The tribalism of Argentine football, as I’m certain I have alluded to more than once in these hallowed pages, is a sight to be seen. Thousands of police officers are put on duty and armed to the teeth every weekend with one specific goal: do not let the two sets of fans get near each other, or else watch as all hell breaks lose in a flurry of stones, bricks and trips to the local hospital. The faithful of my own Racing Club, although clearly superior in so many ways to the rabble who go to Boca, River or (god forbid) Independiente every week are from guiltless when it comes to demonising the other in the opposite stands – a fact poetically stated by a good friend of mine before a Clasico, when he declared that he “hated Independiente with all his soul.” Quite.
As a born romantic, however, a lover not a fighter and admirer of the legendary Martin Luther King Jr, I too have a dream. That fans of
both teams will one day play in the streets together, that a man will be judged not by the colour of his shirt, but by the content of his character. Walking to El Cilindro on Sunday to watch Racing take on Banfield, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief as it appeared my fantastical dream was in the process of becoming reality.
Two men walked in the opposite direction; one bedecked in the unmistakeable celeste y blanca of my beloved. The other was wearing the equally distinctive green and white stripes of the day’s opponents, based in the eponymous city in the sprawling suburb of Lomas de Zamora. Was I seeing history? Was this a seminal moment in Argentine football? Would fans from this point forward be putting down the flaregun, the rocks and the anger to forever more sit in fields and braid each other’s hair before games? Well, not quite.
Upon further inspection, I deduced that the shirt was in fact that of Atletico Nacional, a South American giant based in the Colombian city of Medellin. In Gio Moreno La Academia have one of the Colombian team’s favourite sons in their ranks, and since then fans of Nacional have swarmed to El Cilindro to bring their own colour to the stadium palette. A heart-warming story, if not quite as Kingesque as the one I had first envisaged, but a further sign of how, for a significant proportion of the thousands of Colombians who move to Buenos Aires every year, the shared passion of football brings two fanatical populations together. This is Racing, after all, where on entering our favoured pre-match watering hole you are just as likely to hear a “qué más, parce?” as you would a more porteño form of address: “Qué hacés, vieja?” A lovely bunch.
Fittingly it would be a Colombian star who had the biggest impact on the match, although not completely positive. Not Moreno, but his Cafetero cousin from Barranquilla Teo Gutierrez, a striker whose ability to put the ball in the net is only matched by his talent to put his foot in his mouth, and drive us all insane. Suffice to say he managed both on the weekend.
First, happy thoughts. Our merry band of tipsy supporters had barely elbowed our way into the stands when a penalty was given, and Teo stepped up to slot it home and provoke a mass round of hugs, kisses and other public displays of affection with hairy men you would usually decline to sit next to on the bus. Those readers hanging around from the previous two weeks (cheers, by the way) will remember that Racing had failed to score in their first two outings, and had picked up one measly point. Pay attention, this will all be on the test. And anyone familiar with the mighty L’Acade will know their unrivalled capacity for self-destruction. Yes, it’s another of those stories.
A soft penalty down the other end gave Banfield parity once more, but after Bustamante was sent off Racing surely had to reassert their dominance. No. What followed were 60 frustrating minutes of poor crosses, awful passes, wayward shots and agonised grunts from the terraces. Oh, and the obligatory moment of stupidity from our man Teo: already on a yellow card, for reasons best known to himself he tried to kick the ball out of goalkeeper Lucchetti’s hands, earning himself an early bath no-one could argue with. With that, a draw would have been acceptable, but the visitors had other ideas and three minutes into injury time headed the winner to leave fans perplexed and dumbfounded.
The boos followed, as did the chants referring to a vital anatomical part of the players’ own mothers and a confrontation outside when it was time to get back on the bus. This was accompanied by the brilliant image of coach Basile squaring up to fight each of the disgruntled supporters, only to admit that maybe they had a point after another shocking performance.
Our little group, meanwhile skulked away to begin the post-match dissection of the defeat, and there was perhaps one conclusion that gained more popularity than most. Argentina, England, Colombia: fans of Racing can come from all corners of the globe, uniting cultures and nations with the beautiful game. But for the long-suffering supporters, permanent exile to one of those corners would be welcome for La Academia’s losers. Siberia, anyone?
PS. We still are less than fond of Banfield