sur, the Nacional fans that sit in the stadium’s south section, and Rexixtenxia Norte, the Medellín fans that sit in the north section. Fights are so common that the stadium sometimes only allows fans of one team or the other to enter. If you think you can handle it, it’s arguably one of the most dramatic sporting events in the world.
You don’t even have to go to the stadium to feel the energy of a Medellín soccer match. I recommend going to a bar on La 70 to watch the game. La 70 is always a party, but on game night, especially for Atlético Nacional, it’s packed. Find a table on the north end of the street near the stadium to watch the game, and then experience the wave of fans that pass through to either celebrate the win or mourn the loss. It’s one of the richest Medellín experiences you can have.
Just don’t forget to have a cheese stick.