With memories of the Socceroos' inhospitable welcome to Montevideo before their ill-fated World Cup qualifying playoff match against Uruguay in 2001 still pretty fresh in the minds of many Australian football fans (and journalists!), much has been made in the Australian media of a likely similar reception courtesy of local Honduran fans before Friday's crucial first-of-two world cup playoff against the local team.
Some have questioned Football Federation Australia (FFA)'s decision to base the Socceroos in Honduras four days out from match day. Other visiting international teams have tended to base themselves in Florida or, for Honduras' Latin neighbours, at home until the latest practicable time possible. For the latter at least, such decisions may have more to do with wanting to avoid Honduran fans seeking reprisals for the perceived hostile welcome that their team may have received in away matches against these same opponents in Latin America. Australia has no such history with Honduras.
Speaking to everyday locals here, the consensus seems to be that poor treatment is unlikely to be meted out to the Australians on their arrival tomorrow in San Pedro Sula. Indeed when I have identified myself around town as an Australian the locals have seemed pleased to be hosting a visitor from far away, all too aware of the reputation Honduras, and particularly San Pedro Sula has abroad.
No doubt, San Pedro Sula is not the safest of world cities. Headlines naming it the "Murder Capital of the World" in 2013 certainly don't help a nation trying to attract tourists to some world-class attractions such as the coral fringed islands of Roatán and Utila in the Caribbean and the Mayan Ruins of Copan on its western border with Guatemala.
While the crime issues are serious, much of the violence is concentrated in certain parts of town. Walking around the central area where the Australians are staying hasn't brought me any untoward attention. It's best to not carry too much cash and to avoid flashes of wealth but since arriving my daily breakout from barbed-wire-topped high wall accommodation has gone from being limited to daytime excursions to evening ventures, as I've grown more comfortable with the local security situation.
Hondurans are curious to know what Australians think of their country and it's something I've been asked several times when initiating conversations here. Locals have been very gracious and polite hosts palpably eager to leave a good impression. Admittedly I haven't been out to some of the rougher barrios in asking these questions, but the security detail stationed outside the hotel the Australians will be staying at appear pretty relaxed about any perceived threat with all personnel I asked being happy to pose for photographs.
It is common knowledge among the locals where the Socceroos will be staying, the same hotel normally used by other visiting teams. The inflatable welcome tunnel is already in place for their arrival in the coming hours. Despite this the only recent noticeable activity outside the hotel was that of one snooping Australian. Nearby shops and houses do commonly have security guards sitting outside of an evening and sometimes even in the daytime, but these security guards also appear relaxed and happy for a chat and photo pose for a visiting gringo, to break up the monotony.
Residents of San Pedro Sula are used to taking precautions against crime. This doesn't mean the city will be unwelcoming to the Australian Football entourage. Evidence on the ground in host city San Pedro Sula suggests the Aussies won't have problems of spitting fans, fireworks and other deliberate disruptions to their match preparations a la Uruguay 2001. While a cordial initial reception will be gratefully accepted by the Green and Gold, come November 10 and an Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano filled with 37,000 passionate Honduran fans, it would be unwise to expect the same congeniality.