A Latino way of life
June 21st, 1970, holds one of my earliest memories. Also I suspect, it is the day that my hard wiring to football fandom was undone for good. Everybody was in my grandparents’ place that day; my parents and sister, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. Thanks to the carelessness of one of the adults, I found myself all alone in the TV room with all the power in my tiny hand. Just minutes before the beginning of the 1970 Mexico World Cup finals between Brazil and Italy I pressed ON/OFF in the rudimentary twin-button remote control to my grandparents TV set and everything went black. Oops!
My uncle Paco was the first to walk in and realizing what I had just done, quickly took the remote of my hand. As luck would have it the TV set refused to turn back on so knowing what kind of storm would rain on my head Paco decided to take the fall for me.
As people begun to show up in the room, tío Paco told them that he had accidentally turned off the TV set and couldn’t turn it back on. Not long after all the male figures were meddling with the back of the TV, everyone was giving Paco looks of disapproval -which is as nasty as my very civilized family would allow themselves to get.
The set finally turned on, just in time for the entire family to enjoy how Pelé, Rivelino, Tostao, Clodoaldo, Gérson and Jairzinho reduced Italy hopes into footbalistic debris. I once again had gotten away with bloody murder, but I digress.
Not being the staunchest of football fans growing up among many real fans, gave me a unique perspective to reflect on how passionate and crazy football fans can get. Also gave me enough prudence to never call it soccer. When it comes to football fandom, Latinos can take passion to a whole new level. And it’s a level that puts our novelas to shame. Rooting for our teams is the real thing. One that can break friendships or create everlasting ones.
We are not all that original. Football is a passionate sport by nature; it is the level of that passion what makes us different. England’s legendary hooligans are one of the best examples of how insane the fans of this old sport can get. But the hooligans have always lacked a little bit of context and always seem too much into the destruction they create and not enough into the sport they are supposed to be enjoying.
They could take a page or two from Argentina’s Superclásico, which is how every match between the two main teams of the first division of the Argentinean league meet. The rivalry between the fans of “River Plate” and “Boca Juniors” is no laughing matter. Whenever those two teams meet, whether in La Monumental (River’s stadium) or in La Bombonera (Boca’s field), there is an automatic citywide security alert. Luckily for the rest of the country, both teams are based in Buenos Aires. The Superclásico is not an event for the faint of heart. The British newspaper The Observer said it best when they placed attending a Superclásico on the top of their list of “The 50 Sporting Things You Must Do Before You Die.”
We have seen everybody from Italians, Cameroonians, Dutch, and Czechs crying inconsolably in the field and in the tribunes with their dream of glory shattered into oblivion. None of these people, however can come close the intensity of collective grief and despair experienced by those who usually are the happiest fans in the planet.
In 1950 Brazil was defeated by Uruguay, 2-to-1 in the final match of the World Cup in their own country and in front of fans on what is known today as ‘the Maracanazo.’ Paraphrasing Don McLean, ‘Maracanazo’ was the day the samba died.
The stadium went dead silent and there was no crowning ceremony for the new champions as no one expected Brazil to lose that final game. Some fans just couldn’t cope with so much grief and committed suicide thus denying themselves the enjoyment of all the glory that Brazil’s national team would bring home in the future. Five World Cups, no less.
Mexicans can be almost as passionate as Argentineans, although they seem to be more debonair and less dramatic. Maybe this is because they have less to prove and a lot more to gain. Much like the rest of Latin America, football there is a way of life and occupies much of the national attention, hope, and pride.
Colombia, Perú, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador have teams that have come close to fulfill the dreams of their countries, but still haven’t been able to make them proud.
And then there is Venezuela – for the longest time the country with the most animated fans in the world and no team. Every time there was a world cup you could be certain that there would be one memorable party in the streets of Caracas as if their own national team had won the cup. In 1978 and 1986 Caracas turned white and baby blue for Argentina, green and yellow in 1994 and 2002 for Brazil, Italy and Spain wins were wildly celebrated, and even Germany and France had their Caracas party. Now that Venezuela finally seems to have a promising national team let’s just hope that the triumph of other is still cause for celebration.
There is nothing like a country with a heart open for others.