Tag Archives: soccer

And Down Goes River Plate

26 Jun

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

– Foto: LA NACION – Emiliano Lasalvia y Aníbal Greco

The unthinkable happened today, and River Plate has descended into the B League of Argentine soccer. I went to a pizza bar to watch the game at 3 pm and the place soon filled up with River fans. Within the 5th minute River scored a goal and you could feel the tension ease a bit. The first half belonged to River, but as the second half began you could tell that Belgrano was making a push. They didn’t have to win the game, but all they had to do was not lose by 2 goals. And you should already guess what happened. Belgrano scored to tie the game at 1-1, and from then on it was a desperate push that River could not complete.

The game couldn’t even be finished because by the 44th minute of the second half, raucous fans began to throw objects onto the field. The game was suspended and River was demoted. Just like that. The TV showed fans ripping apart the seats and throwing them on the field, taunting the police and trying to jump over barbed wire fences with their bare hands. Both teams had to move to the center of the field and were surrounded by dozens of policemen and security guards, waiting around while trying to figure out how to leave safely. In the meantime, you could see them crying, as well as about 60,000 grief-stricken fans. I’ve never seen anything like it–fully grown men crying in agony and clutching their heads as if the world was ending.

The madness ensued and is still going on, as angry fans began rioting and fighting with the police. Smoke was rising into the Buenos Aires skyline by sunset and the news is still showing riotous fans who can’t believe that for the first time in 110 years, their team has been humiliated in this way. It might not be the worst soccer riot ever, but it’s certainly a stain on Argentine soccer.

If River Plate Goes Under…

26 Jun

Today is a huge day for Argentine soccer. Even though the season has ended, the battles go on because of a playoff system designed to bring the two worst teams in the Premier League down to the B League, and the two best teams in the B League to the Premier League. This is how the system works in Argentina, but instead of the current season mattering only, it also is aggregate and the last few seasons add up points. Now, one of the best teams in the country, River Plate, is at a crossroads and needs to win today or they will be humiliatingly demoted to the B League.
River Plate and the Boca Juniors are the two most popular teams in Argentina, indisputably. River has won the championship 33 times (more than any other team) and frequently provides players for the national team. Yet the last few years have been difficult for River and Boca as well, so now in this playoff system, River is in deep trouble. They lost earlier in the week 2-0 to Belgrano, a team in the B League, and must win today with 2 goals over Belgrano or they will go down. Basically, if River wins but only 1-0, they get demoted.
As you can see, this is going to be a huge game. Problems already started last week with hooligans and supporters protesting outside of the Monumental, River’s stadium up in Nuñez. This caused huge traffic jams all the way back down past my apartment in Palermo to who knows where. It continued again Friday, and there were even some clashes. Fans were protesting the team’s bad performance, and I think everyone in the city is waiting to see just how furious they’ll get today if they don’t win.
Though I call myself a fan of Boca, I’d prefer River not fall to the B League. It’s a wonderful experience to watch a Superclasico, when River and Boca play each other twice a year. It’s like Red Sox and Yankees on crack, or maybe the U.S.S.R. vs. the U.S.A. It draws in huge amounts of money for the Argentine Football Association and is a big draw for tourism as well. This would be a mar on the league and the performance of other teams. The game starts at 3 pm in Buenos Aires, and we’ll see if the city is still standing by 6 pm.
You can read a bit more about this from the Buenos Aires Herald.

Class Struggle in Buenos Aires

20 Apr

A Polo Match, Enjoyed Mostly by the Upper Class

Today I had an interesting conversation at lunch with the guys. Reading a brochure on Buenos Aires, we came to the discussion of the differing realities of life in Argentina, and most notably, in Buenos Aires. The brochure had quotes from writers dating from the 1920s and 30s, talking about how beautiful the city was and how most families had a dozen servants. We laughed at how ridiculously outdated these quotes were and compared modern times to what was sold as the image of this city. The problem is that many people read these kinds of things and hear the phrase “Paris of South America” and think of something totally different from what you get. Those who visit for a few days and stay in Recoleta or Palermo might find that it’s an excellent place to visit, but if you stay longer you’ll notice how it’s not all the rosy picture some people would like you to think.

