Atlanta 1 (Henneberg 41′) drew with Villa Dálmine 1 (Salvatierra 45′ pen) at Estadio Don León Kolbowsky, crowd ~2,500, Primera B Metropolitana, 25 May 2013.
Pam Beasley, of ‘The Office’ fame, once lamented, “There’s nothing better than a beautiful day at the beach filled with sun, surf, and uh, diligent note-taking”. After sitting through Atlanta vs. Villa Dálmine on a brilliant Saturday afternoon, forced to spend more time scribbling away on my little note pad to complete a university assignment rather than watching the game itself, I know how Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist felt. As the old Christmas cracker rib-tickler says, explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog: it helps you understand how it works, but you kill it in the process. The same could be said for observation, as I quickly learned by taking a surgeon’s scalpel to the Kolbowsky for this one-all stalemate.
My international studies assignment set by UTS was to academically observe a cultural phenomenon that speaks broadly of the host society, in this case Buenos Aires. Applying the microscope to football was an obvious choice. May 25 was a timely date to pick apart Argentine traditions as it marks the anniversary of the nation’s first government to stand on its own two feet, independent from its Spanish colonisers. 2013 not only marks 203 years of sovereignty but 10 years – or diez años – of the Kirchners in power, and the controversial government made sure to bask in the reflective limelight of the more popular national milestone.
The site was the Estadio Don León Kolbowsky, a ground I have visited once before, and home to a club (Atlanta) I have developed an affinity with after some prior academic research. My working thesis was that the stadium – a fairly typical cancha within the hyper-masculine milieu of porteño fútbol – plays in important role in consolidating a community dominated by values of machismo. I wanted to observe how the social setting of the stadium on match day reinforces certain attitudes and behaviours. Put simply, how la cancha gathers the tribe, and how that tribe acts within their spiritual home.
If that’s boring and pretentious to read, imagine how tedious it is to scrawl 12 pages of notes about how the fans and police are antagonistic social actors and how the physical positioning of hinchas in the populares serves as an expression of masculinity in contemporary Buenos Aires; how the characteristic Argentine wrist flick while singing is a codified social behaviour and how bucket hats and flashy trainers are costumes designed to identify members with the ‘in group’; more broadly, how the stadium helps reproduce social bonds within a community and constitutes a receptacle of old-hat machismo in a society with rapidly changing values.
In truth, of all the matches I could have spent buried in a note pad rather than engrossed by the contest on the pitch, this would have been a good choice. It was the final day of the Primera B Metropolitana season, meaning the visitors Villa Dálmine had nothing to play for, and having already wrapped up their spot in the torneo reducido to determine the second team to follow Villa San Carlos into the second tier, Atlanta’s fate was also sealed. Besides the obvious drop off in intensity, the big giveaway that Los Bohemios were resting players came in the absence of Andrés Soriano, the Energizer bunny No.9 with the conspicuous shock of thin blonde hair tied back by a Dennis Lille headband.
In a match their club website described as an empate sin riesgos – a draw without risks – Atlanta’s second stringers sat back and allowed the Violeta to take the game to them. The strategy looked to have paid off in the shadows of half time when Carlos Henneberg – on loan from first division front runners Lanús – squeaked one past the keeper at the near post, but Atlanta barely had time to celebrate before conceding a penalty that was so obvious that not even the one-eyed home fans bothered to protest. Damián Salvatierra buried his spot kick into the roof of the net in front of a tiny band of purple visitors, the last kick of the half squaring the ledger. A forgettable second term – well, it seemed forgettable from the crowd’s apathy and the glimpses I caught in between note-taking – failed to add to the 1-1 scoreline, the game ending a goal apiece.
Although I certainly wouldn’t recommend heading down to a local game this weekend with a pen and paper, viewing football through the lens of academia – as tedious an exercise as it can be – reveals a lot. Especially on a day where nothing was at stake, when there was a massive independence fiesta in the middle of town, when it was a glorious Saturday afternoon providing temporary respite from the wintry weather which is beginning to set in, why would thousands of people part with hard-earned pesos for the privilege of watching their reserves go through a virtual training run? Why burn the candle on ‘poore’ sport? I found the answer in my notepad.
It’s the reason grown women sit through the match on their iPhones alongside their father, while he swaps sepia-toned war stories with his grizzly old mates, just to keep him company. The reason why the the fanatics behind the goal sew the name of their street or neighbourhood on blue-and-gold fabric, to express their participation in their community. The same reason why young fathers dress their sons in tiny replica kits in the hope that he carries on the family tradition. The same reason everyone trades smalltalk with the guy flipping hamburgers underneath the main stand, a biweekly ritual for the rusted on socios of Los Bohemios. The same reason supporters graffiti antifascist symbols on the streets that neighbour their Humboldt St HQ. Habit, routine, community. The macho antagonism that results from such a fierce pride in your barrio that you’re compelled to paint the curb in azul y oro to express your ownership of your neighbourhood. An immensely strong and profoundly masculine bond of community exists, a sentimiento that drags people back to their temple of football every second weekend.
On the way home, I passed through Plaza de Mayo where thousands of La Cámpora activists had assembled to hear Cristina Kirchner speak from the Casa Rosada, the office she and her husband Nestor have occupied for the last decade; the drunken crowd embodying all the verve and vigour as their countrymen at the Kolbowsky that day (although I still can’t wrap my head around how such a large number of people can so vehemently approve of a government whose populist economic agenda has triggered skyrocketing inflation and enormous economic frailty). But I digress, let’s not mix politics and sport … except that to say for a nation of people resilient enough to put up with the string of governments Argentina has experienced since the Revolución de Mayo 203 years ago, showing a bit of loyalty to your football team – even if they’re playing dead rubbers on a Saturday arvo when there’s better things to do – mustn’t be too hard.