All smiles in San Martin
Much to my regret, I'm just too young for the 1970 World Cup. I was only five and I'm not sure we had a TV at the time - but I do remember the sticker album like it was yesterday.
A neighbour a couple of years older was collecting, and he gave me some of his swaps. The first one I received was a Peruvian, Ramon Mifflin if memory serves me right, staring seriously at the camera in that striking white shirt with the red sash.
I had no album to stick it in, but that image always stuck in my mind. For someone who didn't make it out of England until he was 23 - my dad reached 84 without getting further than Dublin - that picture from Peru symbolised everything that was exotic and fascinating about international football.
A year later when the 1971/2 season kicked off I started my own collection of First Division stickers. Apparently it did wonders for my reading, though I dread to think what words I picked up. This was before the globalised days of Panini, when you got a quaint little biography about the players, and it was a world full of 'veteran custodians' and 'crafty schemers who made their bow against Charlton Athletic in 1959'.
Somehow the mundane and the domestic never gripped me as much as the World Cup album. I waited impatiently for 1974 to come round so a new one would come out, and was then heartbroken to see that Peru weren't involved.
But I did have a chance to collect them in 1978, was too busy being an adolescent to collect them in 82, and since then there has been no need.
Peru don't qualify for World Cups any more, time and high living have taken their toll on Ramon Mifflin, but I'm in Lima watching some matches and doing a piece on the state of the game here for World Soccer magazine.
I've been here twice before, both times for international tournaments but this time the focus is on domestic football. I might have known that I'd find something here to stop me in my tracks and it's a club called San Martin.
On Saturday I was at their match away to Sporting Cristal. This is a Lima derby in Cristal's rather pokey little stadium on the banks of the Rimac river and San Martin had come across town in force! I was sitting directly opposite their supporters and was able to count them during a break in play - all 33 of them, plus a mascot.
San Martin won an excellent 4-3 victory and their coach described it as a Peruvian Chelsea v Liverpool. Their Colombian striker Martin Arzuaga scored a hat-trick but the man of the match was the mascot. Dressed up as a tooth, he kept up his animated little dances for the full 90 minutes and in mid-afternoon heat he must have sweated more than the players.
I understood the mascot because I'd been along to San Martin's home game the previous Tuesday night. I write 'home' but the club have no fixed stadium and live a nomadic existence using a number of local grounds. For this particular match, a Copa Libertadores tie against Nacional of Uruguay, they had hired out the stadium of Alianza Lima.
It is customary for supporters in South America to hang up banners announcing the name of their home neighbourhood, usually the city's working class districts, and San Martin did have a couple of banners - but with a different message. The 'Furia Santa' banner was displayed by a group of dentistry students, while the 'Oriente Santa' group was formed by students of administration and human resources.
San Martin is a club set up by a local university in 2004. And its tiny fan base - to be fair there were many more than 33 supporters present on Tuesday - is largely restricted to students at the university.
So their mascot is a molar and it is their rivals have the toothache because, extraordinarily, these five-year-old educational upstarts won the Peruvian championship in both the last two years. Unthinkably, they have now qualified for the knock out stage of the Libertadores at the expense of Argentina's River Plate.
How is this possible? Well, with none of the pressures of a big club, San Martin have acquired a reputation for the serious and organized way they go about their business - sticking with a coach, Victor Hugo Rivera, keeping a group of players together and reaping the benefits.
The financial aspects are puzzling. A local journalist I know, perhaps made cynical by years of covering Peruvian football, suggests that the whole thing is a means by which the university can pay less tax.
Whatever the explanation, the San Martin phenomenon is exotic and surprising - something I should probably have expected from the land of Ramon Mifflin.
Comments on this piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to vickerycolumnotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) Do away fans travel to see their team play in the Copa Libertadores the
same way that fans of European clubs do in the Champions League and UEFA
A) It's just not possible. Distances are vast, mass salaries are low and air travel is expensive (Rio to Lima cost me almost 400 quid). So there's much less travelling support. For this reason the competition doesn't end in a one off final on a neutral ground as in Europe, but with a home and away final over two legs.