Postcard from Argentina: part four, continued

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye’s constant quest for adventure has taken her back to Argentina – the land of gauchos, glaciers, football, tango and beef

Continued from yesterday

We returned, as requested, the following day at 3pm. Finally at 5pm (Argentines are not big on punctuality) after parting with a crazy amount of pesos (going to a game will cost you), were handed over membership cards that socios (members) were unable to use and told to keep our heads down and mouth shuts as we squeezed through the turn-stiles. If security cottoned onto the fact that we were foreigners – and thereby not genuine members – we’d be refused entry.

Pulling our Boca baseball caps (Priscilla and I seemed to have dressed as if for a competition called “How many things can you wear that say Boca Juniors”) down low over our heads, we both held our breath for what felt like an eternity until safely in the populares (bleachers) with the Boca fans.

As a blonde woman, I was the quintessential stranger but, I discovered – so long as I could sing “Dale, dale, dale Boca” with gusto –  a welcome one. I felt as though I had died and gone to football heaven. I’ve seen my fair share of matches both back in Blighty and in Brazil (Botafogo v Flamengo) but these pale in comparison to my Argentine football experience.  The Boca stadium and its fans – with their banners, chanting, drums, dancing and never-ending fireworks – made Vicarage Road (where my home team Watford FC play) look like a library.

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It was while watching Boca play Atletico Tucuman that I learned that only home fans are allowed into Argentine football grounds. Apparently the Argentine Football Association (AFA) banned away fans from attending football matches back in June 2013, due to spiralling violence. Around 70 football supporters have been killed by barras bravas (a band of hooligans) since 2000. Sobering statistics indeed…

I also discovered during my debut Argentine match that current Argentine international, Lionel Messi, isn’t loved anywhere near as much as Diego Maradona – and not just by Boca fans for whom former Boca boy, Maradona, is God. Messi may have recently bagged himself a fifth Ballon d’Or award to once again be crowned the world’s best footballer, but Argentines haven’t all taken him to heart with many claiming Messi is too “too cold chested”.

diego

The accusation arises largely from the fact that Messi left Argentina for Spain at the age of 13 and – his naysayers bleat  – has achieved more for Barcelona than “he ever has for his country.” By contrast, Diego Maradona managed to restore national pride to Argentina with a World Cup triumph in 1986 (it came four years after the Falklands War). And no football fan of a certain age can forget that image of Maradona pumped full of pain killers and playing on what was, in effect, one leg, dragging his country into the 1990 World Cup final through sheer determination and strength of personality.

But I have another theory as to why the Argentines aren’t head over heels in love with Lionel Messi, despite his undoubted genius. I think the real reason that Argentina took Maradona to heart in a way they have never, thus far, managed with Messi is down to the fact that the Argentines adore drama. And Maradona’s rise and sudden, swift fall (aided by failed drug tests, an appetite for nightclubs and Italian mafia, and a penchant for firing air pistols at journalists who doorstepped his home)  has drama in spades. And then some.

ground

In many ways Maradona’s story mirrors that of his country: Argentina was one of the richest nations in the world before it fell into a seemingly permanent (at least pre Macri) financial crisis.  And yet for all his flaws and foibles, the Argentines remain devoted to Diego Maradona who proved that it was possible for a boy from a dirt poor background to kick his way to the heights of football.

All of which perhaps explains why the controversial Carlos Tevez – back at Boca after stints at Corinthians (Brazil), West Ham, Man United and Man City (UK) and Juventus (Italy) – is similarly cherished. Much like Maradona, Tevez endured a tough childhood in the slums of Buenos Aires –  something the scald scars that run down his face, neck and chest bear testimony to.  Tevez  could have had the scars removed (Boca offered to cover the costs during his first stint at the club) but Carlitos (as they affectionately call him, here in Argentina) refused saying: “I won’t have plastic surgery. You either take me as I am or you don’t. If God put this on my face, then I will not change it. The same goes for the teeth.” (His crooked, broken teeth are the result of a street fight while growing up in the rough Buenos Aires barrio, Fuerte Apach.) Conversely Messi enjoyed a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in Rosario, which was, by all accounts, devoid of drama.

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Talking of theatrics, nothing gets the juices going like watching a live football match in Argentina. Boca may have lost to Atletico Tucuman by a single goal, but the swarm of yellow and blue shirts surging toward the fence (yes there’s a stadium fence that separates fans from the pitch) screaming for their team to reclaim the game, is a memory that will live on in my heart and my mind forever.

My message? If you get the chance to attend a game, reach out and grab it with both hands. It’s an experience that is worth every single peso.

Talk to you in two weeks,

Kaye

x

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IF YOU GO TO A GAME…

DO
Eat before you go – food and drink sold inside the stadiums is limited and expensive

Arrive early so as to soak up the passion and atmosphere

Leave credit cards and valuables at home and carry only a small amount of cash

DON’T
Dress in the opposing team’s colours

Say that Pelé (Brazil) was better than Maradona or that Brazil is better at futbol than Argentina

Refer to futbol as soccer

HOW TO SCORE TICKETS
If you don’t fancy chancing your luck with a ticket tout, keep an eye on club websites. Here are five famous football teams to try in Buenos Aires:

Boca Juniors
www.bocajuniors.com.ar

River Plate
lapaginamillonaria.com

Racing Club
www.racingclub.com.ar

Independiente
www.clubaindependiente.com

San Lorenzo
www.sanlorenzo.com.ar

Alternatively contact an agency such as Tangol (www.tangol.com ) or an organisation like Landing Pad (www.landingpadba.com)

To read part one of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part two of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read, part three of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read, part four of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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