Almagro 1 (Lópes 87′ o.g.) drew with Atlanta 1 (Ferreiro 62′ pen) at Estadio Tres de Febrero, crowd ~8,000, Primera B Metropolitana torneo reducido, 1 June 2013.
While it’s the first day of June and the chill of invierno is beginning to set in, the Primera B Metropolitana is beginning to hot up. Almagro host Atlanta in a match-up brought to you by the letter ‘A’, between two sides desperate to make the leap into the ‘B’. A sizeable and cagey crowd has assembled for the torneo reducido semifinal, the first match of a two-legged playoff for the right to meet the winner of Brown de Adrogué and Platense for the second promotion place into the B Nacional. As always, the whiff of marijuana drifts from the terraces but today there’s another smell in the air: the sweet, sweet aroma of promotion glory.
Someone forgot to give the memo to the Atlanta fans, though. Only about 20 or so have made the trip across town, remarkably few considering the enormity of the game and the relative proximity (there’s only about 10km between Los Bohemios‘ Villa Crespo home and Almagro’s Estadio Tres de Febrero). If two London clubs were duking out a League One playoff, you couldn’t sell tickets quick enough. But it’s a peculiar aspect of Argentine football: apart from the top division, where clubs bankroll their travel bills of their barra bravas, away fans don’t travel en masse. That’s a huge shame when you imagine what the atmosphere in Almagro would have been like with a terrace full of blue and gold, facing a heaving home end whose black, white and blue colour scheme made them look like a Cronulla Sharks cheer squad on steroids (or peptides, as it were).
I hope they hadn’t planned any elaborate pre-game tifo, because I missed the first 15 minutes of the match. 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning would be a tricky kick-off time anywhere but getting up before noon on the weekend in BA is positively ungodly. I left San Telmo at 9.50am and it took almost an hour and a half to wind and weave the 20km journey to the José Ingenieros barrio in the city’s west, where Almagro’s cancha sits between the bustling Avenida General Paz highway and one of the scrubbiest golf courses I’ve seen. When I rushed into the platea with about 15 minutes knocked off the clock, neither team had opened the scoring. Phew.
The two clubs could hardly have entered the reducido with more contrasting form lines. Atlanta – league leaders at Christmas after being relegated from the second tier in 2011-12, where they rubbed shoulders with River Plate during the Millonarios‘ humiliating stint in the ‘B’ – squandered their stranglehold on the automatic qualification spot by collecting a measly eight points from their last nine fixtures, steamrolled by Villa San Carlos who chalked up 21 points in the same period. Almagro, on the other hand, had suffered just one defeat (coincidentally at the hands of Los Bohemios) this calendar year to march confidently into the playoff places. It counted for little in an uninspiring first half; one toddler nearby took the opportunity to catch some Zs in a one-man protest against the unreasonable kickoff time.
As if they knew I missed the opening, the home end was nice enough to throw on a tifo at the start of the second stanza: thousands of balloons to greet the players as they returned to the pitch. The resumption of play came as a great relief to one punter at the back of the grandstand, who violently protested the “música de mierda” blaring through the tannoy over the break. As Almagro continued to fruitlessly press the Atlanta defence, old mate turned his ire to the referee with a shower of expletives that would make a sailor blush. After every diatribe he would turn to his neighbours – palms open, eyebrows raised, mouth agog, like Zoolander‘s Jacobim Mugatu when he felt like he was taking crazy pills – as if to seek reassurance that everyone else had witnessed the travesty of justice the officials were apparently committing. Maybe he was just grumpy … 11am is a seriously early start, after all.
Tensions reached fever pitch on the hour mark, when Atlanta were awarded an inscrutable penalty from a corner kick, to the exasperation of the Almagro faithful. Veteran midfielder Lucas Ferreiro calmly outfoxed the keeper before celebrating with a provocative stacks-on in front of the hinchada. The visitors looked to be content with a draw before they hit the scoreboard, so you can imagine negative their tactics became with a precious goal under their belt. Silver-haired manager Sergio Rondina made his three changes in a bid to waste time; one Almagro player was so incensed that he pushed Ferreiro as he ambled towards the dressing sheds. Gabriel López picked up a yellow ticket for tying his laces at snail’s pace to wind down the clock. Defender Juan Pablo Segovia was sent off for his second yellow after 72 minutes, which simplified Atlanta’s tactics even further: sit back, and hoof it down field as far as possible. When the ball became stuck in barbed wire on the far wing of the ground, stalling one of Almagro’s countless attacking raids, it seemed that even their own stadium was conspiring against them.
The frustration boiled over into a very peculiar series of events about 10 minutes from time. The hinchada momentarily quietened down before a minority of fans started singing a chant without the backing of the drums and cymbals, before the rest of the stadium turned to ‘shush’ them, imploring their own supporters to shut up. The referee cupped his hand over his ear, halted the game and conferred with the fourth official. I can only assume – based on precedents outlined from page 89 in this report into Judeophobia in Argentina, detailing anti-Jewish gibes against Atlanta, a club with a historically large Jewish contingent – that the home end might have started an antisemitic chant, which if the referee hears, obliges him to suspend the match. The pleasing aspect was how swiftly the referee acted, and how the supporters in the platea drowned out the active supporters with a chant of “Tricolor”, Almagro’s nickname. It’s hard to say whether these people were genuinely standing up to intolerance, or simply wanted their game of footy to continue. What is clear, though, is that anti-Jewish prejudice is not tolerated within the cancha, which can only be a good thing while we wait for the undercurrent of racism to die out.
Had the hinchas waited a couple of minutes, their tensions would have been eased without resorting to such tasteless slander. Atlanta substitute Hernán Lópes’ head glanced an Almagro cross into the back of his own net, levelling the score at 1-1 (a scoreline I’m becoming well acquainted with – five of the last six games I’ve seen have finished one apiece). Los Bohemios were probably lucky that’s how it stayed, considering they couldn’t be bothered playing football for the last half hour. The Tricolor supporters warmly applauded their charges at the final whistle, chanting that they’re now only three games from a rare ascent to the ‘B’.
Most of those hinchas – considering Argentines’ inexplicable aversion to away travel – won’t see the return leg at the Kolbowsky this Sunday, which very well could be their final fixture of the season should Atlanta triumph at home. Post game, the streets of José Ingenieros were littered with Almagro fans enjoying an asado and a lager, perhaps a last supper to toast a successful season no matter what happens in the vuelta. As I wandered around the streets searching for a bus back into the city centre, I stopped to take a picture of a large mural near the stadium, where a local borracho – hugely amused by the sight of a gringo spending the afternoon watching his little club – demanded I take a photo of him. Why? Who knows. It was probably the Quilmes talking. But here you go, mate. Just lay off the antisemitism in future.