I have recently returned from a marvellous three-week trip to Argentina to watch the business end of the Copa America. I got to four games in all, including the final and also got to see some of Argentina, a little bit of Brazil and visit the museums of Argentina’s biggest clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate. More photo’s of my trip can be seen on my other blog: http://englishmanabroad.tumblr.com/
For those of you who have thought about doing a trip like this but have never done it, I can only suggest that you do it now. It really is simple and you don’t have to speak another language at all. Here is my tour diary for inspiration:
16th July – Santa Fe
I met some Irish lads in my hostel who are also here to watch the Copa America. We exchanged the normal football talk about what teams we support and when I told them it was Walsall they all asked me about Steve Staunton who left us to go and manage the national team. I told them that when he played for us his legs had gone and he was way past his best. I remember one particular game against Blackpool on New Years Eve 2005 when he had to play at left-back and had a long chat with Ishy before kick-off when he seemed to be indicating that he expected him to do all his running for him, which he duly did before he was substituted with exhaustion.
We all went together to the Brigadier General Lopez Stadium a couple of hours before the game to soak up the atmosphere and what an atmosphere it was! The streets were packed and the noise was intense as the barbeques were all fired up outside people’s houses leading up to the ground. Their was an intimidating air and a heavily armed police presence as I entered the ground an hour before kick-off. The terrace was already almost full as I stood to the side and kept quiet whilst people poured in carrying their banners. Some fans began to climb on the leaning posts on the terrace and tie massive banners round them before passing the banner up to a friend on another leaning post at the back of the terrace who would keep hold of them. It is a shame The Gilbert Alsop no longer exists as I would have loved to try this.
The game matched the mood of the night, as it was simply wonderful. Two sending offs, loads of Messi dribbles, amazing forward play by the Uruguayans, two good goals and a penalty shoot-out. Tevez missed his kick to send Uruguay through and their supporters who were in the terrace above me went into raptures. Apart from a minor scuffle, the Argentines took it in good spirit.
17th July – La Plata
After a few hours sleep I caught the bus back to Buenos Aires and made it to the stadium in La Plata, fifteen minutes before kick-off for the quarter-final between Brazil and Paraguay.
This stadium was in complete contrast to the Brigadier and had more similarities to the many out-of-town multi use stadiums that are now so popular in this country. It was still a good atmosphere as both sets of fans mingled freely together and the view of the pitch itself was great, although the pitch itself was just the opposite as large chunks of it cut up throughout.
The atmosphere was helped by a Paraguayan fan getting everybody singing. At first I just thought of him as some sort of local nutcase as he sang very loudly on his own with his face contorted in passion. He kept repeating the same melodious song over and over again and eventually one or two fans picked up the melody and started singing it. This lead to a few more fans singing and then pretty much everyone kept singing it for a glorious couple of minutes. My Spanish is awful so I did not pick up any of the words, which meant all I could do was concentrate on the blissful melody. Awesome stuff!
The game was good as well as Brazil dominated but could not score thanks mainly to bad luck, the bad pitch and great Paraguayan goalkeeping. The game went to penalties and Brazil missed all theirs by some distance which meant that the two favourites had been knocked out the tournament within two days.
20th July – La Plata
On my way over to the bus station I bumped into an English lad from Blackburn who was also on his way to the semi-final between Uruguay and Peru. We walked from the bus station to the ground which enabled us to walk past houses having barbecues in their front gardens and pick up some burgers with chimichurri.
On the way to the ground I heard all the noise and presumed it was full, but sadly it was almost empty. The exit of the hosts and Brazil had put paid to the hope of a capacity crowd. The fans segregated themselves as there was no crowd control and it was the Peruvians who made the most noise, although they lose points for using vuvuzelas.
Although the first-half was evenly matched the Uruguayans controlled the second-half and were comfortable winners by two goals. There can be no better forward line in international football than Suarez and Forlan, at the moment.
24th July – Buenos Aires
My hostel is near to the obelisk at the centre of the capital. This is where both sets of fans congregated before the game to wave their flags pap their car horns and generally be allowed to be anti-social for a few hours all in the good name of football.
I caught the bus over to the River Plate stadium and the sheer volume of people milling around was something to behold. The atmosphere felt tense and when I was accosted by some local lunatic I decided not to hang around and head straight to the stadium. This proved harder than I thought it would be as I was directed to several different queues but on finding the correct way I headed up the stairs to be greeted by a wall of noise which was more celebratory than intimidating.
I sat with the Uruguayan fans who are a good-natured bunch and it proved a good choice as it was they who were celebrating the most as they dominated the game and won 3-0. I stayed to watch the celebrations and as the sunset over the River Plate stadium so did the sun set on my time in Argentina. What a wonderful trip it was too!