Zamora – Soccer and life in Venezuela



It’s easy to get sick of politics in Venezuela, it will break your heart.


Some say America wants to vampire every natural resource they have. They will manipulate oil markets, impose sanctions and drive the country’s people to abject poverty to get what they want. Then blame socialism.


Others complain there is a corrupt, incompetent government, that limits freedoms and refuses to pass the baton.


And, trapped in between, some of the best people in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.


The bustle of the cities, the warmth of the mountain people, the fun-loving ratbags of the coast. The Andes, the Amazon, the Carabiean, the plains, all packed into this land that should be one of the world’s few genuine paradises.


So I am told. With the collapsed economy, you can only take $2 a day out of a bank, and even then, only if you’re a local. Cars are vital, there is no lending them, or paying someone to loan one. Not where we are. And we couldn’t get the money out even if there was. It’s just impossible to get around.
It affects everything. Quality of life. A nation’s spirit. Sport.


We try to lighten the mood by going to barrack for the football team from the main city of the plains. Zamora, the national champions. They wear black and white and are like Collingwood in every way. Working class. Proud. Loathed by others.



We meet Elena’s cousin. Luis. He has coached at junior level for years, and is as passionate as it gets. He loves his sport, he loves teaching. He believes in the kids.


We stand out front of a big, concrete stadium, while teenager after teenager greets him. He’s coached each one, is royalty. I like the way they give each other respect. A quick, solid, dude-shake, a chest bump, a pat on the back.


Luis Gonzales Martinez


Luis was a good player in the day, but did his knee at 22. He had ambition to go all the way, but four failed recos later, he was done.

Only he wasn’t.
“Chevere,” he says. “Coaching is my way of giving back.”


The stadium is big, solid, with a beautiful green carpet. It has no fuss about it. No big screens. You pay attention or miss the goals.
All day Luis has been pumping his fist with each syllable, coaching me; “Za-mor-a! Za-mor-a!” until I’m insane to go crazy with the South Americans!


Being in a black and white army, the more I think about it, is so much about the colours – or lack of them. Lots of Melbourne suburbs were working class. But the Collingwood club was the one that became successful. Black and white was simple. No greys, no tones. Defining.


I’ve never been readier to cross over!
Outside we meet Zamora’s No.1 supporter. It’s obvious. He greets you well, then gets on with greeting other people, working a football crowd. We meet him again inside, then again on the stairs. He stands there, in the junction, barracking, shaking hands, hugging. Eddie would be proud.


Sport here is not like it is in Cuba, with its honeycomb crush of houses. There, life is lived on the street in front of your home. Every single doorway is a backstop to a kid with a stick facing a kid bending a coke lid through the air. There are more football games on the ratty paving than cars. Their streets are awash with activity.
Venezuela is not that safe right now. There is a lush sporting complex in Barinas, there are pitches, the coaching looks superb, organised, there’s school. But the streets are lined with huge, barb-wired walls. Empty.


I wonder how much that affects a country’s sport? Its character? Its mood?


All that’s left to do is watch the Crazies, with their drums and whistles, banners and flags, as they prepare behind the goals and wait for the kick-off.


The crowd never comes in. I’m disappointed, but Luis tells me it’s still the start of the season. And there’s the economy. It literally takes a wad of notes stacked as high as my fist, to buy us a soft drink each. Three days wage for many. My $2 done and dusted.


But then the ball is tapped forward, and all else falls away.


Then, there’s football.

The local mob break down the right, while two of their strikers sprint towards goal. There is a perfect cross, taken sweetly by a player 20 meters out, who bends it like heaven, dipping it into the top right corner.


30 seconds in. This is going to be epic!


The Crazies lose the plot, their drums booming throughout the stadium! Straight from Africa! I want to festival, I want to barrack! But they Crazies are too loose, I’m told. That’s why they’re behind a cage – dancing, chanting. To be in there and not be one of them is to risk death.


A supporter gives me violent, less-than-glorious tales.


Somebody else tells me not to believe them. That that’s just propaganda, because they’re pro government. Even in this, Venezuela is a country divided.


Who knows? It would be brilliant to be watching football with them, but, it’s true, having a kid changes you. I watch her playing on the stairs and, these days, listen to warnings.


On the oval, everything is incredibly professional. The substitutes and their warm-ups, the media, even the circle of armed military.


Luis tells me the other team is from Merida. A beautiful college city, from the mountains. Everything about the teams reflects where they’re from. Zamora, the plains – a city built around dairy and cattle farms. They have short hair and play a patient, organised game.


Merida is more cosmopolitan, bohemian. Their players have long hair. They play with flair. They run and turn it over, and get it back and, by the end, do all the attacking, but just can’t kick goals.


At half time Luis and I go for a walk. We meet another of Elena’s cousins. I ask him how small the city is, do they get to meet the players?


He rolls his eyes and mumbles something about one of them and his daughter. I love it! This is the professional league. It feeds teams through Europe and Asia. Often big teams. Many of the players become famous. But they’re still from the farming plains.


More and more young men continue to greet Luis. I feel glad for him. The interaction of football.


I’m introduced to one of Zamora’s injured players. Up close he looks incredibly young, and reminds me so much of the flat, rural, dairy region I’m from, and its rural centre, Colac. There’s not much else to do there but fight and play footy. On any given year there are between five and ten AFL players that herald from it. Most are the tough-nut, see-ball-get-ball type of player. Yet when they return home from the AFL for a weekend, they stand out so much, in clothes, jewelry, the way they stand, confidence.


I felt the exact same vibe I’m getting talking to this man, as I did watching Luke Hodge watching his mates playing in a local final. That “Big Time” aura.





Zamora don’t have several of their biggest signings yet, and injuries, so they seem to shut down very early, and that’s the way it ends nearly 90 minutes later. One-zip, after 30 early seconds of glory. People start throwing their streamers in injury time just to spend them. The chant, Za-mor-a stays in its holster.


The game felt like a product of its moment, like Venezuela. The framework is there, the passion. The good people, life’s heroes. Everything waiting to be spectacular! But here and now, the stadiums are 2/3rds empty.


Next time, no matter who’s in charge, we’re coming back during finals.



Check out more stories from Matt Zurbo HERE




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  1. Superb old dog and bloody educational especially for some one who’s experience of going overseas is to go to Tasmania.Economic situations and poverty are forgotten personally to a large extent unless reading and learning sounds like a fascinating trip thank you

  2. Good one, Rulebook. Trust me, I feel like I live in Adelaide when I ready your pieces!

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