In many neighborhoods of Barranquilla, it‘s not uncommon to see boys playing soccer on the street, in the park, in a lane-way; anywhere really; in these games there are few rules, no boundaries (other than sidewalks), and no time limits. Barranquilleros, like the citizens of most Latin countries, are soccer fanatics. Don’t be surprised when you hear them celebrating a goal in the street outside your house.
Bola e’ Trapo is a loose variation on regular football (American soccer). Teams consist of between 3 and 5 players each (normally whoever happens to be on the street when a game breaks out) and the equipment is a hodgepodge of whatever they have at hand. In the USA, it’d be strange to see kids playing a full game of soccer without the usual gear of cleats (soccer shoes) and uniforms. Normally too, they’d have commercially-made nets and balls. In contrast, in Latin America, including here in Barranquilla, the majority of kids don’t have the capacity to go out and buy special gear; they make do with what they can find. More often than not, you’ll see goalposts (which in bola e’ trapo have a much shorter width) made from buckets or even just rocks and most kids either go barefoot or wear normal shoes. The ball is particularly interesting and is typically made from a combination of whatever materials are readily available – usually some foam, string, old socks, or t-shirts. As the economy improves, its becoming more common to see kids with ‘professional’ balls, but from time to time you can still see these traditional creations – and in fact, the construction of the Bola e’ Trapo balls have spawned a small market – here and there you can find balls painted with scenes from the various barrios. Despite video games, tablets and technology, bola e’ trapo remains one of the most popular activities among youth in less privileged areas.
Not all Barranquilleros are happy with kids playing in the streets – but in that regard, you can draw similarities with any street around the world – neighbors are worried about the dangers posed by cars and motorcycles, and also the dangers posed by the ball itself – on windows and passerby. With the new synthetic fields springing up around the city, Barranquilleros can play regular soccer safely without bothering anyone. Although these places usually have a fee, it’s often quite manageable once split across the teams.
Even though these new fields are appearing everywhere, the oldest customs are living strong. In some neighborhoods there are tournaments like the ‘Campeonato de bola e trapo del barrio Boston’ (Championship bola e’ trapo in the Boston borough) where the idea is offering new generations the chance to be healthy, productive and to keep this tradition alive.
Watch this video to see how you can make a bola e’ trapo with your kids: