Tag Archives: football

Third Tier Soccer Fun in Buenos Aires

24 Oct


Yesterday I went with my friend Pablo (I know many Pablo’s, and all are different) to a soccer game in Villa del Parque on the western end of the city to see his favorite team, Comunicaciones. I had been talking for a while and joking around about going to see this team, and he finally asked me if I wanted to go to the game on Saturday at 3:30 pm. Comunicaciones is in the “First B” league, which is essentially the third tier of Argentine soccer, so getting a ticket was no problem and you would only find devoted locals at the game. These kinds of teams are important on a neighborhood level, but only to those from the barrio, and they generally have another favorite team on the national stage as well. It’s not exactly like the minors, but like an independent league, if you could relate it.

It was going to be an hour’s trip on the bus to get to the soccer field, and I left the house late, so eventually I had to get off the bus and jump in a taxi, even though we showed up a few minutes later. Pablo wanted to kill me, and I said I was the only foreigner within a 10 mile radius and other people probably wanted to anyway, but he said that no one would mess with me since I was with him. We stood up in the back and listened to the fans, or spirit corps, whatever you would call it, go nuts throughout the entire first half. It was only warm for a few minutes until the sun went away and then a cold wind pushed us around for the remainder.

As we entered the stadium (smaller than some high school football stadiums) we had to show our IDs to the cops and get frisked. Pablo explained that the team was bankrupt and a city judge had suggested selling the team to settle the debt. As a result, about 80 members of the barra brava (soccer hooligans who essentially run mafia-like control on teams in Argentina) threatened to kill the judge if he did so. In fact, one song they sang repeated, “If you don’t want any violence, don’t sell.” Even though these hooligans were banned from the games (hence the ID check), Pablo pointed out across the field to a fence with a hole with it where a mass of men were jumping around. Those were the banned hooligans who would watch the game illegally, and though the police knew about it, they did nothing. The hooligans’ control is unquestionable, and to face them head-on is like facing a gang member willing to die over territory.

Flopping is key

A number of chants and slurs were thrown out by everyone which I shouldn’t repeat in good company, but I found it odd as an old grandpa would shout horrific things towards the field while his little granddaughter in pink sat on his lap. This is Argentina and this is soccer–it’s a different beast altogether. The most amazing thing was that there couldn’t have been more than 200 fans in the stands, yet they chanted consistently throughout the game and louder than any televised game played by the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field I’ve ever seen, for example. Other sports apply to this as well. So many of these fans don’t even watch the game, and their job is just to jump around, start new songs, and play instruments like drums or trumpets. They are essentially cheerleaders.

With halftime we got a hamburger and Coke and Pablo talked with a friend, and I swear I’ve never heard so many “boludo‘s” dropped in a consecutive sentence. (Boludo is lunfardo, or slang for something along the lines of “asshole”, “buddy”, “guy”, etc. Used in context it can be a filler word or an insult, but either way it always makes me laugh). The second half started and we were both freezing, but the score remained the same. Eventually Pablo noticed that they were playing safely and asked someone what the score was. Apparently in the first five minutes that we missed, Comunicaciones scored a goal, and thus Pablo wanted to kill me again. The game was almost ending and suddenly Comunicaciones scored another goal, and the fans went nuts, which you can see in the video below. So hey, even though we missed a goal, we saw another.

Now all I have to do is see a complete top tier game, and even though I am still desperately trying to get an affordable ticket for a Boca Juniors game, I’ve so far had no luck. Maybe next time.


Trying to Watch Football at a Mediocre Sports Bar

12 Sep

I don’t write too many reviews on bars or restaurants here, but after my experience this afternoon, I felt compelled to give my opinion on a place listed in reputable guide books like Lonely Planet. Like many a good American, I love (American) football and was very excited for the first week of games starting Thursday and really kicking off today. Because I’ve been out of the country for two years, I’ve been out of touch on most things sports relating, among other things, and I’m trying to change that. In Ecuador I could only watch a few games, but when I arrived in Argentina I had Slingbox which only worked for me until halfway through the season. After that my other option was El Alamo, a sports bar in Recoleta run by expats for expats.

It’s not a scene that I was particularly crazy about, but I really wanted to watch my Patriots play, but the hardest part was spending my Sunday in a dank bar when it was summer and beautiful out. I never really wanted to head back, but now that I’m in a fantasy league and trying to get back into the sport, I decided to head down there, only a 10 minute walk from my house, for the opening game. Oddly enough, I wound up at El Alamo last night for a drink and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The consecutive English songs, college football on the TVs, and general American bar scene was so familiar. I felt nice.

My joy was quickly brought to an end today as I walked over at 1:30 pm for the 2 pm kickoff (local time). I was a bit hungover and craving a cheeseburger and fries and the Patriots. That was all I wanted out of the day. I was the first patron there and unfortunately found that all of the TVs were down. I would have expected that for the opening day, they would have things ready to roll, but instead it was like they were caught by surprise.

As several employees struggled to figure it out more people showed up and scratched their heads as kick off drew nearer. A grumpy waitress with a cast on one arm asked if I wanted anything and I ordered the desired cheeseburger and fries, but she said the kitchen was closed. Two cooks didn’t show up and they had no bread. I’d have to wait an hour. It was hard to call it anything other than amateur hour. Now, I’m aware that everyone has off days, and that you can’t predict cooks calling in sick or satellite feeds not working out. But the night before every TV was on, and knowing that the bar would fill up should have been obvious to an expat bar scene where they make their killing on football Sundays.

Finally a few TVs were put on, but all we had was sound while soccer showed. I pulled together a New England corner booth, with three others wanting the Pats, and while we waited the wrong broadcasts came on. We could hear that the games had begun and were missing the action. I got there a half hour early to make sure I saw it all. It appeared as though they called in reinforcements to figure out the TVs, and we were told that our game would be in the back corner of the bar by a drafty window. So we shifted positions, and now that the bar was filling up nicely it was hard to get a good seat. With flat screen HD TVs, the best they could do for the Pats game was a feed from Slingbox (an Internet feed). Basically, it was like watching crappy quality stream videos at home. For that I went to a sports bar.

After a long wait I got my cheeseburger, and just in time because I was on the verge of getting sick. I hadn’t eaten all day and was dehydrated, but the greasy fries and giant burger looked incredible, just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the Alamo had redeemed itself. I took a few bites and was loving it until I saw a cockroach crawling around on the bar by my ketchup packets. Yep, immediate fail. I know this isn’t the United States and the health inspector might not be quite as strict, but I don’t want to find cockroaches by my food that is supposed to be better than what I can make at home. I continued to eat my food because I’m not too high maintenance, but took a mental note that it was definitely necessary to write a review.

The final blow came when with seven minutes left in the 4th quarter, the lousy Internet feed cut out to a different game. Luckily it wasn’t a very close game, but there was still no explanation for why the channel changed, and the bartender couldn’t get it back, or at least didn’t try very hard. By that point enough people were there so that they couldn’t be bothered to focus on one game. But why would I wait through all of that mess and then not see the ending? It’s so unsatisfying.

In the end, the food was still pretty good (when forgetting about the cockroach looking for a handout). The drinks are fairly cheap and the scene, while aggravating at times, can be refreshing after months or years in Latin America. But it’s not the only expat sports bar in the city. For example, The Northside Bar in San Telmo has good food, atmosphere, and fair prices as well. I watched some World Cup games there in July and if I had the energy to make it down there after the fiasco today, I would have. So keep these things in mind when looking for a dank place to watch a game next Sunday.

Maradona is Out as Argentine Coach

27 Jul

The debate and doubt as to whether Diego Maradona will remain the head coach of the Argentine National Team seems to be over tonight, as word has come down that the Argentine Football Association (AFA) has decided to give him the boot. For now, people are still finding out slowly as the news came towards the end of the news day. Apparently, supporters for Maradona have been protesting outside of the AFA headquarters, and I’m curious to see how the coworkers will respond in the morning. Maradona is a love to hate sort of character, and if anything can be said about him and his performance in the World Cup, he certainly made it more entertaining.

