SPORTS: Junior is on fire, and not exactly for its results

Empty seats at Metropolitano Stadium

Despite their win on Sunday, the problems in Junior are far from being over. The team’s performance on the field during this past weekend’s game against Alianza Petrolera, where the Sharks defeated their rival 2-0, was the least important thing that occurred inside Metropolitano stadium on that day. The fight between the fans and the board of directors, which started with some innocent empty stadium camping, reached its worst moment when the very few fans who went to the game raised their voices and affected the whole atmosphere of the match.

At the beginning of the game, the whole section of fans on the south side “watched”, or better yet, “attended” the game with their backs to the field. Throughout the first half, in a strong signal of protest, the Frente Rojiblanco Sur (FRBS) faction sang songs while facing their seats, asking for the resignation of Fuad Char (the owner) and Alfredo Gonzalez-Rubio (the president).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the stadium, the northern faction, “Los Cuervos” (and the arch-rival of FRBS, shouted their war cries demanding an immediate resignation of the owners. For the first time in a long period, the two factions were insulting others instead of each other – normally they fight against one another – it was strange to see them on the same side.elves or selves proclaiming better than the other one, but instead asking for the same purpose.

In the second half, FRBS didn’t come to their seats, instead spending 15 minutes of the game in the hallways of the stadium, specifically to show the empty seats behind Junior’s goalkeeper. At that moment the tension in Metropolitano raised substantially because everyone assumed GRBS was up to something. In preparation for a field invasion, the police doubled their force in that area, but instead, the fans came back to their seats singing songs against the owners and waving a flag that expressed their anger towards them.

The protestations didn’t come only from the fans themselves but also from propaganda which was splattered all across the stadium. Almost all of the fans had brought posters, flags, and pamphlets demanding a change in the club’s ownership. Surprisingly,the police were given orders to remove all of the propaganda, causing more disruption and unrest. Fans, insistent on their rights of freedom of speech, refused to give away what they had prepared for their peaceful protest. In the end, outnumbered by fans in the cheaper sections, the police backed-off, instead only removing the “poster contraband” from the more expensive areas.

FRBS Tweet with images of their beliefs.

On top of that, the fan’s anger wasn’t only targeted at the administration; the players also had to suffer the critics. During the game, the average fan had zero patience, and every time a player made a mistake on a pass or didn’t reach a long ball, the fans exploded with insults against them and their directors. Even when the coach opted for moving the ball back instead of forward to open the game, the people shouted as if the Sharks were scoring on their own goals on purpose. Honestly, I’ve never seeing anything like it.

Perhaps an outsider wouldn’t understand how the fans can criticize a team that in the past year and a half has reached three finals and even won a title. But the people here have been making complaints about them since day one. They haven’t been happy with most of the players, and the good results don’t change that. The only glue that held the relationship between the board and the fans together was former coach Alexis Mendoza, for whom the fans had a huge appreciation, and believed that only he could help the team reach the finals which such lousy players.

For a long time, the club has only brought forward managers who have been old friends with the owner’s family. On four different ocassions, names like “El Zurdo” Lopez, or Julio Comesaña, have tired the fans, not because of their lack of results, but indeed due to their acceptance of the lack of quality and decent signings by the board. With Mendoza, many of these “not very responsible” footballers were separated from the squad, a huge win with the fans, but a loss with the board who weren’t happy that their investments were sitting on the bench. And so, the fans’ reactions weren’t so surprising upon Mendoza’s anmnouncement of his resignation, which came about due to his disgust with the way the board had treated him.

In a desperate move to win back the fans’ appreciation but still have some control over the coach, the club opted to bring Giovanni Hernandez, a young manager who had been a Rojiblanco legend. Unfortunately for them, on his debut last Wednesday, Hernandez included in the starting eleven two of the “irresponsible” players which Mendoza had previously benched. Dominguez and Toloza took to the field and the outcome was terrible. The team lost the first leg of a knockout round against a weak team at home and that was thanks to a large part to these two players. Not only did the new coach poke the wound by using these guys, but they played poorly, and one of them even got injured at a time when he could no longer be replaced. If anything was missing to make the fans mad, that same day, at that same time, the Sharks’ biggest rival, Atletico Nacional, won the most wanted title in the whole continent, the Libertadores Cup, indeed, for the second time.

With this complete nightmare underfoot, the people couldn’t take any more, and so the interruptions at this past weekend’s game occurred. On Wednesday, both the president and the owner had to leave the presidential box of Metropolitano at halftime. Fuad Char, who while Mendoza was still the coach, said he didn’t like to go to the stadium, left early in his return to the pitch to avoid trouble with the fans.

Tweets with the fans’ messages.

Rumors throughout the city imply that there are various stockholders, including a Japanese investment group, who might be interested in buying the club from the Char family. Nevertheless, the family has never shown any interest in selling. And actually,  when asked about the matter, a lot of fans say that there’s no point in the “hinchadas” singing for the Chars to leave Junior because the truth is they’d never sell it. From the fans’ perspective, the Chars only have the team for political purposes anyhow and to show their power over the town.

Although the board hasn’t made any public statements, both the players and the coach have expressed their concerns with the situation after this weekend’s triumph. Hernandez said that the squad feels the negativity of the ambiance, and that gets in the way of their performance, and other players mentioned that in their opinion the team doesn’t get the credit that they deserve.

While all this is happening in Barranquilla, the calendar goes on, and this Wednesday, Junior will play the second leg of the eighth finals of the Copa Colombia in Pasto, where they will try to overcome the critics and the 1-2 defeat at home.

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Fran graduated from Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Journalism and Sports Journalism. Before returning to his native Barranquilla, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America. When he’s not busy writing or reporting on a game, he’s probably watching whatever sports news is on TV. He also enjoys dancing, learning new languages and cultures.