Buenos Aires can be such a divided place, with a large difference in neighborhood and social status. For a large majority of those who come from Recoleta or Palermo, their lives are in their eyes normal and what you would expect in Buenos Aires. Streets are safe, architecture is magnificent, and everyone is affluent and taking trips to Punta del Este in Uruguay. But far from that sort of life is another reality, in which people struggle to make ends meet each month and have to be careful as they walk in the streets late at night. It’s not to say one is correct and the other is false, but they are unique to the people who live in them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think Argentina has some of the best marketing geniuses around. Ask most people what they think of when Argentina is brought up and they’ll likely say one of the following: beautiful people with European features, the best soccer players in the world, the best meat and wine, tango dancing, and a cosmopolitan hub in Latin America. For one end, that is true, but it’s also just a small portion of the larger picture. There are a huge number of Argentinians without European features, not everyone plays or cares about soccer, there is a difference between a good steak and a great steak, and on and on. Somehow, the rest of the world has come to see Argentina is a pretty positive light, which isn’t a problem, except that it overlooks the fact that not everything is perfect.

Protests--A Reality for the Majority

This reminds me of the typical architecture in Buenos Aires, with that classical touch and a lovely facade, but turning the corner you notice that the whole thing is a sham. The sides are dirty and faded concrete and inside could be a similar disappointment. It’s like they put so much concern on the front which will be seen by everyone else, that nothing remaining was dealt with much care. In a way, you can say the same thing about the country as a whole. It’s a sort of facade, with many different faces which sell you on various points. Getting to know it a little better and entering, however, and you might not feel like staying too long.

Those who reign in the upper class and sit upon a perch, assuring the world that everything is fine, are essentially digging a bigger hole and burrowing further into a problem which won’t fix itself. Only fixing the problem in one neighborhood or putting more guards in one school will not help anyone in the long run, and only creates a gap which ends in resentment and mistrust. I won’t get into the end result which history has already spelled out in various examples. The point is, you need to hear someone when they say that, yes, those beautiful people who are talented at soccer and dancing are Argentinian. But so are we, and we are just regular, everyday working stiffs. So why don’t they figure into the reality that most of the world sees?

My First Experience with the Boca Juniors

18 Apr

Inside La Bombanera

I’ve been trying to get down to see the Boca Juniors for over a year and a half, but it’s always been one excuse after another to keep me from going. At first, I lived six blocks or so from the stadium and kept telling myself that I’d get there eventually. No rush. Then it became difficult to actually find available tickets, or the price was too high, or finding someone to go with was impossible, and on and on. I came to the conclusion just a few weeks ago that I would never actually make it to a game—that was until Friday, when I saw that Félix from MixUp had tickets for $150 pesos. While it’s still more expensive than most games, for a Boca Juniors game, $150 is about as cheap as you’ll ever find it from a legitimate source.

I thought I’d go alone but then I remembered that Nima, a newcomer to Buenos Aires who contacted me through my blog, was interested in going to a game as well. Nima said that he and a few friends would definitely want to go, so we arranged for six tickets. We all jumped down to La Boca on the 152 and got off right in front of the stadium, and in just a moment’s time we helped ourselves to some choripan (which you’ll remember is a spicy sausage sandwich.) I was told long ago that the choriby the Boca stadium is the best in the city, and it was definitely a higher quality sausage. If it was the best I’ve had, I’m not sure, but I’d eat there again. There are tons of food stands around which pretty much only sell choripan or hamburgers, or maybe a bondiola (pork) sandwich if you’re lucky.

An hincha, or fan

As we headed towards the long line going into the blue and yellow stadium (the colors come from the Swedish flag), we had to wait as the freight train of soccer hooligans came through. Everyone backed away as they passed proudly, and clearly the hooligans were in control of the area. The last thing anyone would ever want to do is step on one of their shoelaces. Once in the line we went through periods of stopping and starting. Moving ahead a few yards and then stopping and waiting again. It was at the first bottleneck where we ran into some problems. One of the kids in the group held up his ticket to show a guard, and the guard pulled him out of the line. We later found out that he was told his ticket was fake and was sent home. The line pushed us all ahead so that we couldn’t go back, and what I assume happened is he broke protocol by showing his ticket, marking him as a foreigner, and he was simply pulled out. Maybe the guard went on to sell his ticket to someone else. Who knows?

