Of Football Widows & WidowersFriday, June 18, 2010
She is urbane, cultured and musical, he likes football. She reads sophisticated mysteries he reads football scores. But he is a kind and attentive husband who takes her to tours of Europe and braves Florence museums as well as the Louvre in Paris just for her. There is lots of give and take in Robert and Patricia’s relationship. It is fun to watch them. They are my friends.
But during the duration of the South African World Cup, Patricia is a football widow. Since she does not like sports this would make her husband a somewhat football widower. I decided to accompany Robert today and give him comfort and moral support during the England versus Algeria match. He has a state-of-the-art flat screen TV and is able to record at will and even rewind a live game (the device stores into memory the game as it progresses while allowing one to “rewind” and look at a questionable foul call).
I showed up at the door, unannounced, and holding a large mug of Kalimi Assam. I was ushered in with a smile and we sat down on his comfortable leather sofa to watch the game. It was not a good game and for once I was at my most diplomatic. I did not ask, “Didn’t you English invent this game? Who are the teachers here?” I tried to ease the pain of the eventual tie by saying that back in Argentina we Argentines used to become irate when questionable teams like the ones of Uruguay, on the other side of the River Plate, would frustrate our "obviously" superior teams. We liked to say, “They did not allow us to play our game.” It would seem to me that in the 21st century more than in the last the ability to win would be more important than to show excellence and virtuoso playing at the expense of a loss.
My Kalimi was soon topped up by a very good bought-in-England brand of tea and a freshly baked slice of pizza was placed before me. Emma the Doberman tried to lick my ear while a dolled up Patricia, unable to even take one more minute of the incessant buzzing of vuvuzelas, went out for the afternoon.
After the disappointing result for England I bid Robert goodbye and went home thinking about other football matches I had watched on TV and of some that I had seen in the stadiums of my native Buenos Aires.
The ones I had watched on TV had been games I had shared with the only football enthusiast in my family. That was my mother. We used to watch how Argentina would perennially lose to the Mexican team in Mexico and we would always blame it on the city’s high altitude. There was a particular sports announcer, Fernando Marcos that my mother despised and gave the deprecatory nickname of “el buitre” or the buzzard. When our Argentina was loosing by one or two goals and there were only minutes left in the game, Marcos would say (he exacerbated our nerves to no end), “Anything is still possible, after all a minute does have sixty seconds.”
Of past televised world cups my daughter Hilary has inherited my mother’s enthusiasm for the albicelestes as we call “our” (I am now Canadian and Hilary was born in Mexico) national team.
Perhaps one of the only privileges of being a conscript in the Argentine Navy was the fact that in uniform I was admitted free to any football match. During the football season on a Saturday or Sunday that can mean a choice of at least 8 or 9 games. A few remain in my memory. One of them involved the team Club Atlético River Plate (or plainly “Reever”) in its huge stadium overlooking the River Plate. It may have been sometime around 1966 when every once in a while we were sent to barracks because Perón had announced his immediate return from exile in Spain. Or it could have been one of the countless little coups we had before the big one that finally toppled President Arturo Illía and began Argentina’s descent into military dictatorships and the “proceso” of the disappeared. The fact was, that while River was playing (against a team I cannot remember), we could hear the rumble and the telltale clanking of tank treads. We saw the line of tanks headed for the centre of the city. Most of us took it all and stride, shrugged our shoulders and went back to watching the game.
It was soon after that one of the best of the players of a first division team was caught making out in his car. He had parked the car behind La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada. It was this so-called-school of the navy where countless people were to be tortured years later and women where parted from their newborn babies. The babies were then adopted by childless general, admirals and colonels.
The hapless footballer was shot by a Navy conscript (probably as inexperienced and badly trained as I was) and while the player survived the ordeal his arm was amputated. The young man played professionally for a few more years but did suffer a lack of balance when he dribbled the ball. It was at one of the games of his team that several fouls were committed by his fellow mates and the official had each one thrown out, one at a time, until the team was down to 6 players. The official refused to cancel the game so the 6 sat down on the fiel while the opposing team showered them with goals that were unstopped.
Another time I was in a bus headed for the Boca district. I was going to the classic of classis, the game between the rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. My train to Retiro Station had arrived late so the game had already begun. There was a terrible din in the bus. I could not discern what it was until we stopped at a light. It was then that I realized the roar was half of the stadium (40,000 perhaps) was shouting in unison, “¡Hijo de puta, hijo de puta!: They were all calling the ref a son of a bitch. When I arrived at the stadium and went up the spiraling concrete corridor to my seats I noticed the floor was wet and that the liquid had reached scary depth. It is a common habit to not go to the bathrooms (they are often dirty) so men (and mostly men go to Buenos Aires football matches) and to simply piss on the wall.
But there is one very definite rosy moment in my memory. I went to watch River Plate play against Santos of Brazil. This, in the middle 60s meant it was the Santos of Pelé at his height.
Pelé past midfield was accosted by two River Plate defenders. He dribbled between them and went on to be faced by two more. Here he kicked the ball with his heel over his head and in front of him. Without the ball, he ran on, past the two defenders and arrived just when his ball was almost arching down. With his foot (I don’t remember if it was his left or his right) he smacked it into the Argentine goal. This was the finest goal I ever saw.
I try to tell most of my friends that I am not really interested in football. I may convince some but a few will take my protestations as suspect. They all must know that on those early mornings when the albicelestes play I will be glued to my TV hoping that my watching of the game will not precipitate a loss.