i’m very fortunate that i get to travel to south america for work. better yet, for the subject of fútbol. no better place than south america to experience fútbol, where the heart and soul are. i still remember the first thing my driver said to me when he picked me up from the airport in buenos aires: “i love the colour of your luggage! red and black – the colour of my team, river plate!”. everyone here identifies themselves with their fútbol team. everyone belongs to a team the day they were born. it’s a religion, a life-long commitment, a way of life.
i can’t tell you how much passion this continent has for fútbol. you’ve gotta watch a game at the stadium to experience it. i was very lucky to have watched boca juniors play at la bombonera stadium. on both occasions, it was 90mins of non-stop chanting, drumming, cheering and swearing (according to my cute amigo’s translation). no matter who they play against, they would always sing about their rival, river plate. he told me that every match without fail, 34min into the game, everyone in the stadium would sing the same song that mocks river plate. and they did.
i swear i felt the ground shook under my feet at some point. the contagious chants gave me goosebumps and got my body moving to the rhythm. many of them think that the fans in europe are boring. they cannot understand how the fans can enjoy the game without songs and cheers! that’s what i love about the latin culture – expressing their passion and affection with no reservation. full of life, emotions and rhythm. besos! abrazo!
unfortunately, passion, when taken to the extreme, sometimes translates into violence. last year, yet another fan was killed during a key match between lanus and estudiantes in la plata, near buenos aires. since then, the authorities have banned visiting supporters from attending fútbol matches in argentina. sadly, the beautiful game that unites people is also the very game that put people against one another.
in my recent trip to argentina and uruguay, i had the privilege of meeting an ex-argentine player, ariel ortega, a fútbol legend who rose from the dirt streets in jujuy. he knew that fútbol is his life the day he was born. it’s in his blood, he said. he would play all day long until his mum came looking for him at dusk. even then, he would sneak in a few more kicks before finally heading back. i like him – funny, humble, no airs at all given his status and achievements (of course, this does not mean i agree with what he did on pitch in the past…). we all had a good laugh when he recalled an encounter with an avid fan, where he saw his face tattooed at the back of this guy and he asked his wife why she allowed him to do that! well… there’s a very fine line between passion and obsession…
i also spent some time with kids training to play pro in local clubs. only 16 years old and they are all grown up, talking about their sacrifices and struggles, and their dream of getting into the first division so that they can support their family. their dedication is admirable. kids start playing fútbol as young as 5 years old. i’ve seen them on pitch and they are so skillful! fútbol is such a huge part of their family and social life. they play together, watch the games together, talk about it (passionately) every 10min…!
many legends in uruguay are born out of fútbol. for a small country with 3 million people, they have produced many phenomenal players and achieved a lot in the fútbol history. the uruguayans are very proud of that, especially when they are considered the “little brother” of brasil and argentina. they love being the underdogs. when asked about rivalry, it’s interesting to hear them say that uruguay and argentina are brothers but not friends. they are always competing with each other given their cultural similarities, from who plays better football to who invented the mate (a typical south american drink, similar to tea). such is sibling love… or rivalry. if brasil is to play against argentina in the world cup, who would they support? brasil for sure! argentinians are a cocky lot, they said. and the argentinians agree, in a good way of course. ;)
all i can say is fútbol is beyond just a sport in south america. it’s something everyone grows up with. it’s in their blood, in their heart, in their dreams…
buenos aires, argentina. montevideo, uruguay ♥ oct 2013. may 2014.