It’s a shame that he couldn’t get in, but he didn’t seem to mind too much according to texts during the game. We continued as people shoved past, reaching two police checkpoints where they patted us down, and finally we reached the gate after about 40 minutes. Suddenly at the turnstile my ticket didn’t work, and I was told to leave the gate and find some guy in a blue shirt, who would give me a new one. It sounded incredibly sketchy, but the guy by chance came up to the gate and said to wait for him. He came back and we went over to someone else, who called in the ticket number and gave me another out of a large stack. Nothing smelled right about it, but I got in, though I was now separated from the others who had already gone in.

I was pretty aggravated because part of the experience for me would be sharing it with other people, and it ruined the mood of the start of the game. Alone, I kept looking around trying to sight the other guys, and to check on my own safety, rather than entirely focus on the match. I snapped a few photos even though I had been warned to have nothing of value on me, and eventually I eased into accepting that I could try to meet up at halftime. Our tickets were in the Popular, or General section, meaning we were right in there with the hinchas, or hooligans and die hard fans. As the game started you could feel the stadium shake, and the hinchas jumped and yelled profanities at the top of their lungs. Far away from an office or worksite, these loyal fans let it all out on game day. I tried to blend in as best as I could, with my Argentina national team hat on (mostly to cover up my blond hair), a simple black jacket and old Boca jersey underneath. Every once in a while I would wave my hand in a gesture that all the fans do periodically, though I can’t really figure out what it represents.

Neverending chanting

And though I’d been warned by everyone about my safety, I never really felt unsafe. It’s true—if a Boca Juniors game in the Popular section was your first experience with Latin American soccer, you might freak out. But I’d been to a few games before, and even in a laid back game in Cuenca, Ecuador, they lit off road flares inside as the game started. The fact that Tigre is a traditionally bad team and not much of a rival might have tamed the crowd, or maybe being fluent in Spanish made it less scary, but I personally felt okay. Still, I kept my eyes about just to be safe.

Things went badly quickly for Boca, as Tigre scored two quick goals. Yet every time the other team scores, the fans simply get louder and cheer harder, either to block out the other team’s cries of joy or to show their support for their team. It’s a beautiful concept that you won’t find in American sports. The moment your team starts to play badly you boo and chant to change it up. Fans walk out once a loss is in sight. But the soccer fans here stick it out, even after two lousy years of play. (I might be bad luck, because as soon as I got here Boca started to play badly).

The mood was lifted just when the game seemed lost because Boca scored two quick goals right before the first half ended. Standing right in the hincha section, the crowd went nuts as people jumped on each other, hugging and kissing or grabbing each other by the shoulder and neck and saying, “I can’t believe it!” or something else similar. With the first half over, I spotted the head of Nima down in the crowd and somehow managed to body surf over people who had sat down to get to the guys. I considered that stepping on people would probably get my ass kicked, but I always excused myself, which seemed to clear up that it wasn’t on purpose, and I was given permission to pass.

Now deep in the hincha section, we were right in front of the real crazy guys who stand on narrow metal posts, hanging by banners and yelling the entire game. They don’t even watch the action because their job is to incite the crowd. Throughout the second half only three songs were sung, with the last one going for a good 30 minutes. I don’t know how they didn’t get sick of it, and even I was eventually mumbling along to what I thought the lyrics were, though it was mostly incomprehensible.

After the game, waiting to leave

Another goal by Tigre was followed up by one more from Boca, and at the end it was a tie, 3-3. Better than a loss, right? Because we were in the Popular section, we had to sit down after the game ended and wait for everyone else to clear out of the stadium. After maybe 40 minutes we were given the OK and we cleared out with everyone else. To end the experience in Boca the guys got another choripan as I opted for a burger, and the in the street a firecracker went off just a few feet from my head as the hooligans went by in their beat up old buses. I’m glad that I finally went down to the stadium and saw a game and lived to tell about it. There aren’t too many things left in the city that I haven’t gotten around to doing now.

