21 April 2019

Sarah Fong is a 32-year-old PhD student at the University of Southern California. Interested in learning more about football and the culture surrounding it, she booked a trip with the third half to Colombia. This is her account of the journey that allowed her to discover the history and culture of the country through the lens of football.



Like many people from the United States, I am new to the world of soccer. But, I have been a sports fan all my life. As a young girl, my father would take my two sisters and I to baseball games, American football games, and basketball games at the university near our home. I can remember the excitement of walking into the stadium as a little girl. I was always proud to wear the team’s logo and thrilled by the buzz of the crowd. Looking back on my early memories of attending games with my parents and sisters, I see that for me, being a sports fan has always been about connecting with others. It has always been about celebrating the wins and amenting the losses together; it has always been about hoping that this time, our team would make it to the top.


In addition to cultivating our love of sports, my parents instilled in my sisters and I a belief in the importance of service to others. They encouraged us to volunteer at local schools and community organisations. They taught us that we all have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it. The combination of my love of sports and the desire to advance social change prompted me to visit Colombia in 2018 on a trip organised by the third half and Black Arrow. This trip provided me with an opportunity to dig deeper into the culture of soccer and to learn about a country I had not been to before.


As a new soccer fan, I was excited to visit a country while their national team was playing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In recent years, my fiancée (who is an avid Manchester City fan) has introduced me more and more to the world of soccer. From his stories and experiences, I knew that there would be excitement and energy around the games. I alsoknew that the third half and Black Arrow would show us elements of Colombian history and culture that went beyond the typical tourist experience. I hoped that in the week we spent traveling around the country, I would learn something about how soccer fits into the culture and rhythms of life in Colombia. I hoped to see how the soccer could be an engine of social transformation.


Our group travelled around the country for just over a week. We watched World Cup games with local fans in Cartagena; spent a day with Tiempo de Juego in Santa Marta; visited a coffee farm in Minca; travelled to San Basilio de Palenque; and relaxed at the beach on Isla de Pirata. Soccer tied together our experiences in each of these places. In Cartagena and Isla de Pirata, we watched the World Cup matches with local fans. We practiced skills and played a match with the youth at Tiempo de Juego. In San Basilio de Palenque and at the beach in Tayrona, we kicked a ball around with local residents. In each place we visited, it was clear that soccer is a central part of community life throughout Colombia.


A week is only enough time to scratch the surface of Colombia’s culture and history. What became clear to me on this trip, however, was the power of soccer to bring people together. As our group walked down the streets of Cartagena, supporters wearing the national team’s kits called out to one another. In the bars and restaurants where we watched World Cup matches, strangers cheered, hugged, and celebrated together. 

As we travelled from city to city, we passed countless pitches where matches and practices were taking place – sometimes they looked like formal teams wearing matching kits and other times we saw handfuls of people simply kicking a ball around. As visitors from another country, some of our group spoke Spanish and some did not. But when it came to watching the World Cup or joining the matches we encountered along the way, language did not seem to matter so much. 


The game itself provided a way for us to communicate across the divides of language, country, and culture. We all shared a love of sport, competition, and the feeling of being part of a team, part of something larger than ourselves. On this trip to Colombia, I learned how soccer can create new possibilities for relationships amongst diverse peoples.


I was particularly struck by the work that Tiempo de Juego does in Santa Marta. Tiempo de Juego uses football as a tool for youth development, teaching young people how to become agents of change in their own communities. The young people we met there were confident in their soccer skills, welcoming in their exchanges with us, and seemed to share a deep bond with one another. This trip solidified my growing belief that soccer can bring together people from around the world to work towards common goals. As supporters and players share experiences – playing, winning, and losing together – they create bonds and learn lessons that can be used to create a more just and equitable world.



This article appeared in FOOTBALL4GOOD Magazine Issue 10/April 2019. Read more stories from the field of football for good here

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