Santiago, Chile

Chi chi chi, le le le

It’s football time in Santiago. If Chile beats Colombia they qualify for the next 2010 World Cup. If not, they get more chances later on. Chilean people know this. But Chileans don’t want to wait. It’s Saturday, and they want to party.

We arrive early at the Irish-style pub, to get a good seat. A wise decision. We get a table with a front-row view of the massive screen. People arriving later aren’t as lucky and have to take a seat wherever they can find one, if they find one. Except for Piñera. Let’s get back to him in a moment.

The place is packed. Apparently it’s a popular place. National television is there, documenting the event, filming the crowd. Anywhere in the world, if you want to catch the  atmosphere of a major sporting event, go to a pub like this. Just at the time for kickoff, a large man with a big smile, his own personal entourage – friends, assistants, bodyguards, lackeys – walk in. Attention is momentarily shifted from the game to his dramatic entrance heading straight to the best table in the house. This character is unknown to the wider European audience, but in Chile he’s a celebrity. Turns out his name is Miguel “Negro” Piñera, and he happens to be the brother of the presidential candidate. The opposite of statesmanlike, bohemian and carefree demeanor, no doubt an artist of some kind. Left politics to his brother, focusing on the important things in life. We’re not sure whether he’s a national joke or an extraordinarily popular figure. Either way, his presence adds considerable spice to the bar and the atmosphere.

Thanks to, or maybe despite, the presence of this local legend, the crowd sure gets the party started. A guy up front takes charge. Stands up and chants “Chi” off the top of his lungs. The crowd, well familiar with this exercise, responds “Le” as loudly as they can. This is repeated once more; they guy with his “Chi” and the crowd with their “Le”. Chi and Le.  Spells Chile, yes it does. So, we’ve established that we all support Chile. The chant continues, now at a little faster pace, and now everybody joins in; “Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le”. And to emphasize that we’re really not mistaken, the chant is finished with a loud “Viva Chile!”. Certainly catchy, definitely tacky, and easy enough for everyone to join in.

The match itself is of varying quality. South American football is different from the European style I’m accustomed to. Less organized, and instead more individualistic and spontaneous. Take the ball and run with it until you either lose it or score seem to be the only two options in ball possession. Cringeworthy from a tactical point of view, but admittedly somewhat entertaining at times. Colombia scores the first goal. The crowd isn’t noticeably disheartened. Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, cheerful as ever, trying to wake their heroes up on the screen. Just minutes after Chile scores. Obviously this is cause for a massive Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le. A minute later Chile scores again. Needless to say, much more Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le. At this point Chile is in the World Cup. Halftime comes and warrants another Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, just to make sure no one falls asleep. Any other chants, anyone?

Second half. Colombia scores. Oops. The guys on the pitch need to wake up again. Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le. Of the two teams Chile appears to be more motivated. They enforce a third goal, and it’s looking good. A little variety can’t hurt, and the crowd temporarily forget their beloved catchphrase and chant “Chile va a Mundial” – “Chile is going to the World Cup”. The game is almost over. Chile kills the game with their fourth goal. Most definitely need some Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le here, for good measure.

After the game the pub empties quickly. The crowd wants to hit the streets and party. My German friend takes the opportunity to exchange a few words with Piñera, because unlike shy and reserved me, he does stuff like that. Miguel is a good sport and doesn’t mind. I wonder if this character of a musician is an asset or a burden to his brother’s political aspirations. Seemingly the former, as Sebastian Piñera won the presidential election the following year. But tonight, politics is uninteresting, distant. Tonight is football and party. Everyone’s happy, we’re all in the company of friends here. After a while Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le wanes out, and the nightclub scene takes over. We can’t say we’re sorry not having to listening to the chant for a while. At least until next summer…