Escaparse de Nueva York
* Bem-Vindo o Pantanal
* A Jew in Iguazu - part two. AKA, Adios a Argentina - part two.
* Adios a Argentina
* Two Touristy Towns
* El Chalten
* To the end of the earth
* Going South - too far South
* A Jew in Iguazu
* Graffiti 2
* Puerto Madero
* Graffiti 1
* ¡Corta mi pelo!
* Adventures in Recoleta
* Recoleta Cemetery
* Linea A trains
June 29, 2005
I've learned a valuable second language while traveling around - no not Spanish (although I've been doing OK with that too) the international language of Fútbol - otherwise know as Football or Soccer. Now, in addition to actually memorizing my Passport number, I´m a rare American in another way - I´ve been to more Pro-Fútbol games than Pro-Football, Baseball, Basketball, or Hockey games.
When you're in South America, and most of the other backpackers you meet are Europeans, Fútbol is the big conversation-starter. Luckily, I had started to get into it 3 years ago when I was in Spain for the 2002 Mundial (otherwise known as the World Cup) so I know the basics. The game itself is one of the simplest out there - get the ball in the net without using your hands. Sure there's a few wrinkles in there, but compared to Baseball or Football (or even Basketball or Hockey) it's a piece of cake. The difficult part is learning about how the different leagues themselves are structured.
A quick primer: Pretty much every country in Europe and South America has a Fútbol association, and they all pretty much work the same way. There will be scores (if not hundreds) of independent clubs divided up in to several divisions. Every year, the top few teams are promoted to a better division. Replacing them are the bottom few teams in the division above. This goes on unless you're in the very best (or very worst, but I'm not quite sure how that goes) division. Then the reward is different - if you finish as one of the top teams you get to play in a special Europe-wide league called the Champions League, or South America-wide league called the Copa Libertadores the next year, in addition to playing in the top league in the country.
I was lucky enough to catch the Champions League final with a bunch of Brits at a bar in Bariloche a few weeks ago. Liverpool (a British team who everyone was rooting for) managed to come back from 3 goals down at halftime to beat AC Milan (an Italian team) in a Penalty Shootout at the end. For you Americans out there, that's basically the equivilant of a Football or Basketball team coming back from 30 points down at halftime to win in Double Overtime.
An interesting thing about Football clubs - in America, Pro-Sports teams have a geographical affiliation. For instance, usually people from New York will like New York teams, people from L.A. will like L.A. teams, people from the south side of Chicago like the White Sox, people from the north side of Chicago like the Cubs, etc. In addition, there might be a loose (very loose) class affiliation also - in New York, the Mets are generally considered more of the working-class team, and the Yankees more of the upper-class team. But that's really about it. Among Fútbol teams, however, there's also religious and political affiliations. For instance, in Glasglow, Scotland there's a two different rival teams - Rangers and Celtics - that have a Catholic and Protestant affiliations. In Italy, Lazio has always been associated with far-right, Neo-Fascist supporters (it was also Mussolini's favorite team - and the fact that it's full name is S.S. Lazio certainly doesn't help), as has Real Madrid (Franco's Team) in Spain. Another Spanish team, FC Barcelona, is associated both with Catalan Nationalist and also with Anarchist (and otherwise leftist) politics. The team is even organized as a cooperative - any fan can join for 137 Euros and vote for the Board of Directors. This, combined with the fact that these two teams are generally the two best in the La Liga (the top Spanish league) has made for quite a rivalry.
The leagues are strictly round robin with no playoffs. Every team plays every other team home and away. 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, at the end of the season the team with the most points in the Champion. In addition to these leagues, there's a country-wide elimination tournament with all the teams from all the leagues that goes on at the same time. This is secondary to the leagues - i.e. it's more prestigious to win the top division championship than the Cup (as the knockout tournament is usually called).
As for my games, I´ve caught three - a Boca Juniors (CABJ stands for "Club Athletico Boca Juniors) game at the Bombenera. A Bombenera is actually a kind of Chocolate Box, and the La Boca Stadium is so named because it kind of resembles the box. For some reasons, lots of South American teams have English words in their names - not only "Boca Juniors," but also their rivals "River Plate" (pronouced the English way also, as is Juniors), and there´s even a team called "Newell´s Old Boys." In Bolivia there´s a team called "The Strongest." I´m guessing this is because the Brits started the Futbol clubs, but I really don´t know.
I also caught one of the greatest international rivalries in sports - Argentina/Brazil. In addition to club play, there´s also National Play. Each country basically has an All-Star team that competes in International competition. The most famous of which is, of course, the World Cup. But in addition, there´s the qualifying for the World Cup, friendly matches between countries, continent-wide championships, and the Confederation Cup. The Argentina/Brazil game that I went to was a World Cup qualifier, which Argentina won 3-1 in Buenos Aires. However, just a few minutes ago, Brazil avenged the defeat by beating Argentina 4-1 in the final of the Confederation Cup. It was a great game not only because of the Rivalry, but also because I got to see some of the best players in the world play live - including current FIFA Player of the Year (essentially World Soccer MVP)
The third game I went to was the final of the Copa do Brazil - or the Brazil-wide elimination tournament - in Rio. This was held at a small stadium, but the atmosphere was great. Let's put it like this - you can't even smoke in American stadiums. Here, everyone was lighting off flares. The Sao Paulo team, Paulista (a small second-division club) beat the Rio team, Fluminense (a big first-division club). Fluminense is also the word for people born in Rio de Janiero province, but not in Rio de Janiero city (people born in Rio De Janiero city are called Cariocas). Actually it was a 0-0 tie, but it was the second leg of a home-and-away series. The teams each play a game at their home stadium, and whoever scores the most goals in both games combined wins. Paulista had already won 2-0 in Sao Paulo.
Why don't I have pictures from these last two games? At the La Boca game I sat in an actually seat. At the other two games I went Partido Popular - the cheap standing room section where the die-hard supporters are. They tell the Gringos not to bring anything valuable with them to the Partido Popular. So I brought a cheap disposable camera whose pictures I haven't developed and scanned yet. I personally found the Partido Popular to be perfectly fine, and loads of fun, but I suppose it's better to be on the safe side.
One last note - one the funnest thing about traveling is picking a local team to support (the Brits don't "root for" a team, they "support," a team, and that particular British idiom has carried over to International Fútbol talk). In Spain, I support Atlético Madrid. Madrid was my favorite city in Spain, I liked the area around their Stadium (which was the first Stadium I ran into), and I hated the other big Madrid team, Real Madrid. In England, I support Middlesbrough, because my favorite player, Gaizka Mendieta ended up playing for them. Here in Argentina, I support a miserable, third-division team called Atlético Atlanta. They were the first stadium I ran into, I met other supporters, and it turns out they're both the Jewish team (their stadium's in a Jewish Neighborhood) and the hippy team - their nickname in Los Bohemios. And when I'm wearing their Jersey in Argentina, it's great. Every city, at least one person on the street comes up to me and starts talking because they're a Bohemio (Atlanta supporter) also. This would never happen with a big team a lot of people support. This lady, who worked behind the counter a a chocolate store I wandered into in Bariloche, almost had a heart attack when she learned that I was a Gringo Atlanta supporter. Made for a great random encounter.
As for Brazil, I'm still not sure who to support. Any suggestions?
Posted by Moses on June 29, 2005 01:54 PM
Category: Random Musings
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