Thursday, May 19, 2016

Soccer- the Religion of Argentina; the Pope's Team- Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro

Argentina is a pretty permissive society. You can trade spouses, convert to a new religion, go Caitlin Jenner with your sexual orientation, even join ISIS and all of Buenos Aires will still welcome you into their homes with open arms. 
But dare betray your fellow fans by switching allegiances to another soccer team and you will be burned at the stake as a heretic. They take place in a central city plaza- five last year. 

Needless to say I was excited to take part in the passion of South America (I brought a book of matches) and with an invite from my friend Bebeto, I'm quickly being whisked towards the stadium of Club Atletico San Lorenzo which is located in one of the worst slums of Baires, an area annexed by immigrants from South America's poorest countries (Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay.)
"Villa"- Argentinian word for "slum," near San Lorenzo stadium. Newer cars are of fans 

Their illegally built shanty towns are unlikely to be featured in the next issue of Architectural Digest. On game day, the presence of law enforcement is required to safely park and navigate the neighborhood. The area referred to as "1-11-14," on the opposite side of the stadium, police deem too dangerous to enter themselves.

We walk to the nearby athletic fields for the pre-game asado- Argentinian barbecue, similar to American tailgating. Everyone here has known each other for years, often decades, lifelong fans. Of course they're lifelong fans, there really isn't another viable option; you think I was kidding about what they do to traitors?
How much pride do soccer fans take in their allegiances? Bebeto's father has paid a $200 yearly fee for his youngest son's membership card since birth, and the boy at age 3 is still not old enough to safely attend games.
Wait? It's just a sporting event. What's the risk in bringing a toddler? hahahahahaha ... Let me fill you in.
  • Opposing teams have been pepper sprayed from the stands. 
  • There used to be a designated section of the stadium for rival fans, but they often found ways to "bleed" into the home team crowd, resulting in huge brawls which filled the local hospitals. Today opposing fans have been Banned from attending each other's games nationwide ... It was ultimately cheaper to give up those ticket sales. 
  • Avalanches- literally fans celebrating a goal by doing a sort of vertical "wave" falling onto people in the row in front of them, a game of vertically plunging human dominos has created a morbid tradition- when the home team scores, its fans die. 
  • There is a real home-field advantage as referees who make a call the fanatics find disagreeable are sometimes killed. They'll think twice before awarding a penalty kick to the visitors. (True Fact: Soccer refs in South America are ineligible to purchase life insurance policies.)
So you'll forgive Bebeto's father for merely bringing the likeness of his son via his membership card photo to the game.
you can watch an avalanche (seconds 7-16 only)

But back to the asado; multiple chorizo (sausage) sandwiches are fired from a canon into my open hand. Mountains of meat here, nearly impossible to be a vegetarian in Argentina. The fans are friendly and welcoming, which be might partly due to the the free flowing Fernette (alcohol) and Coca-Cola mixed-drink, arriving via shared, giant plastic cups.
One of the drunken leaders (in both senses) winks at me, pours a generous amount of extra Fernette into the make-shift glass, stirring its contents with his what could politely be described as a "grimy"finger, then hands me the cup ... I bring it to my lips, pretending to take a sip not only in an effort to maintain rapport, but also to avoid catching typhoid.
Every few minutes the fans break out into impromptu, minute long cheers for their beloved team, a team they will support until they die.
the pre-game asado- FC San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo stadium
Eventually game time arrives, and people pour into the stadium under police super-vision. There are different sections, the youth section, where the fans jump up and down, vociferously cheering the entire game. Once you save enough money you can upgrade your tickets to our section where you must merely stand until the final whistle blows.
Our opponents are the Hurricanes, a team which was recently upgraded from the inferior "B" division, to Argentina's premier league. During warm-ups good natured and supportive fans of FC San Lorenzo remind the opposition of their humble beginnings, derisively chanting "Vos sos de la B! Vos sos de la B! Vos sos de la B!" (you are from the B!)
watch/ listen to fans taunting the visiting team- "Vos sos de la B!"

San Lorenzo stadium
Of course, what's the point in going to a sporting event without betting on it? Being the genius I am, a foolproof plan is at hand. You see, FC San Lorenzo is The Pope's team, having grown up in the area he's a lifelong fan; the head of Catholic Church is not exempt from the fate of a heretic.
My thinking- how is it possible to lose when God is on your side? As a man of action, I immediately bet the budget allotted for my trip.
All I can say is, I doubled my money to $200! Not that I should have won, frankly the "B" team outplayed San Lorenzo, but their shots barely missed their mark and twice caromed off the posts (God's work,) and San Lorenzo capitalized on one its few opportunities, and on this rare occurrence in an otherwise boring sport, the entire stadium erupted in a CraZy celebration. 
watch the fans' passion for the game, plus game highlights

And what a great time was had experiencing what I consider a cultural event singular to this area of the world. Say what you want about South America, with it's corrupt politicians, high inflation, uncertainty, and spouses with often wandering eyes, I will tell you true and monogamous love exists here; and its between fans and their soccer team.
Go San Lorenzo! Fan for life!
Bebeto, Martina, me- great time


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