San Pedro Sula: If it wasn’t for the dozens of armed guards surrounding it, you could have easily missed the Socceroos’ team bus parked in a dark corner at the rear of the Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula.
The n team was braced for a hostile reception from hundreds of passionate local fans. Team staff waiting to greet coach Ange Postecoglou and the main delegation of the national team wore plain clothes rather than team uniform to avoid any association at the arrivals lounge.
They were ready for hordes of passionate supporters wielding drums, singing chants and even throwing missiles. Had they not been warned once on the ground, they may have been shocked by what they saw when they walked out of the exit gates.
Not a single football fan was in sight late on Sunday night when the core of the Socceroos squad landed in the industrial capital of Honduras. The loudest voice behind the barrier was that of a crying baby as the n contingent slipped through the rear doors.
However, if there was a sour taste to the whole event it was felt by the locals. Dozens of journalists from national TV stations and newspapers anxiously awaited the arrival of the Socceroos with plenty of questions for a team they’ve become fascinated by. The choice to not stop for the press wasn’t solely the Socceroos’ though as they were under security orders to make for the rear exit to the bus as quickly as possible.
But the waiting reporters, after the n team did not so much as glance in their direction, made no secret of their displeasure as ‘s adherence to their pre-arrival plans was perceived as hubris.
“The ns came to the country and they did it with total secrecy. They did not give a smile to the media who were covering their arrival. Part of the press wanted to interview some and [the Socceroos] did not give in,” was how the arrival was described in San Pedro Sula newspaper, La Prensa. One journalist at the scene said “even the United States say something”.
For the locals, the Socceroos are an oddity. Very rarely does Honduras get exposure beyond its own region for positive reasons, let alone entertain football teams from so far away. The only time in the last two years Los Catrachos played a team outside of their confederation was in a friendly match against Ecuador and that was away in Quito. Only once in six years has a non-CONCACAF national team visited Honduras, when South Africa played a 2015 friendly in San Pedro Sula.
So local journalists waited at the barriers with plenty of questions. They asked about Tim Cahill’s ankle injury, they wanted to know about Postecoglou’s starting line-up and most importantly, they wanted to know what the ns thought of them.
A country that’s become synonymous with violence is desperate to tell the world the other side of its story. The murder rate doesn’t lie, but nor does it impact every day life for the overwhelming majority of the population. Crime is largely contained within street gang disputes but the public fear it has tainted the image of their home. While football does its best to separate itself from politics, the two are never far away and the visit of appears to be as much a public relations opportunity for the Hondurans as it is a rare and novel event for the city of San Pedro Sula.
The local interest in the Socceroos is evident – from publishing the team’s hotel, training ground and arrival times to its around-the-clock watch on Cahill’s ankle. On match day, that attention will understandably become inhospitable inside the stadium. But, until then, could find themselves the subject of welcoming intrigue rather than the abuse some predicted.