As a new season of the Superliga kicked off two weeks ago in Argentina, I was hit by one of my periodic bouts of nostalgia. I expect this sort of nostalgia affects most football fans. The game is, after all, forever transient. Even the most successful season is soon lost amid pre-season gossip, rumour and even the occasional transfer. By the time your team is back in competitive action, seasons past are but a collection of memories, ready to either be dropped and forgotten or burnished and glorified.
My nostalgia for football in Argentina is, however, of the particularly enduring sort. It is also easily triggered. As the unexpected news emerged this (European) summer of Daniele de Rossi’s move to Boca Juniors, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of tuiteros argentinos, Clarín articles and cringeworthy announcement videos, eager to immerse myself again in a world I once knew so well. You see, when I finished university way back in 2003, I set off to Argentina for a year that I have subsequently portrayed to family, in-laws, and prospective employers as one spent diligently interning at the Buenos Aires Herald, pursuing the not-yet-defunct dream of becoming a print journalist. In reality, I had two articles published before I sauntered off to indulge in every gap year stereotype imaginable. It was amazing.
One thing I was particularly dedicated to though, was going to football matches. A highlight real of the 2003/04 season, including emerging stars such as Tévez, Mascherano and Agüero, therefore endures in my brain, augmented no doubt by their subsequent successes across European football. I have also maintained a weird affection for Sebastián Battaglia, a player who I felt epitomised the number 5 holding midfield position fundamental to the tactics of almost every team in Argentina at the time. In his unassuming support role of tidy passing and defensive cover, I also liked to think he was a player very much in my own image.
I was, however, nerdy enough to keep a diary of all the games I attended that year. I can therefore check my nostalgia against a contemporary record. For example, my recollection of sitting among the away fans with my Colombian housemates at a Boca vs. Atlético Nacional Copa Sudamericana quarter final has remained largely intact. I still remember the obvious divide between the smartly dressed Verde fans who had arrived by plane, and an unruly, boisterous and fun element who had arrived by bus from Medellín. The latter spent entire the match suggesting loudly, across the steeped aisles of the Bombonera, that the former were involved in a notoriously illegal trade.
Of course, the two matches of which I have spoken the most in the intervening years are the two Superclásicos I attended. My first was a River 0 – 2 Boca in what was still the Torneo Apertura of 2003. I can still recall the sense of occasion at the cavernous Monumental, the delirium of the home fans, and an away end “full of noise and movement”, but I had completely forgotten about the performance by a little-known Brazilian forward called Iarley of Boca. According to my notes, Iarley “scored a ‘golazo’ by winning the ball on the by-line, dribbling two defenders and slotting the ball home.” A quick YouTube search later, and I can see that my perfunctory description doesn’t really do the goal justice, nor does it capture Iarley’s fantastic finger-waving celebration to the Boca fans who were erupting in the away end.
As for the return match at the Bombonera six months later, I had only a vague recollection of buying a 10 peso ticket for 120 pesos (about £2 and £24 at the time) outside the ground, standing in the popular section behind the goal and seeing the leaders of the Boca hooligans La Doce “pushing past people, covering their faces as they went towards the press area.” I wrote that they were “later arrested for involvement in the production of fake tickets” so I was clearly keeping tabs on La Doce in an attempt to shake off my polite upbringing and boost my hoolie credentials. On the pitch, it seems a 20-year-old Carlos Tevez hinted towards later behavioural issues by getting himself sent off in the biggest game of his career to that point, as River took a deserved 1-0 win.
It wasn’t just about the Superclásicos. Throughout the year I attended league games, Copa Libertadores clashes, World Cup qualifiers, and sojourned to the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro and the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. It remains the highlight of my football watching life. Sadly, under duress, I was recalled to Europe at the end of the 2003/04 season to comply with parental expectations of obtaining a masters and ultimately getting some sort of paying job. As I took a rather long and circuitous route to achieving those two objectives, I have only intermittently been able to keep abreast of the game in Argentina. My nostalgia has therefore been allowed to set deeply. After the intense psychodrama of the Superclásico final to the Copa Libertadores last year, and the curio of de Rossi’s move to Boca, however, I have resolved to follow events more closely.
The discovery of Golazo Argentino in my post-de Rossi rabbit hole will help enormously. As I immerse myself again, my modest hope for this season is that Independiente win the Copa Sudamericana and challenge in the Superliga. The signing of Lucas Romero bodes well and victory over their Ecuadorian namesakes on Tuesday would be the perfect start. After all, had I not taken the plunge and visited a cold Doble Visera for an unremarkable 0-0 draw with Arsenal de Sarandí almost exactly 16 years ago, I would have no nostalgia to speak of.