San Lorenzo celebrate their historic return to Boedo ahead of new stadium build

More than 100,000 San Lorenzo supporters flooded the streets of Buenos Aires neighbourhood Boedo on Sunday evening as the club joyously celebrated the move back to its traditional and rightful home.

That will of course not happen overnight as a new stadium, the already named Estadio Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) must be built first, but after years of fighting the club finally re-own the land upon which their famous old ground once stood.

The historic Viejo Gasómetro, or ‘El Wembley porteño’ (the Wembley of Buenos Aires), as it was often referred to, hosted its last San Lorenzo game in 1979 having witnessed the likes of René Pontoni and the great side of the 1940s, the goals of the legendary José Sanfilippo, the famous carasucias and the unbeaten 1968 league champions known as los matadores. 

A site entrenched not only in San Lorenzo’s identity but that of Buenos Aires and Argentine football having hosted the national team on a number of occasions and yet not safe from the military dictatorship.

With the club in financial trouble, the government were able to coerce the club into selling the stadium under the notion that the land would be used to improve city infrastructure only for nothing to happen until five years later when it would be sold again for an enormous profit to supermarket chain Carrefour.

Boedo’s heart had been ripped out and one of the five grandes was without a stadium, being forced to play home games at other Buenos Aires rivals’ stadiums, before eventually becoming the first to be relegated in 1981.

A new stadium, the Estadio Pedro Bidegain, dubbed the Nuevo Gasómetro, was inaugurated in December 1993 and despite playing host to the most important night in the club’s history, the 2014 Copa Libertadores triumph, it has never really been home. Aside from the dangerous location south of Boedo in Bajo Flores, neighbouring the infamous Villa 1-11-14, and the structural problems with the Nuevo Gasómetro, it simply wasn’t where San Lorenzo belong.

Never giving up the cause, a bill passed by the city, handed San Lorenzo back the legal rights to the land but a financial agreement with Carrefour still needed to be reached and it has taken almost eight years to get to the point now. Funded by supporters, players and almost anyone else who cared for the club, San Lorenzo found the money and last week club president Matías Lammens officially signed the papers to take property of the land.

A day that has been years in the making, a hugely significant moment in the history of the club and the reason for Sunday’s celebration.

Lammens, vice-president Marcelo Tinelli, club legend El Nene Sanfilippo and captain Fabricio Coloccini were among those who attended a mass at the nearby Oratorio San Antonio, where Father Lorenzo Massa allowed the local children to play football prompting the foundation of the club in 1908, before a procession through Boedo to the site of the old stadium.

A carpark for the now derelict supermarket was transformed into a sea of blue and red spilling out into the adjoining streets all joined in celebration.

“It’s a wonderful moment that takes its place in the history and lives of all San Lorenzo supporters,” Marceo Tinelli said.

“The stadium was part of beautiful moments. I remember my father and my grandfather when we would come to the stadium,” he continued, voicing the emotions and experiences of so many.

“It was a story of being uprooted and going home. I said that we should walk from the oratory, where the club was founded to our place and we did it. Recovering this land was the best thing that happened to me as a supporter. It is a unique moment and I want to live it as such.

“Stop and let’s enjoy this moment. Then we have to put together a master plan to see how we continue with this.”

And that is the crucial next step. Taking back the land is undoubtedly a moment of great triumph but now the project to build the new stadium begins. Patience will be needed and the Estadio Papa Francisco shouldn’t be expected anytime soon though this chapter will never be forgotten in the history of San Lorenzo.

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