For a new expat living in Paraguay, it's essential to pick up on the football culture, whether you like the sport or not. Since his first arrival in Paraguay as a youth, British expat, Ralph Hannah, has fully embraced the favourite sport of his new home, and now publishes the Paraguay Football Blog, which is the world's only English-language website devoted to the sport in this country. (Click image below for video)
On his blog, Ralph provides previews to matches, and offers predictions of the match results with a surprisingly high accuracy rating. In typical UK fashion, Ralph also discloses his selections in terms of betting, and offers free advice on what he thinks the over/under will be. For many newcomers, the rapid speech of the announcers on TV and radio can make it a steep learning curve to pick up, in terms of player names and histories. Ralph's gift of Spanish fluency helps bridge the gap, and he's an amazing storyteller of the league's history and traditions. I had the pleasure of watching my second game ever in Paraguay as his guest, throughout which he graciously answered my questions and brought me a little more up to speed on what the league is all about.
The Paraguayan Premier Division comes with many quirks and intricacies that can be confusing to a newcomer, but each of which add to its charm. For instance, many of the game times are subject to change during the week of the match, so it's necessary to continue looking in the local newspapers throughout the week to make sure that you don't have to make a change in plans with your babysitter. As well, much of the league's focus comes down to two legendary teams, Cerro Porteño (known as the "Cyclones") and Club Olimpia (known as the "King of Cups"). The focus is so biased towards these two teams, that it's hard to believe that many others exist.
Unlike professional sporting venues back home, Paraguayan football is an economic night out, with tickets ranging from G10k (roughly $2.50) to G60k (about $15). It's highly unlikely that you'll get tipsy in the stands, as alcohol is banned on the premises, in an effort to curb violence amongst fans. However, it's a local "secret" that if a private vendor comes by offering to sell "leche" (or "milk") that they are offering to sell you some contraband beverage in the form of beer.
Other differences that are worth pointing out are the efforts made to curb the scalping of tickets. When you purchase a ticket at the front gate, they ask for your name (and sometimes even ID number), which is then written on the ticket. Then, once you get to the gate, you'll be asked to show your ID to make sure that it matches the name written on the ticket. This method works well for games that are sparsely attended, however, during a major match, such as international matches played by the Paraguayan National squad, or games in the Copa Libertadores (South America's equivalent to Europe's Champion's League), checking every ID can slow the flow of people through the gates and become dangerous, so the practice is scrapped.
Many guidebooks will strongly advise against going to a Paraguayan soccer game, however this may be an overstatement, as not all games are in fact dangerous. In reality, more games are "safe" than they are dangerous here, with only a handful of match-ups that can be prone to violence. Even so, sticking in a group or going with a local that knows their way around can provide you with that extra amount of safety you may need, should you brave the warnings and head to the stands. A night out at the pitch in Paraguay is a very rewarding experience, filled with songs, interesting foods, cheap prices, and above all, a very entertaining sport, played by extremely talented individuals.