I noticed that before the World Cup began, there wasn’t much faith and if anything, downright disdain for the fallen hero. But once the team advanced well people started to get behind him, seemingly saying, “maybe he knows what he’s doing after all.” But immediately after the team was eliminated the talk was back to him being an imbecile. I’ll keep you tuned as to how the locals react over time.

Dreams of World Cup Glory Crushed

3 Jul

On little sleep I hurried across Recoleta to get on the C line, connect with the B line and rush through the streets of Almagro that I don’t know at all to a bar called El Banderín to watch the game this morning with some friends. Argentina vs. Germany, elimination stage of the World Cup. The city was already buzzing and things felt alive. Everyone else was already there getting their coffee and croissants when I walked into the packed cafe, so it took me a while to get my own. A raucous group of women next to us wouldn’t stop screaming and was actually shooshed several times throughout the game.

Immediately as the game started, Germany came out attacking hard and making Argentina look like second string amateurs. Their early goal deflated the mood throughout the city, but with so much time left on the clock it was hard to feel totally crestfallen. But Argentina continued to play sloppily for the next 10-15 minutes, causing everyone in the bar to scream and bang the tables in frustration. Bad passes, missed opportunities, and lackluster moves were soon forgotten as Argentina began to dominate the game for the next half and a half. It really seemed like Argentina was doing as they wished, and if it weren’t for the score they would have seemed like World Champions, yet scores are the only things that matter in sports.

Argentina wasn’t getting many good looks towards the net and it seemed like anytime they got near it, a giant German came in to stomp the ball away. Take away the fact that a goal was taken away for an obvious offside, and the game was still not in their hands totally. As that overturned goal first went in the bar went into pandemonium, with screams so loud that the blasting TV was droned out. But once we realized what happened, the energy flattened out quickly. And with the second German goal, things looked dim. From then on it appeared as though Argentina just gave up, and those last two goals to finish it off at 4-0 were more of a slap in the face and acceptance of defeat. They couldn’t even score one goal.

The game drew more questions, like why Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, didn’t score one goal throughout the World Cup, or why the team played so sloppily at the beginning of the match. We lazily ambled out of the cafe in defeat and had to deal with the remaining beautiful and hot day, despite the fact that it is winter. A few of us headed to Puerto Madero for some lunch and then to Plaza San Martin to watch the Paraguay vs. Spain game, surrounded by Paraguayans and two or three Spaniards who had bottles thrown at them when they finally scored and knocked out Paraguay. Another crowd of sad fans. So now we need to find a new thing to look forward to, which can only be the spring. It’s going to be a boring and upsetting winter here in Buenos Aires.

Here is a short video showing the tension of World Cup soccer in South America.

The Expat Curse

26 Jun

Last night I spoke with my friend Amy who recently returned to the United States after spending almost two years in Ecuador. She’s been home about a week and a half and we were lamenting together about the difficulties in returning home, seeing the differences after living abroad, and having to come to terms with how things will never be the same. It’s a topic that we’ve discussed before. You go abroad, maybe trying to change yourself, and after so much time and experience you go home and find that things aren’t the same. But really, they are the same and it’s you who is different. In the end, you do change whether you realized it or not.

It’s sort of like the expat curse. Whether intentional or not, you realize that you’ve reached a point beyond which you can return to a normal life. I proposed the idea of having some expat country for those who don’t really fit in anywhere anymore. Sort of like a retirement community for those who can’t relate to old friends or family. You could call it the 4th World. Maybe it will make a good story some day.

Continuing with that, today I went down to a bar in San Telmo to watch the U.S./Ghana World Cup game. I went to the same bar that I saw the U.S./England game in, though it was a different vibe this time. With less people, I was alone surrounded by study abroad students. Last time there seemed to be more of an expat crowd, and you can definitely see the difference between the student who parties it up abroad and the person who is working. I don’t admit to be the biggest soccer fan, though my time in Spain, Ecuador and Argentina has given me an appreciation and understanding of the game, especially its impact on the culture.

