Football, otherwise known as soccer in the Anglo world, is always news in Argentina, specially now that the Copa America is in full swing. It’s not always good news, as has been the case with the recent FIFA corruption scandal and violent Boca barrabrava (hoolingan) outburst earlier this May, but it is always present in Argentine lifestyle. The main reason for this is that (most) Argentine men love, love, love their football and are hardcore fans of either their teams, or a player they admire and try to emulate on their chummy weekend match with their friends. There is no doubt that football can be a lot of fun, and according to some it may even be an art, but PASSION is the word chosen by Argie men to describe their relationship to their choice sport, so what is it that really fuels their football fever?
Opportunity, Hope and Redemption
One of the aspects that football offers to Argentine boys is hope. This is especially true in the lower classes which consider it a possible way out of poverty and into superstardom: Maradona, the most iconic of Argie football players was born in a shanty town called Villa Fiorito; Lionel Messi who is the son of a factory worker and a cleaning lady, is the most revered international football star of Argentine history; Carlos Tevez comes from a shanty town called Fuerte Apache, just to mention a few. They represent the possibility of going from rags to riches on one hand, and also of being considered valuable and important representatives of society despite their humble backgrounds.
An Emotional Outlet
Another aspect of football that explains it as a phenomenon in Argentine culture is its emotional component. In a traditionally patriarchal society with Macho rules, shedding tears is strictly forbidden for men, but if it’s for the team, or for the sentiment of the game, then it is allowed. Competitive feelings and aggression, often related not only to the sport but to social class disparities- as is the case with the traditional Boca-River rivalries-, are also unleashed and channeled through the football sentiment, many times ending up in a violence that is chastised but also to some degree naturalized as one of the sport’s hues.
Photo by DGTX
Ultimately, football is a team sport, and Argentines are very sociable creatures. The local traditions often center on sharing and socializing, as is the case with asados and mate drinking. Football is just one more excuse to get together and share a common sentiment, as well as sharing a feeling of belonging.
Photo by Krista
Considering that modern Argentine society has been absolutely influenced and molded by different migration patterns, this makes all the more sense, as in a country with so many cultural identities and uprooting it is necessary to find a common ground. The football team a person generally chooses to belong to is usually determined by the family (with common father-son rivalries such as River plate dad- Boca son to spice up the mix), the neighborhood the person grew up in (Boca is from La Boca neighborhood, Racing is from Avellaneda, and so on), and in other cases, due to the influence of friends.
An Appreciation for Mastery
Many football fans identify virtues in their favorite players. The more intellectual, will value teams and players that are strategic about their games, others will admire those players and teams that show courage and spirit and are “hungry for the goal”. Others will highlight the mastery of footwork and speed. Whichever the case, what is valued about each sportsman or team says a lot about the preference of each man, and his identity.
Money, Fame, Power
Finally, let us not forget that football is a business that moves a lot of money and influences politics, advertising and social environments. As such, it is not always a friendly playing field and there are many interests at play so it is often associated with corruption and violent outbursts. The players are not only players, they are stars that endorse products, and have a busy public life which includes their flashy girlfriends and wives, referred to locally as botineras (from the word botín- which is both the loot and the name given to football players shoes).
Football in Argentina is a big deal, and although progressively women are getting more involved and interested in the sport, it is definitely a cultural marker of masculinity. But it is about much more than scoring. So next time you head to a fiery game at one of the local stadiums with your camera in hand, remember there’s a lot more to shoot than the ball.