Hooliganism in Argentina: Hope For The Future?

Hasta El Gol Siempre’s Sam Kelly looks at a judgement that might finally mean Argentina’s battle against football violence is headed in the right direction.

Friday saw the culmination of a legal case that had been ongoing for exactly twenty-two months in Santa Fe, the capital city of the province of the same name in Argentina. For a change, in spite of the time taken to reach a conclusion, the final judgement just might be a step forward in the Argentine authorities’ battle against violence in the country’s stadia.

José Gastón Mendoza was convicted of the attempted murder of a fellow Colón fan during the buildup to his side’s 2-2 draw against River Plate on the 19th February, 2006, and sent down for six years. Before the match began, Mendoza, who was already wanted by police for questioning over a murder in the city days beforehand, moved through the stadium looking for a member of a rival faction of the club’s barra brava, and found him on the main terrace behind the home goal, which astonishingly was not, at that point in the afternoon, being policed by any officers.

Mendoza attacked with a blade, giving the other man cuts on his back, chest, arms and right wrist, before being apprehended –- not by any police officers as might reasonably be expected, but by his own friends, who’d seen what was going on and didn’t want him (or by extension themselves) getting into any more trouble than he was already in. They gave him a change of clothes and helped him escape for the moment, but he was eventually tracked down by the police and arrested during the second half of the match.

My initial reaction to this is mixed. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see Argentine justice continue a recent trend of actually punishing the barras for the crimes they’ve committed — 2007 has also seen several senior Boca hooligans go down for a few years each for their parts in a riot against Chacarita’s barra a few years ago, and the fallout from Gonzalo Acro’s murder could yet see River’s head hooligan jailed as well. On the other, due to the match in question being televised, the court were actually able to watch the whole incident on video — the entire thing was caught by the cameras. In spite of this they’ve still taken nearly two years to come to a judgement. And that’s rather a hard situation to get excited about.

Yet something, it is clear, has been done this year to change mindsets in Argentina, however slowly, following the universally deplored violence which marred the 2006 Torneo Apertura. For this, if nothing else, we should applaud and continue to encourage the relevant authorities. But if a little of the bureaucracy and paperwork could be dispensed with, if cases with such conclusive and obvious evidence could be resolved in a few weeks rather than two years, it could be an even bigger step forward. Perhaps that’s asking too much. . .

Read more from Sam on the game on and off the pitch at Hasta El Gol Siempre’s.

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