Home 2003-04 – Lotto
When meeting with a Colombian for the first time, one should resist the urge to blurt out some gormless quip suggesting they “sort you out with some coke”, as the vast majority are sick to the back teeth of this stereotype and will probably issue you with a well-deserved slap, unless of course you’re serious, in which case you’ll likely be ushered down the nearest alley, handed multiple contact details for a shady chap named Miguel and given explicit instructions on precisely when and where your new bestest amigo will be waiting with the means to party your nose clean off your face. Yep, despite the best efforts of successive governments to clean up their international image, Colombia still leads the way globally in the production of powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, liquid cocaine and cocaine paste. The country is also the world’s largest exporter of emeralds, which are usually hollowed out and filled with cocaine. In addition to these narcotic-fuelled misadventures, Colombians are also infamous for getting their kids hooked on ridiculously strong coffee from a very early age. How do they sleep at night?
The area encompassing modern day Colombia was one of the first places in South America to feel the tread of European footsteps when Spanish conquistadors swept through the region in the early sixteenth century and began ransacking cities, pilfering gold and converting the native Amerindians to Christianity or, if that failed to stick, converting them into corpses. Figuring that they were probably not long for this world, local tribes sought to gain a measure of revenge on the invaders by concocting the myth of El Dorado, a fictitious city of immense fictitious wealth, hidden fictitiously deep in the Amazon rainforest. Such was their commitment to the ruse, they even cooked up a backstory for the chief of this spurious metropolis, specifically that his inauguration ceremony involved lathering up in gold dust, loading his arms with shiny trinkets and plunging headlong into a lake while onlookers and servants tossed cheap jewellery into the water to appease the gods. Gods who apparently all shop at Matalan.
Naturally, this ‘lost city of gold’ was never found due to its unhelpful refusal to actually exist, although that didn’t stop greedy explorers from spending around 200 years looking for it, nor did it stop the Colombians from naming their capital Bogota’s main airport after the place. So, technically, you CAN now visit El Dorado, assuming of course you like your holiday entertainment to involve trying to guess which of the liberally perspiring lone travellers in the security queue has a condom full of party powder hidden up his arse (spoiler alert; it’s all of them), indulging the attentions of some seriously overworked sniffer dogs or simply beholding the world’s most sarcastic ‘nothing to declare’ signs.
For those of us who grew up watching international football in the 1990s, Colombia were the living embodiment of the sublime manacled to the ridiculous, a team blessed with sumptuously silky skills, but also chock full of loonies with one twitchy finger permanently poised over the self-destruct button. Principle agents of chaos included unpredictable striker Faustino Asprilla – who, amongst his more sedate misadventures once brought a gun to training and threatened to shoot his teammates, missed the 1993 Cup Winners Cup final with Parma after attemptng to beat up a bus driver and and, most embarrassingly of all, almost signed for Darlington in 2002 – as well as madcap goalkeeper Rene Higuita, who was often be found halfway up the pitch hoofing startled opposition forwards into the stands, and Carlos Valderrama, the classy midfield playmaker whose hair is always having a party.
Unfortunately, despite reaching the last 16 of Italia 90 – where one of Higuita’s trademark walkabouts was memorably and fatally interrupted by everybody’s favourite dancing granddad Roger Milla – this golden generation is perhaps best remembered for their disastrous showing at USA 94 and the tragic events that followed. Heading into the tournament, Colombia were riding high off the back of a 5-0 thrashing of Argentina in Buenos Aires during qualification, with some pundits even touting them as potential champions. However the team buckled badly under the weight of expectation and were eliminated at the group stage after a shock 2-1 defeat against the hosts, a game which saw captain Andreas Escobar put through his own net. Upon returning to Colombia, Escobar was subsequently murdered outside a nightclub a few days later, reportedly at the behest of drug cartels in retaliation for the own goal because they had bet heavily on the team winning, and also because they were cunts.
The early 21st century saw a rapid decline in Colombia’s World Cup fortunes as ‘Los Cafeteros’ (the Coffee Growers) failed to qualify for three successive tournaments in 2002, 2006 and 2010. They finally returned with a bang in 2014 where, powered by the goals of competition top scorer James Rodriguez – including an absolute belter in the second round win over Uruguay – they reached the quarter finals for the first time, pushing their Brazilian hosts all the way before narrowly losing 2-1. At the time of writing, the team are on the cusp of qualification for Russia 2018, and with a good chunk of the squad intact from four years ago, they look every bit potential dark horses for an extended run at the finals.
Surprisingly, it was during the lull between these two esteemed generations that the Colombians captured their one and only Copa America trophy, beating Mexico 1-0 in the 2001 final on home soil. In many ways it was a strange old championship. Argentina withdrew, citing security concerns over the choice of hosts, Brazil were knocked out by a Honduras side – who somewhat implausibly finished third overall – and the whole shebang was even scrapped just ten days before it was due to begin, before being reinstated again five days later. Then again, Colombia has some history with this sort of thing. It’s an oft forgotten fact that the country was originally slotted to host the 1986 World Cup, only to be forced into relinquishing the honour by 1983 due to spiralling costs stemming from the expansion of the finals from 16 to 24 teams, forcing Mexico to step up at short notice and take over proceedings. To date, this marks the only time a designated World Cup host has been stripped of the tournament. Here’s hoping that Qatar 2022 might still become the second.
When this cracking design from Lotto plopped through my letterbox ten years ago via the ever-reliable Classicfootballshirts.co.uk, it represented a somewhat unwitting milestone for my collection, being the tenth and final South American nation to find itself wrestling for space amongst a sea of polyester in my wardrobe. At the time I had no pretensions about accumulating the entire FIFA roster, and indeed was mildly surprised to realise I had an entire continent’s worth. Not sure if this may have triggered some OCD reflex in my brain, ultimately causing me to expand my quest to every country on the planet or whether, as a recent university graduate at the time, I had the Pokemon slogan “Gotta catch them all” on my brain having digested unhealthy levels of daytime TV and cartoons over the preceding three years.
I’d actually wanted a Colombia shirt for ages beforehand, but could never find a design I liked at a reasonable price. Pleasingly, this one technically didn’t cost me a penny, after a thoroughly nice chap called Doug at the afore-mentioned CFS did me a swap for an old 1995 Italy top that was way to big for me and a late 90s Manchester City Kappa design that I’d originally bought for £10 from JJB Sports (remember them?) with the intention of wearing it to Oasis gigs, which I didn’t.