The System is Definitely Down

16 Apr

It seems like some kind of conspiracy theory, but no matter where I go in this country, the system will always be down. Take this week, for example. I started off on Monday with the server at work crashing to start off the day. I called for tech support, who told me they’d be there in two hours. Just as well that they never showed up because the server eventually came back, but it happens frequently enough that it’s not surprising when it doesn’t work.

On Wednesday I went to the U.S. Embassy and even though things seemed to be in working order there, their system was also down, causing me to come back to pick up my passport the next day. I couldn’t help but find it funny that even the embassy couldn’t get it right. But hey, mistakes happen and networks go down. Yet again, on Friday I went to the Registro Civil for the 20th time (literally) to check and see if my DNI had been processed yet.

Surprise, surprise, the system at the Registro Civil was down, and I was told to come back and check on Monday. It’s laughable, and I’m so numb to any kind of ridiculous situation that on Monday they could tell me that a dog just ate my DNI and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

In other news, I have a big day coming up tomorrow. In the morning I’ll be running in the FILA 10k in Palermo, an early morning race that’s a bit farther away than usual. Then in the afternoon, I will FINALLY cross one off of my list in Buenos Aires and go to a game in La Boca. The Boca Juniors will be playing Tigre at 4 pm, and I was able to find tickets for $150 pesos, which is about as cheap as you’ll be able to find. I’m going to take my camera, but I’ll also be sitting in the General section, so as long as I don’t get robbed (a possibility) I’ll post pictures and/or video after.

Volley-Soccer and Peruvian Salsafest

7 Nov

Yesterday I spent the day hanging out with a new buddy named Brian from Texas. Brian lives in Palermo Hollywood and his Peruvian roommate Antonio invited us to a salsa party at his friends’ house for later in the day. To kill some time in the afternoon we walked to the neighborhood of Chacarita, which is to the west of Palermo. I’d never really been there before, but there’s not much of a reason to go there unless you know someone. The Chacarita Cemetery is huge and a lesser-known tourist attraction, especially underneath the level of the Recoleta Cemetery, so we were going to check it out.

By the wall of the cemetery we noticed a large crowd gathered watching a game. On a volleyball court there were two guys per team playing, but not in the traditional way. Not using any hands, these guys were only using their legs, chests and heads to hit the ball over. I’d never seen anything like it, and their skill was impressive. It almost seemed like they were working together as one team, simply trying to keep the volley going, and just when it looked like the ball had gotten to far away they were able to pull it back it and keep it going.

The crowd was all men in their 20s to 40s, and everyone was drinking either mate or beer. Instead of using a volleyball they had a soccer ball, and though the game is different, it reminded me of the intense games of Ecuavolley that groups of men would play and watch in Ecuador. I had to wonder about how they got to the point where soccer and volleyball were no longer interesting, and the light bulb went off to combine the two. I could have stayed watching for a while but we went to see the cemetery, though it was already closed.

Later on we got to the Peruvian salsa party in the neighborhood of Paternal, which is kind of out there off the main loop. Immediately we were welcomed in like members of the family, given food and drinks. It was mostly Peruvians from Lima, but an interesting mix with small children running around and some serious dancing going on in the attic-turned into dance studio with blasting music. I’ve realized that if I learned how to dance salsa in Ecuador after a year of practice, the year without practice in Argentina has almost undone the lessons. It took me a couple of songs to get back into a rhythm, but even then I still couldn’t keep up with the Peruvians.

In the end, a few hours of blasting salsa and cumbia was enough for us, but we were invited back anytime for private lessons, so maybe one day we’ll take them up on it. After two years in Latin America, the unquestioning hospitality of latinos is still amazing to me. Immediately you are a friend, invited into the house, offered food and drinks, and hugged. It’s a warm feeling which everyone should get to experience.

Third Tier Soccer Fun in Buenos Aires

24 Oct

Comunicaciones

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.

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.