Yet in the bar with the study abroad kids, their actions could be considered rude to any Argentinian who wanted to watch the game. First of all, even though the bar is heavily frequented by foreigners, I expect to be greeted in Spanish. That wasn’t the case. I was expected to speak in English and even when I answered in Spanish I was continually spoken to in someone’s second language. Next, someone must have complained because the commentary for the game in Spanish was changed to English. Maybe it made things clearer, but if a sports game in the U.S. at a bar was ever changed to Spanish for even 30 seconds, there would be outrage.

Throughout the game the students were taking pictures, talking loudly, and mocking various aspects of the sport which is clearly not popular in the United States and only recently accepted as something different and fashionable. If you went to a bar in the States to watch a playoff game of the four major sports (Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey) and a group of people were being obnoxious and not really watching the game, they would be booed out, assuming management didn’t ask them to leave. I’d say the majority of the people were there for the drink specials.

It reminded me of how I must have been as a study abroad student in Spain, and just reiterated to me that you have different levels of immersion. As a student it’s usually plastic immersion, in that you live abroad but have American friends and get by in American circles. I’m at a different stage in my life and currently have no American friends and just a couple of British friends. Not that it should be compared with the other side, but you might call that full immersion.

While I’d much rather watch the games with a group of friends I can relate to, I’m still glad to be living abroad and able to watch it in a country where literally everyone cares about it. Tomorrow will show that as Argentina plays Mexico. I just need to figure out where I’ll be watching.

Argentina Beats Greece, Advances to Next Round

22 Jun

TITAN. Palermo sella el 2-0 y desata la locura en Polokwane.  (AFP)This afternoon Argentina played Greece in the World Cup, and the entire country had permission to leave the office or stop working at 3:30 pm. With my coworkers I went to Plaza San Martin near our office, following the excited crowds to where a Fan Zone and giant screen were set up. Unfortunately we left too late and by the time we got there, the crowds were out of control and we couldn’t get a spot anywhere. Through the mess we lost two from out group and had to continue without them. For some reason I was put in charge of the mate, a big responsibility on my shoulders. But as Vero said when we walked over, “You’re one of us now.” That was just the kind of compliment I needed.

Those who were left scrambled to find a place to watch, and we eventually settled on Pancho’s, a little hot dog bar inside a strip mall off of Florida Street. It wasn’t the ideal place, but at least they had HDTV and it wasn’t too packed. We crammed into the back and leaned against the bar side by side. Tension was high because winning would seal the deal and allow Argentina to advance to the elimination round, though a tie didn’t necessarily guarantee anything.

After halftime with no score, we busted out the mate, though only myself and two others were drinking it. All that work for nothing, but at least it made me feel a bit more Argentinian. Right towards the end of the game Argentina scored two goals to seal the victory. The excitement was kind of thrown off because another store was getting their feed a few seconds before us, meaning that when the goals were scored, we could hear the cheers just before we saw what happened. Still, excitement was high, and after the game ended we slowly walked back to the office for another hour of work.

It was amazing going back into the street and seeing how dead everything was. The entire country literally shuts down during these soccer games. Little leaflets coated the street and the far off sounds of honking horns and cheering crowds moving closer towards the center would alert even the most clueless of visitors that something big was going down. Argentina’s victory means that they will now advance to play Mexico on Sunday at 6:30 pm, Buenos Aires time. I kind of wish the game was during the week because it’s been really exciting to see everyone around and cheerful for the games, not to mention getting out of work for a couple of hours. With elimination being the name of the game now, I can’t wait to see just how much more intense this city can get.

