Futbol: Just a Sport (Right?!)

13 Jul

Hola Queridos Amigos,

Before I start, I owe a huge apology to everyone. No, I didn’t fall off a peak in the Andes Mountains or get run-over by a crazy porteno taxi driver. Until just recently, I went through one of the most stressful periods of my life.  Over the course of a few weeks, I had to take 5 exams (2 oral ones), write about 60 pages worth of essays, and give 3 presentations.  Add that to having to deal with a bunch of random paperwork, planning out my last few weeks here, trying to watch the World Cup, and sneaking in a quick trip, I wasn’t able to update my blog like I would have liked. Sorry. Don’t worry, I took notes of things I wanted to talk about and wrote down details I knew I’d forget, so this last month is still pretty fresh. With that, you all deserve a little update on how my last few weeks in Buenos Aires have been.

First off, I want to write about my favorite aspect of the porteno culture: the futbol. I could have written about this right at the beginning, but I decided to wait through the end of the World Cup to analyze and comment on all aspects I could.  As many know, even before my study abroad here, I was a pretty big fan of futbol (yes FUTBOL and not SOCCER… I never want to hear the “S” word- it’s a slap in the face to the sport. However, if you want to spell it “football,” that’s ok too). Go USA, Les Bleus, and my club team, Everton!  Upon arriving, I adopted both the Argentina national team and the two club teams Boca Juniors and Racing (I’ll explain later) and will continue to support them back in the States.

Futbol Leagues 101. For those of you not familiar with the difference between club futbol and national futbol, here’s a quick review. Throughout the world, different countries have different leagues, with the biggest being those of England, Italy, and Spain. The teams are composed of players from that country AND from any other country worldwide.  For instance, an English Premier League team might consist of only 3 English players but have others from France, Russia, the United States, Columbia, and Nigeria. Every year these different teams compete against others in that league, and then, simply put, the best of each league go on and play others in the same continent and become “champions” for that year (it is more complicated, and there are more events ,but that is the gist). However, every four years, the World Cup occurs, and entire countries and their native players compete against each other. The best analogy to this would be baseball and the summer Olympics.  Many international players are on MLB teams, but when the Olympics come around, only American citizens represent team USA.

Club Futbol.  In Argentina, club futbol rules everyday life.  There are teams from all over the country, but the vast majority come from the capital (of the top tier teams, this year 15 of 20 were from BA).  The two most well known are River Plate and Boca Juniors, the first founded by the English upper class and the second by the working class.   Originally, the fans were split that black and white, but nowadays people from all different social classes support both teams.  While the rivalry would compare to our Yankees/Red Sox, it is much more serious here.  Fans from the different teams will always sit on opposite sides of the stadiums, and the away fans will be let out before the home fans.  Wearing the wrong jersey in the wrong part of town can be a death wish, and there numerous cases every year of people from different teams killing each other.  Each team has its own mafia, and comparing the whole situation to the Sopranos probably wouldn’t be too far off.

Regarding my experiences with futbol here, I can fortunately say that nothing too crazy happened to me.  Early on, I adopted the navy blue and mustard yellow of Boca as my own because my host brother is a diehard fan.  However, I never went to a home game-I tried three times, but it was impossible to get tickets because the box office sold  out very quickly and scalping tickets there was basically impossible.  My friends and I attempted to buy tickets on the street one Sunday, but after almost being sold 5 sets of fake ones we just gave up and went home. Nevertheless, the Bombonera is a pretty amazing stadium.  It’s small, but quaint, and the stadium really does “beat”; even outside you can feel the vibrations of everyone cheering.

