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El Campin – A Colombian Symbol

Name: Nemesio Camacho, “El Campin”
Address: Avenida Notre-Quito Sur (NQS) con Calle 57, Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia
Opened: 1938
Last renovation: 2007
Total capacity: 41,724
Covered: 20%
Home teams: Millonarios, Independiente Santa Fe, Colombian national teams

In world football, the name Guiilermo Velasquez is not a particularly portentous one. Even a search in the annals of football under his nickname, El Chato (Spanish for snub-nosed), is unlikely to yield any results. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, by contrast, is the name of die person who is perhaps the most admired in the history of the beautiful game, although he is better known by his own nickname, Pele, which may have been meaningless at first, but went on to become synonymous with football at its most sublime.
Valasquez and Pele’s paths crossed on Wednesday, 17 July 1968, when Brazilian club Santos, then considered the best in the world, played a friendly match against the Colombian national side in Bogota as part of the Colombians’ preparations for the Olympic Games in Mexico. Velazquez was a Colombian referee born in Pcreira, a former boxer who was not afraid to respond in kind when players reacted to his decisions with punches and kicks. The other was a global superstar whom all the spectators had come to see. Thirty-five minutes into the match, El Chato sent off “The King”, who had complained to the referee for not awarding his side a penalty. Pele left the field shouting that the referee was mad.
The 50,000 fans then subjected the official to a barrage of insults. How dare he send off Pele, the man they had paid to see! This prompted executives from the Colombian football association to take an unusual and unique decision in the history of football – they ordered Pele to return to the field and Velasquez to leave it … so in the end it was the referee who was sent off!
This most singular event took place at the Nemesio Camacho stadium, El Campin, one of the epicentres of Colombian and South American football, which celebrated its 70th anniversary on 10 August. The stadium was built in 1938 for the first ever Bolivarian Games, a kind of mini-Olympics between Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Panama and Colombia that since then have been held every four years. The completion of the stadium was also to tie in with the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Colombian capital.
The stadium site was donated to the city by the Camacho Matiz family on two conditions: that it be used to build the stadium and that the arena bear the name of the father of the Camacho dynasty, Nemesio Camacho. The site was formerly an estate called El Campin, a name derived from the English word “camping”, as people used to go there to spend an afternoon in the countryside.
With an initial capacity of 23,500, the stadium was inaugurated with a match between Ecuador and Colombia. The first goal was scored by Colombia’s Tomas Emilio Mier. The first team to win a match at El Campin, however, was Ecuador, who came back to win 2-1. Eleven years later, in December 1949, the club Millonarios began to make their own history by winning the second Colombian professional league championship and performing a lap of honour at El Campin. This marked the beginning of an era known as El Dorado, duringwhich Millonarios, who boasted players such as Alfredo di Stefimo and Adolfo Pedernera, were considered the best team in the wotld in the 1950s.
After being renovated and enlarged on several occasions, some historians claim that El Campin’s capacity rose to as much as 60,200 in 1968, the year after floodlights were first installed.
The Colombian national team have played most of their matches in FIFA World Cup preliminary competitions at El Campin. The arena was also a venue for the 1971 Pan American Gaines and hosted the qualifying tournaments for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
El Campin also witnessed the first-ever Colombian triumph in the Copa Liberiadores when Atletico National de Medellin beat Olimpia Asuncion on penalties in 1989. The arena also hosted the 1996 Copa CONMEBOL final between Santa Fe and Lanus as well as the Copa Merconorte finals of 1999 (Santa Fe v. America de Cali), 2000 (Millonarios v. Atletlco National) and 2001 (Millonarios v. Emelec).
However, the most significant sporting moment in the history of El Campin was in 2001 when Colombia, under the charge of Francisco Maturana, won their first and thus far only Copa America after defeating Mexico 1-0 with a goal from captain Ivan Cordoba.
El Campin also drew in a multitude of young people for Pope John Paul Us visit in 1986 as well as thousands of music fans for concerts by artists as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, Guns N’ Roses, ranchero singer Vicente Fernandez, the Fania All-Stars, the incomparable Celia Cruz and national idol Joe Arroyo, who performed in front of 85,000 fans.
The stadium’s playing surface and drainage system have been improved for the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the pitch
has been widened by one metre on each side at the request of national team coach Jorge Luis Pinto. Today, El Campin has a capacity of 41,274 and the city authorities, who own the stadium, no longer allow it to be leased for concerts in order to protect the pitch.
Following FIFAs decision to award the hosting rights for the 2011 U-20 World Cup to Colombia, the country’s vice-president, Francisco Santos, put
forward the idea of demolishing El Campin and replacing it with a new. more modern arena that satisfies all of FIFAs requirements. However, the mayor of Bogota, Samuel Moreno, rejected the idea and said that the stadium, a symbol of Colombian sport, would remain standing and would receive all the necessary care to enable it to remain as emblematic as it has been in its first 70 years of existence.