Saturday, October 24, 2015

Argentine Football Part 2

I quite adore Argentina, but honestly, its football (soccer) leaves a wee black mark against it. 

Although I laughed when I heard about the fans of a team pepper spraying the opposing team, this level of intensity for a sport troubles me. It also stuns me that until just a few weeks ago, away fans have been banned from attending games in opposing stadiums for the last two years! Yes, only home fans are allowed to attend games. I guess too many fans were being killed at incidents at games. And yes, I did mean to write killed. According to BBC, between 2000 and the ban being imposed in June 2013 over 70 football supporters had been killed. Last month the governing body allowed two games to include away fans and they'll decide for next season whether away fans will be allowed at any other games.

Then we went to a game and saw the area where the away fans sat: in the endzone behind bars that are topped off with barbed wire, in a style quite suitable for a maximum security prison. To be fair, the sides just have strings of barbed wire above the fence; it's only along the front that the rolls of barbed wire make an appearance. My phone photo comes nowhere near doing the look of it justice.

I would also like to know how much the extra security costs, and who pays for all the police that undoubtedly appear at every game. We walked through three, maybe four, points where our tickets were checked, and one point where bags were searched and people patted down. Also police lined the main streets leading to the stadium, both before and after the game. After the game, the Shell service station on the corner of a block - which looked pretty much exactly like they do at home -- was fenced off with police standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the fence. That's a lot of police for just one business.

But I did enjoy the tenacity of the fans and how they could drum and chant the entire game. We saw River Plate vs Lanús in River Plate's stadium. The team has a whole lot of different chants. When I looked online, many of the chants seem to insult Boca Jr., the arch rival of River Plate But there were still many others to draw upon when not playing Boca Jr. There is something quite awesome about that kind of sporting love. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed how fluid and flexible the schedule is. The week of a match the day and time of the match is confirmed. Oh yes, the day can change with just a few days notice. The game we were to attend on a Saturday was changed the Tuesday before because the teams weren't going to have enough rest time after playing in the South American Cup match on Thursday. Maybe the game would be Sunday, maybe Monday. They'd let the fans know. And the fans are ok with this. Here's the link to my post where I include the e-mail we got letting us know of scheduling changes.

In addition to rest, the matches are moved around to accommodate TV schedules. Who wants to watch a match of loser teams when a better match is available. So of course, the better game lines up with prime TV time. 

The game we did see was at the National Stadium, El Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti,or just El Monumental for short. I somehow suspect that since it's where River Plate plays, those fans call it the River Plate stadium. It's old and utilitarian. But, it serves its purpose. Fans come and chant and cheer and watch football. They don't need giant screens, a fabulous sound system, new and comfortable seating, VIP box seats or anything else that we seem to demand for our live sporting events in North America. As a result, tickets are pretty affordable and fans can get to watch their team in person. 

Also, the stadiums are owned by the team. This makes for a whole lot of stadiums in Buenos Aires - there are 11 that hold over 20,000 fans in Buenos Aires proper. I don't know how many more are in the greater Buenos Aires area, but there are a few more. Apparently in one area a plaza separates two stadiums because there is no way ever that one team would play in the other's stadium as anything but the away team. 

The stadium ownership also gives the home team certain advantages, such as watering the field right before the game starts because they think it will give their team an advantage over the opposing team. Tricks and games like this I enjoy. The violence I don't. 

Just before the sprinklers turned on to water the pitch.

But the game was fantastic to go see. So much so that when Argentina played Ecuador while I was back in Canada, Kerry and the kids headed off to that game. Not nearly as much chanting or cheering, and not just because Ecuador defeated the powerhouse 2-0. As one person said, the national team doesn't bring out the hooligans. Pity regular games do.

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