In Ecuador, Fútbol is King!  And I’m not referring to the US version of football.  Ofcourse, I’m talking about soccer.                 Soccer is like the heartbeat of Ecuador.  It’s really rare to find somebody who doesn’t play on a league, or doesn’t follow all the big teams in the country.  There are 16 professional teams that compete in the “A” league around Ecuador, and there is another 16 teams who compete in a feeder “B” league.  The professional season runs from February to December and matches are featured on every television in restaurants, bus terminals and of course, 
living rooms around Ecuador.  
I wanted to see an Ecuadorian professional soccer game, so I bought tickets 
for my family to a game here in Ibarra. 

Fútbol is also played everyday on every flat spot in the nation.  It is common for people to play on several different teams and when they have a spare minute in their backyard, (or in their living room) they’re always kicking around a ball and practicing the latest trick.  If you’re not professional, there’s three different types of Fútbol you can choose to play.  First, there’s “Fútbol” which has 11 people on each team and played on a professional-sized field with large goals.  There’s “Fulbito”, which is a mid-sized field where 9 players play on each team.  Then there’s “Micro-Fútbol”, or Indoor Fútbol, which is played on a small “indoor” field (or inside a chain-link fence).  For this game, seven players play on each team and they play with a smaller ball and a smaller goal.

Generally, youth soccer is played in the afternoons on any day of the week, while teenagers and adults practice and play in the evenings and weekends.  In my family, the weekend schedule is always a juggle between Pablo’s occasional soccer games and Jose’s four soccer leagues.

These are some of the members of the family fútbol club, Los Aguilas or The Eagles.

18 years ago, Jose started Los Aguilas Futbal Club and today, it is made up of members of the Angamarca family (namely Jose, his brothers, uncle and cousin), with their kids, nephews, in-laws, neighbors and friends rounding out the roster.  To participate in a league, the club has to pay about $100.  Then, each player has to pay into the club to finance their uniforms, banners, trophies, and sometimes food for the team.  To do this, they are expected to earn the money by selling tickets for raffles and chicken dinners.  Margarita is the Treasurer for the club and she keeps track of it all.  Incidentally, players also have to pay $1.00 to play each game.  A manager of the field collects this money at game time to pay the salary of referees, and to maintain the field.

Sometimes they have to shoo the chickens off the field. 

In the biggest leagues, the season starts with an “Inauguration of the Games”, which is a formal gathering and celebration of all the teams in the league.  A Fútbol League playing on a professional-sized field is a showcase of the best talent in the city.  These teams will play against each other all season and the winner advances to tournaments against other teams in the County, then in the Province, and finally in the Country.  At the Inauguration, each team sports their season’s new uniforms, they carry a banner to announce themselves, and a Madrina, with her escort, leads the team onto the field.  Madrina’s give the event a beauty pageant feel as they wear a special sash and carry flowers of their team’s colors.  This year, I asked if I could be the Madrina.  Nobody answered.  They just laughed.

Here’s the Aguilas parading onto the field with the kids carrying the banners, 
followed by our Team’s Madrina, and the Club of Athletes. 
After the procession, all the teams line up while formal speeches and presentations 
are made about representing the community and the honor of good sportsmanship.  
Even the Mayor came to make a speech.
Then the Madrinas are judged and prizes are awarded.  
This year, they gave the prize to the little girl. 
And that, the games begin.  Weekend after weekend, they play their hearts out.  Our team is made up of several teenagers, university students and Dads.  Many of them work or go to school during the week in different cities and have to travel back to Ibarra to play their weekend games.  Jose is the Manager of this team so he’s constantly in touch with his players and lending out jerseys to extra “spare” players in an effort to field each game.  Depending upon their opponents, he has enough players to field an “A” team and a “B” team, and he sends his best where they are needed.  If for some reason I don’t attend the game, I always ask Jose if they won.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but his answer always comes with a smile.  He loves playing the game so much, the outcome doesn’t really matter. 
I spend a lot of time at Jose’s soccer games and have become a recognized fan of Los Aguilas in the stands at the various stadiums around Ibarra.  (Ok, “stands” are a loose interpretation; some fields have concrete steps to sit on, but more often we sit in the grass). 
The Fan Club for Los Aguilas
Pablo, Me, Margarita, Alex, Faby, Alex and Anthony

Some weekends, Los Aguilas play host to some different types of games.  They might play in a series of games for players under 18.  There might be a different league for only the players over 40.  This is when all the Angamarca brothers come out to play.  Sometimes, just the youth play in a community game that is set up between different family teams.  For these games, Margarita and some of the other Moms may get together in the morning to pack sandwiches and sodas for the kids.  After these games, small medals or trophies are handed out for participation.  It’s all an effort to enthuse the youth to keep the tradition of fútbol alive.  One game, all the adults and kids of the team traveled almost 45-minutes away to meet up with another family’s youth team.  Our team was made up of mostly teenagers, but during the last 10 minutes, Anthony, who’s 10 and a son of a player, got to rotate in and play with the big kids.  We cheered so loud for him; I’ve never seen a smile so grand in my life.  He was so proud.  This is why these families, teams and communities are so tight-knit.

A league’s season lasts for about five months.  Then, I often hear that Los Aguilas, “are playing a really important game this weekend because it determines if we are in the playoffs.”  And if they win, they advance to the Semi-Finals and the Finals.  Last winter, Los Aguilas made it to the final match in their Santa Rosa League.  
It had been pouring all day, and it was a very soggy game.  
With every step, the water showered the players.  They were soaked in the first few minutes 
and the ball wouldn’t even roll.  But it was so exciting, because most of the countryside
showed up to cheer on a good game. 
Los Aguilas played so hard, but unfortunately lost in penalty kicks after a tie game.  
But that’s Ok, you still get to celebrate if you’re the Vice-Champion!  
After championship games are played, there is always an award ceremony 
and sometimes roasted pigs or roasted sheep are part of the prizes for both teams.
At this ceremony, Jose was awarded the trophy for Manager of the Year.  
He also received another medal for being the Best Player above 40 years old.  
Afterwards he gave an impassioned speech about the love for the game, and the community it creates when families and neighbors play together.  As Pablo proudly stood at his side modeling the medal, Jose talked about the importance of bringing their kids up through the ranks of the club to learn sportsmanship, and the importance of the fútbol tradition.  After his speech, Jose walked over to Margarita and thanked her for her infallible support for him, 
and the family team, all year through. 
Then Kennedy, Jose’s brother and the official Coach of the team, 
was honored with the trophy for the Vice-Campeónes!  
And just like that, our players carried the pig away to an epic party of 
dancing and drinking that lasted through the next morning!  
Faby, Margarita, and I did our best to help them celebrate! 
Congratulations Los Aguilas! 

After the championship game, the players take two weeks to recover, then the league starts again.  And so it goes, in a fútbol world.