I’ve just returned from a holiday in Chile. From the deserts of the north to the steppe of the south, from the mighty Andes to the east to the island of Rapa Nui and its famous moai, five hours flight across the Pacific to the west, it’s an extraordinary place. It’s hard to believe there’s any other country so diverse, anywhere else that offers so many unique sights. It’s also a country that at the moment is deeply troubled, with daily demonstrations against the government of Sebastián Piñera that have led to the army being deployed on the streets of Santiago. 

Talk to locals – a definition that extends from indigenous Rapa Nuians to Santiago bar-staff to French horsewomen to Patagonian gaúchos to Turkish guides to Mapuche taxi-drivers – and the conversation inevitably would begin with the protests (since you ask, I got tear- gassed twice despite being in the capital for only two nights and doing little more than wandering around near the hotel, meaning that, including an incident after the Copa América quarter-final in 2015, Santiago now accounts for half of the six occasions on which I’ve been tear-gassed) and then move swiftly on to football. 

In Hanga Roa, the capital of Rapa Nui, and San Pedro de Atacama, modern astroturf pitches felt a centre of the community. One of the guides in the hotel in the Atacama played in goal for the team leading the local league despite, as another guide put it, “being even shorter than Claudio Bravo”. The Turkish guide was simultaneously excited by Şenol Güneş’s young national team and anxious they would, yet again, struggle against Iceland in their Euro qualifier. Elsewhere there was grumbling about Universidad de Chile’s recent decline and glee in Católica’s unexpected title challenge, coupled with concern that the suspension of the season might become permanent. Wanderers from Valparaíso, top of the second division, seemed unusually popular, while nobody would admit to supporting Colo Colo. There was general acceptance that the great Chile side that had won back-to- back Copas América was now ageing. 

But what felt important was less the detail than the fact of the discussion. Here again, in a distant and occasionally very alien land, football provided the currency for social transaction. Its universality is extraordinary. Not a country hasn’t been touched by football. As David Goldblatt points out in The Age of Football, there has never been a cultural mode with such global appeal. And that’s something worth remembering amid all the – largely justified – concerns about modern football, the widespread corruption and the domination by the elite: football is still everywhere. 

And as The Blizzard comes to the end of our ninth (ninth!) year, reflecting the game in all places remains part of our goal.