Alaska News

For Anchorage’s soccer-mad Colombians, World Cup time means new connections — and parties

For a while on Tuesday morning, one corner of Spenard belonged to Anchorage's Colombian soccer fans.

About 100 people gathered Tuesday morning to watch Colombia vs. England on a big screen at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub. The fans came from all over, but the biggest contingent wore the yellow, red and blue colors of the Colombian national team.

Colombians in Anchorage had been clamoring to get their game at the Bear Tooth, said Ronaldo Guzman, the film and special events booker at the Spenard eatery and theater.

"They called me 10 times last week," said Guzman.

During the World Cup, people with roots in Colombia and other soccer-loving Latin American countries have been gathering in Anchorage living rooms, bars and closed-down restaurants to watch their teams play matches at odd hours.

Colombians — some in Anchorage for temporary oil company jobs, some with families and businesses established in Anchorage for decades — are passionate soccer fans, said Sandra Nunes, an Anchorage Realtor.

"It's a big deal," she said.

The country is known for the devotion of its soccer fans. FIFA sold 68,667 World Cup tickets in Colombia — and just 34,235 in England, according to a story on Colombian fans in The Guardian.

One Anchorage viewing party for a game earlier in the tournament drew more than 200 people and ended with everybody dancing, said Christian Montana, a Colombian-born, New York-raised account executive for Telemundo Alaska, which says it is the state's only Spanish-speaking TV station.

"It was wild," he said.

Colombians make up only a small fraction of Alaska's population of 40,000 or so Hispanics, numbering in the hundreds in Anchorage according to the most recent census data available, from 2010.

But the community is tight-knit, and growing, said Nunes.

She is a member of one of a handful of Colombian families that arrived in Alaska decades ago — some 40 years or more. Some found success in the taxi business and moved on to other industries.

During Tuesday's game, the team was cheered by others from the Spanish-speaking world: Peruvians, Argentinians and a group from Mexico who had recently mourned their own team's exit from the tournament.

"Yes, the Mexicans are supporting us now," said Alirio Rojas, a longtime Alaskan retired from the Anchorage School District.

Many knew one another from playing on teams in Anchorage's diverse recreational soccer leagues, said Montana.

The World Cup is always an exciting moment of connection, said Felipe Abreu, an East Anchorage High School soccer coach who is from Brazil. He cheers his soccer-mad home country, but on Tuesday was hoping for a Colombia win.

The audience at Bear Tooth crossed class and nationality, he said.

"That's soccer everywhere," he said. "But it's good to see it in Alaska."

Alas, England beat Colombia by a shootout. England will advance to the quarterfinals.