Rosario Central announce their arrival back in the Argentinean top flight in some style…Iain Pearce shares an unbelievable experience from the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito:
Rosario Central 2 – 0 Quilmes (04.08.2013)
With guns, same club inter-firm clashes and in stadium fatalities, the last Argentinian season ended pretty much how you would have expected.
The Argentinian government are, however, keen for such happenings to come to an end, and brought in strict controls prior to the beginning of the new campaign. They include the complete barring of away fans and that all home fans must be members of socio supporter clubs. Hopefully these measures will help to curb the ugly violence, but I wish they hadn’t happened on the eve of my travels into the country.
It was therefore left with hopes far higher than my expectations on Sunday morning, making the six-hour bus journey from Cordoba to Rosario in the north-east of the country.
Rosario is the birthplace of two men to have stamped their mark on their professions. For the revolutionaries Che Guevara popped out here, slightly over eagerly as his mum was on her way to Buenos Aries to have him there. The other twinkle in the city’s eye may not have helped start any revolutions, but Lionel Messi has won the World Player of the Year loads more times.
The city also has two big teams, both with British ancestry: reigning Argentinian champions Newell’s Old Boys and their sizable foes Rosario Central, one of South America’s oldest clubs. The rivalry splits the city with the town gradually changing shade from yellow and blue to red and black as you travel south. Graffiti is also prevalent and as Newell’s go predominantly by their initials it sees ‘NOB’ scrawled in sizable letters on most available building sides, I’d have to stay here much longer to stop finding that funny. If you’re wondering, Che was a Rosario Central fan, and his twenty first century fellow supporters fear the day of Lionel Messi’s hometown homecoming as he is a confessed NOB.
The fixture list and my travel plans colluded in me becoming a Rosario Central fan for the day and the following tale can only be named the importance of being early.
The bus pulled into Rosario after lunch and after putting down my bags I was on a city bus to Central’s Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, a horrific stadium to try and pronounce after six months of haphazardly trying to learn Portuguese and it’s entirely different inflections. I arrived at quarter to four and there was a short queue already forming around the ticket boxes. The game marked not only Rosario’s first game of the new season but their first match back in the top flight after a three year second tier stint that had clearly caused the locals a great deal of heart ache- not least with Newell’s faring so well in their Premier Division absence.
Some questioning and I’d happily found a fellow queuer with a pleasing level of English, but there seemed to be little hope of me getting in. The game was close to being sold out and, as expected, tickets were strictly available only to the club members who pay the quarterly subscription. Just to add to the hopelessness the ticket office wasn’t to open for nearly two more hours.
It wasn’t all bad news however, I had a new friend to chat the waiting time through with, giving me a fan’s eye view of the club and Argentinian football. Soon enough it was half five and the remaining tickets were on sale to the enlarged queue. My new pal used language skills I don’t have and I was readily sold a ticket even without a socio card, before we said our goodbyes I was given some advice for trying to make my cardless way through the turnstile checks later on.
TV rules football around here, more than Sky Sports could even dream of, and that meant a 21:30 kick-off and still four hours for me to while away wondering if my ticket would be enough to get in and see the game.
It being a Sunday, South America was on lockdown as usual with almost nothing open, but after some wandering I found a bar that was and plonked myself down there, the TV schedule meaning I could at least watch the River Plate match during the wait.
As time passed the level in my litre bottle of beer lowered (the glorious standard size Argentinian beer bottle) and the bar became fuller with the yellow and blue stripes of Central fans. Chairs were soon running at a premium and the one next to me was commandeered by a man named Leonardo who quickly sensed my not-from-round-here demeanor and with his group of friends took me under his wing for the evening. Further litres became bladder fodder, River lost to the enjoyment of everyone and it was time to walk back to the stadium.
Sepp Blatter forever talks nauseatingly about the football family. To him it is all backslaps from Pele and honoury doctorates. To the rest of us it something quite different- it’s the international language and understanding that even if someone’s never heard of your team (seriously, no one had heard of Pompey- we used to be something) we share the same values and we’ll do what we can to help each other out. I’d happily take that over backhanders and phony degrees.
An overriding feature of the evening was questions of why I had come all the way to Rosario. The answer partly being that Rosario sits neatly on the route from Cordoba to Buenos Aries but equally that football’s football and I bloody love it. That was reason enough and excited most of the folks I was introduced to, better yet it saw me past the three lines of ticket checkers on the way into the ground. As Leonardo put it, “In Rosario we are a family,” neatly summed up as at the turnstile my latest friends sweet-talked the teenage steward into letting me through and he wished me good luck in English as he did so.
The difficult to pronounce stadium won’t end up on many must-visit stadium lists, four uniform two-tiered concrete stands, but Central don’t half make their grey house an almighty home. Packed to the rafters with over 40,000 fans it was a stand up free for all. The two ends are terraced and the two sides might as well be as there was little likelihood of anyone sitting down in them. We emerged up into the upper tier of one of the sides and, assuming victory smells like marijuana, there was the strong sense of opening night glory in the air. There were also sack fulls of newspaper and ticker tape already being handed around. It was loud, intense but above all triumphant. Rosario have got back to the top stage and were keen to celebrate it.
The players emerged and up went the ticker tape. I’ve always been a fan and the images from the 1978 World Cup are forever the benchmark. I was not let down, the falling paper blocked out the darkened sky and for twenty seconds the pitch in front of us was obscured behind the magnificent newsprint cloud, as it settled everything and everyone was left covered, incredible. As the newspaper snowfall stopped yellow flares sparked up and in the home end massive flags were unfurled, all to the raucous and rhythmic chanting and drumming from the entire stadium. The most amazing ultras performance I’ve yet to see.
Our end of the pitch was covered in loo roll and paper, meaning the kick off was delayed for a further ten minutes as a leaf blower was found to blow away the thick welcoming tape (do Rosario have a leaf blower ready for such occasions?).
Game finally on and thankfully the home players were as inclined to put on a show as their support. I’ve not even mentioned that Buenos Aries side Quilmes were the opponents, but then the evening never really had much to do with them. An early freekick sailed over the visiting keeper and came back off the post, we were in charge and the host of new players making up the Rosario eleven already looked a team.
Half time approached and it was still all about the hosts, then the pot at last boiled over as barge pole striker Carlos Luna muscled past two defenders and rifled into the far corner. Even more new friends were made in the celebratory orgasm.
The second period went mostly to plan and Rosario were sailing towards the points when suddenly a Quilmes header looped over the keeper and hit the woodwork. When Luna doubled his and the team’s tally a few minutes later the cheering had far more relief in it than the first time around.
The victory chants now came out but with one final incident to report. In injury time a snowball of fans rammed down and through us from the back of the upper tier. Thoughts of a dramatic fall quickly disappeared as two sets of fists could be seen whirling. Two middle-aged blokes who looked the type were slinging it out for reasons no one knew. As is the way, a handful of others used the opportunity to get in a free punch (after all, how often do such opportunities come along?) and the brawl was broken up. Well, it wouldn’t have been an authentic Argentinian football experience without some entirely unnecessary violence.
Ten minutes after the game’s conclusion we were still singing and cheering the evening’s most minor contributors back down the tunnel. It was a night where three years of built up hope had been gloriously realised, Rosario Central are back where they belong.