Monumental

Argentina play Brazil tonight at home in the Monumental Stadium. It’s their first competitive meeting for six years and we`d love tickets!

We drive past the imposing Monumental twice daily on our school run along the Pan Americano Highway.  It’s the national stadium, home of River Plate and iconic venue of the 1978 world cup.

You must remember the famous 1978 tickertape final!

I remember watching the grainy scenes, beamed from Bueno Aires where Kempes scoring the extra-time winner. Those final-whistle pictures of Argentinian players collapsed onto their knees are seared into my memory.

It was Argentina’s first win and meant so much to the huge crowds who ecstatically poured onto Buenos Aires streets that night.

It was a very long time ago but it left a huge impression on this young boy and I`ve been fascinated by Argentina and football ever since.
The Monumental always provokes a reaction as we pass by. I was childlike in my enthusiasm when we first passed it, but not everyone has that reaction.

Many friends, teachers and parents have driven us along the Pan Americana and there is always a bit of drama as we pass.

Some roll up windows, blaming the terrible smell, others do the opposite and stick their heads out to breathe in the beautiful Monumental air. Some passionately honk the horn but nobody  ignores it and says nothing.

Some talk about 1978 and what a terrible time politically it was for the country.

While the eyes of the world were on the Monumental, nearby at the Navy Mechanical School (Esma), innocent people were illegally detained and tortured during Argentina’s military junta. During this Dirty War, hundreds of newborn babies were taken from mothers and ‘disappeared’.

Today the building is home to Museo Malvinas, the Falkland’s Museum.

Our drivers’ reactions of course are down to club allegiance and futbol is a religion here. There is deadly rivalry between the two main teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate.

The day we arrived River won the Copa de Libertadores, the South American Champions League and fans celebrated wildly downtown by the obelisk. Since then , Boca have won the league and cup with Carlitos Tevez in devastating form.

Tevez is building a new house a couple of blocks from our school. Darragh was so excited and immediatley googled if he had a son.  He hoped to spot Tevez calling to the school to collect the boys. But he  has two daughters so won’t be turning up at our all boys school for a while.

Messi is arguably today’s most famous Argentinian although Pope Francisco is definitely more loved. They give Messi a hard time here, the boys at school say that he walked his way through the World Cup and Copa de America Finals which La Albiceleste lost. Poor Messi! Argentinians are not good losers.

We haven`t been to any match here. It’s not straightforward. Due to ongoing violence, away fans are banned from all stadiums.

Boca fans say that River only won the Copa de Libertadores because Boca was disqualified when its fans pepper-sprayed River players in Boca’s Bombonera (Sweet box) stadium last May.

Since Argentinians are so nocturnal, matches begin late. Kick off tonight is 9pm which makes getting there and home more complicated, especially when matches are on school nights.

Football is on television everywhere. Little TV sets blare out matches in cafes and local fruit and veg shops so you`re never going to miss out.  There are endless football matches so enthusiastic commentaries are part of the daily background noise.

When the Boca-River Superclasico is on, the whole city is involved with the streets responding to every goal. Whenever a team scores, Porteños rush out onto to their balconies to scream  GOOOOOOOOOOOOL to the city skyline. It`s great fun to listen to.

Darragh plays his first Argentinian league match tomorrow and is really excited. He loves football and when his Irish friends and team mates heard that he was going to South America they told him that he would be amazing when he came back.

Just by stepping onto Argentine soil, he would soak up the footballing brilliance. Futbol Osmosis.

He is quite proud of himself this week because he scored a powerful right-foot volley( his words) to level the match during this week’s PE. It doesn’t get much better than that especially for a ciotog.

Darragh’s friends thought we would be meeting famous footballers here too and of course we have had our brushes with fame!

1        I have met the daughter-in-law of one of Maradona`s former psychiatrists!

2        I also taught a student whose father made a TV commercial with Messi.

3        Finally and best of all, I nearly met Argentinian superstar Gabriel Batistuta, scorer of fifty-six international goals.

A visiting Irish professor, who was based in Buenos Aires while researching a book on Irish Argentine relations, arranged to meet the three of us for coffee. He and his wife were wonderful company and afterwards invited us to join them later for pizza in the famous El Cuardito restaurant. We declined as it was too late on a school night.

When the professor arrived, he was seated beside Batistuta. They had a chat and their photo taken while the whole restaurant chanted ‘BatiGol. We were so so jealous and sorry we didn’t go.

We’ve visited various schools, some in poorer barrios where football can be gang related. Everyone asks which team I support but to be honest I`m uncommitted.

When cajoled, I plump for San Lorenzo, the Pope’s team. They’re good, came second in the Primera A and gave Boca a good run for their money. No doubt, the Pope was cheering them on and will be supporting Argentina tonight.

I’m so close to tonight’s match in the Monumental, that it hurts. Anyone got tickets?

 

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