Photo courtesy of Clarin

Soccer and Basketball in BA

18 Jun

It’s been a tiring couple of days, but I can’t just blame it on the Registro Civil. Yesterday was a big sports day for me, starting with the Argentina vs. South Korea World Cup game. The match aired in Buenos Aires at 8:30 am, which meant that I had to get up an hour earlier than normal. Our office was invited along with other travel agencies in the city to watch the game at the Four Seasons Hotel in Recoleta. Obviously when World Cup soccer is on, it takes a priority over most things. The plan was to meet up with a few co-workers at the subway stop before walking over to the hotel, and even though I got my Argentinian citizenship a day earlier, I’m still an American and showed up before anyone else.

As usual, people were late, and when we finally walked into the hotel’s function room, the game had already started. Luckily we didn’t miss anything, and were also given free Argentina soccer team hats. The room was dark with a big projection screen, couches and tables set up. A nice breakfast spread was out too, but we couldn’t get to it until halftime because the most important thing was watching the game.

The game was exciting, with Argentina striking hard and winning 4-1. Each time they scored the room erupted and people blew horns, popped balloons, and jumped around. The tension and ultimate joy there was incredible to witness—the kind of thing I’ve always wondered about. To actually be in a country that cares about soccer during the World Cup, while their team plays, is really a gift to be a part of. Each time they scored I too was excited and happy, but not just because I knew that it’s better to be on the winning side. I found myself, like I was in during the 2006 World Cup, really swept up and invested in the team.

The rest of the day went by nicely as everyone in the city seemed to be in a good mood. Aside from the fireworks going off and honking horns, it was calm and respectable as people still had to work. Later at night it was back to American sports with game 7 of the NBA Finals. I was already exhausted and fought hard to stay awake, but it was really a terrible game. Added to that the way it seemed to drag on in the second half, I just couldn’t stay awake and went to bed in the middle of the fourth quarter. Just as well I suppose since the Celtics lost anyway.

So again I find myself tired, though I found out some surprising news this morning. Monday is a holiday in honor of the creation of the flag, so at the very least I’ll be able to rest up a bit, even if it winds up being a boring weekend.

World Cup Weekend

13 Jun

Even though yesterday was a raw, rainy and gray day, there was excitement and fun on the horizon. The reason, of course, was the World Cup. The two big games of the day were Argentina vs. Nigeria at 11 am (Buenos Aires time) and the U.S.A. vs. England at 3:30 pm. It seems like most of the city took it easy on Friday night to wake up nice and fresh for the game in the morning. I was told that every channel would be playing the game so I made some breakfast and casually turned to channel 2. The news anchors were talking about the excitement of the game and showing fans watching in Plaza San Martin on the giant screens, so I just assumed they would cut to the game any moment.

But 10 minutes after 11 I grew worried and changed the channel, just in time to see that 5 minutes has already passed and Juan Veron was just lining up to take the shot that would be the first goal of the game. Suddenly the city exploded and noise was all around. The TV was blaring horns for the entirety of the match and during half time someone down the hall came outside to blow their horn for a few minutes. Normally that would be very inappropriate and cause complaint, but since it was World Cup time, it made total sense and no one cared.

Eventually Argentina won the game 1-0 and I prepared to head down to San Telmo. I was going to meet up with some British guys at a new bar owned by Americans called The Northside. The $25 peso cover charge came with $25 worth of drinks, so it wasn’t too bad of a deal, especially since pints cost $10. Though I was surrounded by British fans in the corner, it seemed like there were more Americans in the bar, and when the Star Spangled Banner was sung, we stood up proudly. In the meantime, the Brits and I joking trash talked back and forth, though I admittedly don’t know enough about the sport to say anything meaningful.

With the quick goal for England I took some abuse, but we all followed along on the giant screens happily. Even though most Americans don’t care about soccer, you can’t help but get excited for World Cup action and the representatives of your country. There was a really great vibe in the fully packed bar and the whole experience was fun. When the U.S. finally scored their lucky goal, the Britons moaned in anger, but things stayed tied up and the game ended 1-1. After early day drinking we all eventually filed out of the bar slowly and called it a night.

The soccer action continues today, though with much less excitement for me. Still, Germany plays today and since they always have a good team, it will be fun to watch for sure. And then of course comes the nonstop banter on the games tomorrow at work. And the next day. And the next.