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Can I see your tickets?" asks the woman, dressed head to toe in red and blue, the colors of the Haitian flag. She stands in an aisle at the Orange Bowl with two similarly festooned friends. They hold tickets entitling them to sit in seats occupied by three men rooting for the Jamaican national soccer team, which is about to take the field. If this were an ordinary American sports stadium, the Haitian fans would have sat where they paid to sit. But the Orange Bowl isn't a typical stadium, and the Jamaicans know the house rules.
"No," says their leader, a burly man with a yellow "Reggae Boyz" jersey stretched over his ample stomach. When the woman repeats her request, he pretends not to hear. He remains focused on the field even after she introduces a City of Miami police officer into the dispute. When the officer demands to see the man's ticket, he sticks to the script.
"No," he replies flatly.
The woman turns to the officer, expecting him to haul the Jamaicans off to the stadium's nether reaches. But the officer, surrounded by 40,000 soccer fans, probably half of whom also are sitting in the wrong seats, decides the chaos that is the Orange Bowl supersedes law and order.
"Ma'am," he says before turning away, "you're going to have to sit somewhere else."
"Unbelievable," says a middle-age spectator from El Paso, Texas, as he slides down three seats to clear room for the displaced Haitians. The man is a Major League Soccer referee, in South Florida to work the league's spring training. "What a bully," he grumbles, shaking his head in disgust as he settles into his new seat.
Last Saturday night, at the conclusion of soccer's North and Central American championship, the Gold Cup, some 2000 Honduran soccer fans rioted at the Orange Bowl. In the waning moments of a shocking upset by Peru, the referee ejected two Honduran players, effectively ending the game. Irate Honduran fans, who had expected an easy victory, stormed on to the field to scuffle with more than 100 City of Miami police officers. Angry spectators littered the field with bottles, giveaway foam seat cushions, and hard plastic bleacher seats. Back-up police officers were summoned. A police helicopter circled overhead. Thirty-four people were arrested.
So important was the tournament that Haitian President Rene Preval flew in to watch his team lose to the United States on opening night. During the course of eight games held over four days, rabid soccer boosters of national teams from Peru, Honduras, Colombia, Haiti, and Jamaica (along with a few more-sedate fans rooting for the United States) crammed into the stadium to scream, dance, and cheer. Most sat anywhere they wanted.
Two fans of the American National Team, $30 tickets in hand, tromp up to their seats in the center section of the south stands. Two Colombian fans, there to watch a game between their country and Jamaica, already are occupying the seats. They, too, have tickets. "You're not the first," says one of the Colombians. "Another guy was here a few minutes ago and his ticket also said he was supposed to sit here." An usher is consulted. He looks at all four tickets, sees that they all appear valid, and that they are, indeed, for the same seats. He does not know what to do. He does nothing. "I mean, I don't work for the stadium," he says before walking back to his aisle post.
On the Friday before the riots, an Orange Bowl spokesman told New Times that the promoter, Miami-based Inter-Forever Sports, is responsible for tickets and seating. Company chairman Stephano Turconi could not be reached for comment.
On Valentine's Day a smooth-faced young woman takes in a game with her man. She calmly watches the Peru vs. Haiti match, a serene smile on her face. Her man is not so calm. When Haiti scores the first goal, he leaps into the air, raising meaty arms over his head and screaming at his neighbors, Peruvian fans all. Minutes later, when Peru nets an equalizer, five Peruvian teenagers scramble down the orange bleachers to where the Haitian fan is standing. They tackle him.
During the Colombia vs. Honduras match, one enterprising merchant, noting the absence of beer sales in the bleachers, smuggles in a large, green-plastic garbage container filled with cans of Coors Light. He trudges the pail up the metal stairways, stopping every few steps to hoist a can in the air and announce his asking price of five dollars. A small boy, no older than age twelve, carries a white Styrofoam cooler crammed with lukewarm arepas. During the Jamaican games, marijuana smoke wafts through the humid air.
The Hondurans set the benchmark for team support. Some 36,000 boosters turn out to watch their countrymen play Colombia on Wednesday, turning the Orange Bowl into a virtual home game for their national team. When Honduras scored the winning goal off a perfect lead pass, a blue-and-white wave of ecstasy winds through the general-admission seats, jolting the stadium's steel floor in seismic bursts.
"The fans here tonight were a spectacle to us on the field," Honduran forward Milton Nuñez tells reporters afterward. "They were beautifully out of control."