Football, Futbol , Futebol

Football, Futbol , Futebol: Travels Around a few Football stadia in Buenos Aires , Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro. February 2009. By Paul Whitaker.

“Two English football supporters, twelve days, three South American countries, seven football matches, eleven stadiums and one Diego Maradona tour”.

Walking up Wembley Way with my mate and fellow England supporter Glenn Hinch, prior to the 2007 European championship qualifier match between England and Estonia, I did not know this would be my last England match attended as a supporter. After 15 years following ‘Ingerland’ to two World Cups, two European championships, Athens, Baku, Glasgow, Warsaw and many more European cities between, I was to sit through just another 60 minutes before coming to the conclusion that my match day experience on and off the pitch with England, was no longer an enjoyable one.

At first I thought I was just going through a sort of football-supporting mid-life crisis that seemed to afflict each generation of my family. My grandfather had apparently bemoaned England getting a footballing lesson from Puskas’ Hungary in 1953 and my father still gets misty eyed over Gunter Netzer’s Germany or Johan Cruyff’s Holland, rather than Kevin Keegan’s England in the 1970s. I thought the late, great Bobby Robson had the best teams and chances to reach a World Cup final, but was thwarted by the Argentinians and Germans in 1986 and 1990 respectively. OK, perhaps that was just misplaced nostalgia, but I was struggling to understand why English football had not moved on since Italia’90. Whilst German, French and Italian supporters had all watched their national teams lift the World Cup in recent years, I was watching the England team of 2007 put in yet another ‘laboured’ performance, this time against a poor Estonia team. We had the full repertoire of English fallibility on display, including poor movement off the ball, losing concentration in defence and my particular favourite, an inability to retain possession of the ball.

Now, bear in mind it was 15 years since the formation of the Premier League (best league in the world so Sky keep telling me!’), whose central aim was improve the technical skills of home grown players and so help the England national team compete more effectively against the French, Germans, Dutch and Italians. Yet, at a time when there has never been so much money in the English game, the pool of technically competent players, eligible to wear an England shirt, was actually diminishing and England seemed destined to continue being tournament quarter-finalists, at best. If that was not depressing enough, the 2007 ‘Golden Generation’ of players were showing that their loyalties were to the Premier League (best league in the world, remember) and club football, rather than the FA and England. They seemed as motivated to play in an England shirt as I was to part with £30 for a cheap seat in the upper tier “just for Estonia”, £5 for a match programme, £5 pound for a pint and £4.50 for a pie. Continue reading

Tears of a Clown

1990 – Italy

“Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know…
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!…”

Italia 90 -in terms of passion and drama on the pitch it wont rank high on the World Cup-o-meter but off it was a different matter. The poem above is part of the literal translation of Nessun Dorma – possibly the most famous operatic song in the world, written by Puccini and sung by Pavarotti on the eve of the finals.

The good old internet wasn’t around in 1990 but I had managed to find a translation of the words in Mason Halls in Gravesend (a sort of eclectic independent forerunner to Tesco) and I liberally used the words throughout the decade to woo the girls. You see despite the presence of alcohol the best way to get your girl was through the “palabras de amor” – the words of love. Slip in a bit of Latin, Spanish or Italian and they were putty in my hands. Continue reading

Life before the Mexican wave

To be sixteen again – who wouldn’t want to go back to such innocent days when compared with the stress and strains of modern life.  Sixteen when some of the good things in life were now legal, although growing up with a slightly wayward elder brother meant that I had tried them all long before the 13th FIFA World Cup kicked off in Mexico on the 31st May 1986.

Quite how the tournament was able to start was a miracle in itself.  Columbia were originally chosen to host the tournament but due to the escalation of civil unrest they withdrew their candidacy in 1982.  The USA, Canada and Mexico threw their respective hats into the ring and FIFA went with the safe choice of Mexico who had previously hosted the tournament sixteen years previously.  Just three years later the country was rocked by an earthquake that left the tournament in the balance.  FIFA were prepared to postpone the tournament by a year but the Mexicans insisted that all was in order so on the 31st May World Cup holders Italy took on Bulgaria in the Azteca stadium in the searing midday Mexican heat.  And so the curse of the champions continued as Italy failed to win the opening game of their defence. Continue reading

We’re on the march with Ally’s Army

1978 – Argentina
Has there every been a World Cup for drama and intrigue than Argentina in 1978?  I was 8 years old and with England failing to qualify I was beginning to believe that we were above such tournaments, especially as the Scots were there again.  By the age of 8 I was into my football big time.  So much so that I spent every waking hour playing the game.  My bedroom had been converted into a stadium where all of the games each weekend would be replayed with a slaz ball (a yellow foam ball made by Slazenger which over time you would simply pick chunks out of) and the goal being my upturned bed.  The whole pain of England not qualifying thanks, according to my Dad, to “that Yorkshire traitor” passed me by, but as soon as Panini World Cup 1978 hit the stores I was hooked. Continue reading

Boca’s, Barras and Bloody good fun….

Paul Whitaker has provided another excellent article on his travels to Argentina.  Read the full article on our Guests page or by clicking here.

Why Watch Football in Argentina

For me three reasons automatically spring to mind …….Diego Armando Maradona……

1 Maradona 1982 Pannini

If  Maradona is still not reason enough to watch football matches in Argentina, then what about the fact that there are more football stadiums in Buenos Aires than any other city in the world?. Within a train , taxi or bus ride of your hostel/hotel in central Buenos Aires you have a choice of watching a match at twelve of Argentina’s major football clubs: Argentinos Juniors , Arsenal , Banfield , Boca Juniors , Huracan , Independiente , Lanus , Racing Club , River Plate , San Lorenzo , Tigre and Velez Sarsfield.

2 Maradona 1986 Pannini

Did you know that the television and football bodies in Argentina have conspired to assist football tourists wanting to attend as many matches in Buenos Aires as possible?. With Argentinian league fixtures spread out over the Friday , Saturday and Sunday, you have the opportunity of not only attending 2 to 3 football matches over a typical weekend, but with staggered kick -off times between 5-9pm, it is possible to attend two football matches in one day!. If live football on Friday , Saturday and Sunday is not enough for you, you can always check to see if any of the twelve clubs are playing any Copa Libertadores fixtures (South American Champions League!) between Tuesday to Thursday.

3 Maradona 1990 PanniniThe Argentinian Primera Division continues to showcase the latest batch of young players who have both the technical skill and natural flair to follow the likes of Carlos Tevez (Manchester United), Fernando Gago (Real Madrid) , Leo Messi (Barcelona) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli) to the promised land of European club football.


4 Maradona 1994 PanniniHave you ever been to the English Premier League’s showpiece stadiums like the Emirates or Old Trafford and come away disappointed with the atmosphere?. Then rediscover how football should be supported, by leaving your valuables at the hostel/hotel and diving (not literally) into a packed argentinian football terrace on matchdays. Any matches between the so-called ‘big five’ of Boca, Independiente , Racing , River and San Lorenzo can be classed as classicos. Also, keep an eye out for San Lorenzo v Huracan and Lanus v Banfield elsewhere in Buenos Aires and Newells Old Boys v Racing Central in Rosario (the best derby in the provinces). These fixtures apparently guarantee fire works on and off the pitch. Tickets to most of these matches begin at the distinctly un-english premiership price of £6-10. The cheap prices continue outside the stadium, where a post match steak dinner, away from tourist areas will set you back about £6-10. Try and match that in a European capital city!