I did however go to two other games. The first was one of Racing with a good porteno friend of mine.  They were a mediocre team, and the tickets we got were for the upper stands (the calmer platea), for an unimportant game.  Regardless, the atmosphere topped any other sporting event I had ever been to at the time. The songs were incredible, and it was there I first noticed how important the sport was to these people.  Racing was  ahead most of the game, but in the final minutes the opposing team scored a tying goal, and the reaction of my friend compared to that of having learned that a loved one had passed away. Una locura. (After that game though, I decided I would become a supporter of Racing as well.  I’m not a huge fan of the huge, popular teams, and this team I felt, compares to my beloved Everton.)    The other game I went to was one of my rival’s, River Plate. To get a different feel of the game, I decided to get right in the middle of the action and sit in the hardcore fan section, the populares.  There I saw a new side to the sport.  These fans were the most diehard I had ever seen.  Throughout every second they were on their feet, and never did they stop cheering nor singing.  The team ended up losing 5-1, and though it was the last game of an overall pitiful season for the team, no one would ever have guessed that from the fans. These fanaticos stayed until the end and even an hour after, cheering away and bestowing compliment after compliment upon their team and its players. Let’s just say these weren’t your average American football fans…

National Team.  Fortunately for me , I was also able to see the other side of the sport.  The World Cup took place while I was there, and it made for another memorable experience.  While I obviously didn’t go to an actual game, I did get to see all the stars play in a “friendly” against Canada a few weeks before.  It was fun, but due to the lack of importance of the game, the atmosphere didn’t even come close to comparing  to that of the club games I went to.  Throughout the entirety of the actual World Cup, things obviously changed.  As everyone knows, Argentina made it to the quarterfinals, where it got stomped 4-0 by Germany.  I saw all 5 games in entirely different environments: one in a sports bar, one in a family restaurant, one in my university’s café, one in my home with my family, and one in a hostel (in a small time I was traveling through).  From all these experiences, here are the conclusions I was able to draw.  1 Argentines have much more loyalty to their club teams than the national team.  I talked to many individuals who said they’d rather have the national team lose than have a player of an opposing club team score a goal, and the team win.  2 A huge chunk of the fans are fair-weather.  Before the start of the World Cup, the vast majority of the population seemed hardly excited about the event (or at least not as excited as I would have guessed from what I had seen during the club games) and Argentina’s chances. “Yeah I might watch the games, although I doubt we do well at all.”  It’s hard to come up with concrete evidence that demonstrate this, but let me say there was a huge change in the support between the opening game against Nigeria and the final one against Germany.  3 The team never played like a team.  Yes, the Argentina national team had as much talent, if not more, than the best of the best, but the chemistry was awful.  Additionally, as everyone saw with the Germany game, the mental strength of the team was pitiful.  The team had no clue what to do after Germany scored the early goal. Quite disheartening for fans that expected so much more.  4 The population does go into a state of mourning after losing. I have never seen more adults cry all at the same time (afterwards, one taxi driver told me she didn’t go back to work because she was afraid some crazy fan would crash into her).

Okay, so maybe I’m being a little more negative than I should be.  It just might have to do with the fact that one of my teams completely embarrassed itself and its country, and the other team dropped out of the elimination round early because it’s still not at the same caliber as the rest of the world. However, I still love and will continue to support you France and USA.  Haha. But with all that, I now have a new connection with the Argentine team and will continue to cheer them on in the future, and the entire World Cup was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.  Lastly, I have to say that I did a decent job with my predictions.  I said 5 things would come true. 1 Italy would not make it out of the group stage. 2 The US would not lose to England.  3  Brazil would not make it to the finals. 4 Spain would not make it to the finals. 5 Someone new would win it all. I ended up 4/5, but I could obviously learn something from Paul the Octopus.  (I’m sorry, that is just nuts.  I don’t care if the trainers prompted his choice by putting more food in one cage or another. We’re still talking sports, and anyone can win. The odds of him predicting all 8 games right are 1/256.  I want to take him to the casinos!)

All in all, my love for the game has grown to a new level, and I whole-heartedly look forward to  the next World Cup in 4 years. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to go to Brazil and attend  one of those games in person! 😉

Hasta Pronto.

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