My mother will never believe it.

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Yes Mum, I actually spent a goodly portion of the last six weeks watching football or as it is more properly called in these parts fútbol (in case you don’t remember me I am at the back, far left, trying to look aloof). Only when Argentina played you understand, I haven’t completely lost my marbles! Well other than on those occasions when I thought it was important to watch one of the other matches with teams that had a good chance of meeting Argentina in the finals. Such as the unmissable Brazil, Germany match where all the mean thoughts popping into my mind as Brazil went 7-1 down, proved that I am assimilating well as an immigrant here. And yes I learnt the first couple of lines of our futból anthem, which had little to do with the World Cup generally and plenty to do with goading our beach loving brethren while they jumped to carnival in those garish yellow shirts. “Brazil decime que se siente…..”

“Brazil, tell me what it’s like to have your Daddy in the House….”

Catchy, and showing impeccable taste for having nicked the music from Credence Clearwater Revival rather than some tuneless modern nonsense but it did demonstrate Argentina’s rather over-developed self-confidence. We would have looked quite silly if we had gone the same way as some of the lesser nations like England, Italy or Spain who don’t really understand this fútbol thing and got knocked out before I had worked out how to use the remote control.

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I’m ashamed to admit it, I even dressed up, yes I proudly wore the celeste y blanco, our national colours. Of course I didn’t go so far as to actually purchase an Argentine football shirt but as their polo team wear the same colours, it turned out I had a number of suitable items in the closet. I did however get La Doctora to cut a very fine Argentine flag (you know the one with the smiley sun) off a no longer fit for purpose shirt and attach it to the back of my unfashionable denim jacket, thus immediately transforming it into a unique item of envy. Small kids pointed to it in the street.

Of course, the latter was also a prudent move. After all us English pretty much invented football hooliganism. I might have moved to the dark side but I didn’t want to get caught out in a grey area. Occasionally I have been mistaken for Dutch or German. With the flag on my back I was golden.

“No reconoces tu propia bandera boludo?

We live in a Catholic country which means we are more prone to superstition than a kalahari bushman. As a fan you check your “Cabala”, understanding that it is in fact entirely down to your own actions (and very little to do with how your team plays) to decide the match’s outcome. La Doctora soon pointed out that whenever I left the room for a quick cigarette break, the opposition seemed to score. Therefore I had to sit through the later matches without budging, 45 very stressful minutes each half I soon discovered (they do stop for a fag at half time) and even more painful given the minimal gap between extra time and penalties. It could have been worse, the other way round and I would have been designated Mufa (bad luck) and banished to a freezing balcony with a packet of Marlboro for the entire match.

So how did we lose the final? Was it really that I watched the first minute of the second half of extra time through the crack in the door while I finished my much needed (did I mention how stressful this fútbol is) oily rag? I suspect it was, wrong angle, difficult to keep your eye on the ball, then some pre-pubescent kid comes belting down the middle, catches the ball with his chest, hefts himself unnaturally into the air and flails a leg at the ball with alarming accuracy. And no, they hadn’t switched the TV over to some Harry Potter movie, the kid had scored! Just shows you can’t take your eye off them for a minute as my granny used to say (I was never sure whether she was talking about kids or balls). Mea Culpa as I didn’t admit to my friends.

Anyway, it was probably better this way. Obviously we won the World Cup according to the terms we had previously defined, which was simply to do better than Brazil. And had we really won it Brazil would have surely closed its borders for the next 4 years to defend itself from a plague of gloating Argentines and that wouldn’t be good for trade. I suspect I am cured from my footie passion for a similar length of time. The responsibility was just too much.

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But I did enjoy it. In fact I surprised myself. I started off pretending to have a vague interest. After all we were talking about the fate of a whole nation according to the media. It was kind of important. And then I got caught up in the atmosphere. Everyone was at it, overtly or discreetly. All ages, all classes, all economic groups. I live in a pretty upper middle class area but you didn’t see a dog being walked that wasn’t wearing a little blue and white coat. And given the entire country shut down and there was nothing you could usefully do or any opportunity to go anywhere during the matches, you might as well get together with a number of friends, open the Malbec, order in empanadas and pay some attention. It turns out its a rather skilful game. Obviously rather slower than polo, but in polo you change your horse every few minutes whereas these chaps can’t just change their legs whenever they feel a bit of fatigue. It’s also a bit more risky than I thought, mainly to your legs and head. Not quite like a tonne of horse falling on top of you at thirty miles an hour but you still have to be committed to your sliding tackle or diving header without being quite sure what you will encounter. I suspect the more you watch the more you understand, so I am going to stop now before I get hooked.

Yes I’ve enjoyed the World Cup and we played a great final. The Argentine’s capacity for celebration is impressive and it doesn’t need to be fuelled by booze. Other than the few (possibly politically encouraged) spoilers who ruined the normal (and by that I mean, something of everyone) people’s celebrations after the final, BA was a delightfully tempered place to be. But I’m still going to stick to Polo. It’s less stressful. The Argentines are the best in the world. Without realistic competition. Have been for years and look like they will remain so.

Don’t worry Mum. I still always take the easy way out.

 

 

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