Argentina

Saving my love and hate for the future

What’s your team?

I get asked that question all the time when people first learn I’m a football fan. And they usually learn that pretty quickly, since being Argentine is fairly synonymous with being a football fan, in the view of most of the football-playing world.

Boca-River
Boca-River

My answer is pretty simple: River Plate. I’m very proud of having been a River fan since very, very young and it’s a love that has stayed with me even after I’ve moved away from Argentina.

The next question they ask me though, is the one that in increasingly beginning to bother me. It usually goes like this:

“Yeah, OK. But who do you follow in Europe?”

Remove Europe and substitute it with “Champions League” or “Premier League” or “La Liga”, but otherwise it’s always the same question.

I used to give somewhat convoluted answers, but the actual answer is still “River Plate”.

I’m not a fan of any other teams like I’m a fan of *my* team. And I don’t believe you have to follow a specific team in order to enjoy a competition.

I can admire Barcelona’s skill and passion, or Real Madrid’s desire to dominate. Arsenal’s passing or Chelsea’s finishing.  Lyon’s amazing extended run of titles or Marseille’s recent resurgence. I’m not tied to any other teams and I can enjoy each differently.

None of them elicit the feelings, thoughts and sheer visceral obsession that River does. Nor do they evoke the hate and repudiation that blue and yellow in combination do, along with the name “Boca Juniors“.

River-Boca. What an unexplainable phenomenon. There’s only two other derbies that I’m aware of or have experience of that provoke the same sentiment: Barcelona-Real Madrid and Celtic-Rangers.

I don’t mean to trivialise other derbies, and I’m sure that Red Star-Partizan and Galatasaray-Fenerbahce may be just as infernal as the maesltrom that descends upon Argentines around the time of the Superclásico, but I have no experience of them yet.

Later today, Argentina’s football twins (born, after all, in the same neighbourhood of La Boca, even though River has moved up and out since then) meet again to once more determine something much bigger than a single match.

Update: River 1 – Boca 0 

The year’s last Superclásico ended with 1-0 win for River, thanks to a goal from former Boca defender Jonathan Maidana in the second half. The win is an emotional lift for River who are still nevertheless in relegation trouble and face a somewhat difficult last five fixtures. Boca, meanwhile, finally decided to fire Claudio Borghi as manager; something which he has been preparing for seemingly since he arrived at the club earlier this year.

What they won’t be determining this year, however, in the champion of Argentine football. The two clubs are so far from the top of the league that one of them is staring at relegation and just fired its manager (River) and the other is in a constitutional crisis and can’t seem to get it’s best player and manager motivated enough to show up at the stadium (Boca). Both clubs are a disaster, and neither can claim to be any better off than the other.

It’s happened before, of course. Superclásicos that didn’t determine championships. There have been fallow periods for both clubs and some have coincided. But it’s never been this bad.

The sheer incompetence and greed of the directors of both clubs are putting something at risk that is much greater than their league position. They are putting the Superclásico at risk. This match means too much to be so insignificant. It is too big to lapse into non-descriptness. It’s too mind-consuming to be an afterthought.

But that’s what it is becoming. An afterthought.

With all due respect to my fellow Argentina non-Boca and non-River fans, Argentine football *is* the Superclásico. It is the defining point of a season. There are other massive derbies in Argentina (Independiente-Racing Club, Rosario Central-Newell’s Old Boys, San Lorenzo-Huracán), but none can approach the pervasiveness and all-encompassing interest of River-Boca.

For today’s match, I’m hoping for a classic tight back-and-forth battle. A 3-2 last-minute win for someone, or a tense draw decide on a missed spot kick or something similarly dramatic. Because I’m afraid that the most likely outcome, a boring, inconsequential 0-0 draw will represent the nadir of this once-awesome matchup. And once we hit rock-bottom, the previous heights of this match, once world-renowned, may be too far to reach again.

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