Atlanta 0 lost to Chacarita 2 (Lentini 27′, 49′) at Estadio Don León Kolbowsky, crowd ~8,000, Primera B Metropolitana, 24 August 2013.
When you think ‘derby’ and ‘Argentina’, the Clásico de Villa Crespo isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. To dub their clashes ‘Superclásicos’ barely does justice to the rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate, and south of the capital, the derby between Avellaneda’s two giants Racing and Independiente is also world class (despite being on hiatus due to El Diablo‘s descent to La B). Clásicos between Newell’s and Central in Rosario, Estudiantes and Gimnasia in La Plata, or San Lorenzo and Huracán in the city’s wild west would all sooner grab airtime and column inches than meetings between Atlanta and Chacarita. But in terms of genuine ill feeling, the rancour between Villa Crespo’s noisy neighbours matches the bad blood in any of Argentina’s higher profile affairs.
This was my second visit to the barrio in five days, having visited a shelter for homeless mothers with a university class the Tuesday prior. The atmosphere on Humboldt Street was somewhat more heated on derby day. As soon as I emerged from the Dorrego subte station I could hear the Atlanta fans launching petards into the sky, alerting me to the fact I was running late. I entered the stadium the moment the Chacarita squad surfaced from the blow-up bubble that secures their safe passage from the dressing rooms to the pitch – especially necessary on a day like this – to a cacophony of whistles and a volume of toilet rolls that would have comfortably put Mr. Kleenex’s kids through college.
After concerted efforts from both clubs to pour cold water on the tension between supporters, Atlanta’s hinchada was unequivocal in their response, displaying several banners that read “Amistades Jamas”, or ‘friendship never’. It’s hard to blame Los Bohemios for harbouring such resentment. In March last year, Chacarita was docked one point for antisemitic chants (a sadly regular occurrence for Atlanta on the road), and violently breached an enclosure of Atlanta sponsors and directors that same day. You wouldn’t exactly expect Atlanta to rush to roll out the red carpet when Chaca comes to visit less than 18 months later.
This was my third visit to the Estadio Don León Kolbowsky and my third time watching the Primera B Metropolitana, a league that can generally be compared to the NSW Cup or the VFL: a nice, tranquil way to whittle away Saturday afternoon before tuning into Boca or Barça or Man United – the big leagues – later that day; a pleasant entree before the main course. There was none of that today. The crowd was utterly engrossed in the contest, to the point where one man sitting a couple of rows away spent the entire first half on the phone providing updates for an absent friend. The público was plastered in blue and gold, including one older gentleman in a knitted scarf like your grandma would make you for Christmas and a bucket hat so old and faded it looked like it was welded to his head.
Atlanta dominated the game’s opening exchanges, with their two fullbacks bombing up the wings to terrorise the Chaca defenders. In front of a Fidel Castro banner that gives a strong indication of Los Bohemios‘ political persuasion, and under a perpetual haze of smoke produced by tobacco, cannibas, and fireworks, Atlanta’s home end roared their heroes into the ascendency. Curiously, and typical of almost all Argentine hinchas who sing so boastfully of their own aguante and huevos, the tiny pocket of Chaca fans were stricken silent, behind a thin line of barricade tape that was apparently enough to contain these self-purported hooligan funebreros (‘undertakers’) who claim to chill the bones of those with the misfortune to cross their paths.
The hosts’ momentum ground to a screaming halt midway through the half when lively midfielder Leandro Guzmán hobbled into the first aid tardis on the sideline. He hardly had time to take the weight off his injured leg before Ramón Lentini – a dynamic striker who would feel like a big fish in a small pond having cut his teeth in the Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes – squeezed a gentle shot through Matías Vega’s fingers, trickling over the goal-line to evade the flurry of blue-and-gold shirts in desperate pursuit. Chacarita’s previously mute travelling band found their voice, cartwheeling down the terrace to celebrate with a squad of players who very evidently knew what this derby meant to their supporters.
A nearby kid, perhaps 10 years old, decked out head-to-toe in immaculate replica merch like he’d just walked through the club shop covered in glue, threw his hat on the ground like in exaggerated outrage. A sourness overtook the home fans as dark grey clouds rolled in like a meticulously scripted visual metaphor. Their abuse of the referee became more venomous, the criticism of their own players more biting, and their treatment of the visitors even more vicious. Chaca keeper Fernando Otarola – despite his relatively small stature for a shot stopper – was a pillar of fortitude amidst a storm of toilet paper that required ball boys permanently stationed to clear the obstructions from the goal mouth. Unflinching, the visitors headed to the sheds with a one-goal advantage.
Chaca started the second half the brighter and notched their second almost immediately, when Lentini completed his brace with a thunderous volley across the face of Vega who could only offer half-hearted remonstrations with his defenders given his culpability for the opener. While the rest of the visiting bench erupted, ice cold manager Carlos Leeb – wearing a hat straight out of Tony Pulis’ wardrobe – simply turned to the heavens and gave himself the sign of the cross. His opposite number Sebastián Méndez – a 36-year-old sporting a Paul Chapman-esque chrome dome/full beard combination – must have been feeling the pressure of a derby demolition just four weeks into his fledgling tenure. The nearby kid kept his hat on his head, resigned to the Bohemios‘ fate. The troop of away fans hooted and hollered. The home fans soured further.
Sensing that the natives were getting restless, a pair of PFA cops ringed the pitch filming the hinchas in the stands, who either moaned in disapproval as Atlanta headlessly chased the two-goal deficit, or amplified their abuse of the officials. Desperate to assert some kind of victory over their bitterest of rivals, Atlanta’s home end paraded a stolen Chaca banner and lurched to the tired, racist, ‘go-back-to-Bolivia-because-your-family-is-there’ sing-song routine that Argentine groups ignorantly tip into far too often. In the days after the derby – perhaps keen to thumb a bit of salt into the Atlanta’s fresh wounds – Chacarita lodged an official complaint, although as tasteless (and baseless) as Atlanta’s anti-Bolivian chant was, Chaca crying foul is a bit rich for a club whose fans chanted Hitler’s name in the same fixture last year.
Tempers boiled over in the game’s dying throes when Chaca’s Maximiliano Paredes – a man with whom I share my birthday – picked up a red card for a lunging tackle and threatened to plunge the game into chaos until referee Carlos Stoklas – whose parents must have been Dr. Seuss fans – blew time. While his team celebrated like they had just claimed the World Cup, Chaca’s mad hatter Leeb gave the whistleblower a rather impolite two cents worth. When the pair scurried up the tunnel engaged in ‘conversation’, it was hard to know who the Atlanta fans’ hail of abuse was directed towards.
“Putos, todos”, one grizzly old man summarised, and you could see where he was coming from. A hinchada with a history of violence and antisemitism, the menacing Funebreros nickname, the colours George Lucas chose for Palpatine and Darth Maul, or for a Sydney FC supporter, the colours the Frank Lowy used for Western Sydney Wanderers. They’re like the evil caricature Disney would use to oppose the Mighty Ducks or Anaheim Angels. The Atlanta fans left the stadium cursing these black-and-red putos under their breath. Amistades jamas, indeed.