This week’s main report is all about football in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. To help you understand the piece a little better there is a vocabulary list containing the words in bold at the foot of this post.
With more professional clubs than any other capital city in the world, Buenos Aires can claim to be the most football fanatical city on the planet. At the last count, there were 24 professional clubs based in and around the capital and in this season’s Argentinian first division only three of the twenty teams are from outside the province of Buenos Aires, with 7 of them from the capital itself: Boca Juniors; River Plate; Huracán; All Boys; Vélez Sársfield; Argentinos Juniors and San Lorenzo. Independiente and Racing Club are from nearby Avellaneda, while Estudiantes and Gimnasia are from La Plata region to the north of the city.
River Plate and Boca Juniors are the two most famous – and dominant – clubs in the country, with nearly 60 league titles between them. Both teams originated in the working class area of La Boca but River moved, in 1923, to the north of the city to a more middle class area which has earned them the nickname ‘Los Millonarios’, the millionaires, but who respond in kind by calling their so-called lower-class rivals, ‘Los Bosteros’, which is a word that refers to the history of the workers from that part of the city who worked in the mortar-made-from-manure industry. They are also known as ‘Los Xeneizes’ because this was where the Genovese from Italy first landed and settled in the nineteenth century and the region around La Bombonera, the stadium where Boca play, is still influenced by an Italian style. Many of the other clubs in the city also have nicknames that reflect their working-class roots: Huracan are ‘Los Quemeros’, the Burners, as their stadium was built near a waste disposal factory; while La Plata’s Gimnasia are known as ‘Los Triperos, the gutters, as there was a meat processing plant nearby. Other interesting nicknames include San Lorenzo are known as ‘Los Cuervos’ (The crows) as their foundation had a lot to do with playing early games at the back of the local church and Estudiantes are known as ‘Los Pincharratas’, The rat stabbers, as medical experiments were carried out in the local university.
Of course with so many teams in the city there are countless derbies that each have varying degrees of intensity. The Avellaneda Derby pits Independiente against Racing Club and there are normally lots of sparks flying as the two stadia are only a few hundred metres apart. The Platense, La Plata derby between Estudiantes and the more working class side Gimnasia is also a tasty affair, while Velez’ main rivals are Huracan. But the biggest derby in the city, the country and even the world is the Superclásico between Boca and River. Indeed, when discussing the 50 greatest sporting activities to participate in, the English newspaper, The Observer placed this fixture at number 1, claiming, ‘Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about.’
Porteños, the Spanish name for the city’s inhabitants, are obsessed with their local teams and see them as representative of their communities – more so since the financial crisis of the 1990’s when it seemed that many of the clubs would go to the wall. Now fans have more of a say in the running of their clubs, though there is also the spectre of the barrios bravas to be dealt with. These are the ultras or organised football gangs that permeate each of the clubs in the city. Though less influential than before, their passionate support of their respective clubs is tempered by the fact that they have been involved in some shady practices and can be quite violent. There is also still much corruption and mismanagement of finances among the clubs which means they have huge debts and one way of paying off these debts is by selling on their best players to overseas teams: just think of Tevez at Manchester City; Di Maria and Higuain at Real Madrid, Aguero at Atletico Madrid, Banega at Valencia, Cambiasso and Milito at Inter Milan. Despite this talent drain, the passion, colour, tradition and noise of matches in the city still makes Buenos Aires, the place to see a football game.
Some of the sites used in this story
respond in kind : They reply in the same manner
the Genovese: People from Genoa in Italy
roots: Origins, beginnings
countless: So many (cannot be counted)
pits Independiente against Racing Club: Sees A vs B
sparks flying: There is a lot of tension; an aggressive atmosphere
a tasty affair: An interesting game; the idea is that no love is lost between the two teams
the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-aboutThe match between Celtic and Rangers in Scotland is nothing compared to the game between Boca and River
would go to the wall: Go bankrupt
permeate : Are part of; filled with
is tempered: Takes away some of the shine; loses some of the positive aspect
shady practices: Bordering on illegal
talent drain: Many of the best players have to leave to other countries as there is no money in the country