A Black Weekend in Argentina

It wasn’t a bad weekend on the pitch in Argentina for the sixth round of the 2008 Torneo Clausura. There was a thrilling late fightback from Banfield, who scored twice in the last five minutes to draw 3-3 with visiting Tigre. Independiente rediscovered their form in impressive fashion, beating Gimnasia 3-1, whilst relegation-threatened Newell’s somehow pulled a 4-1 win over Copa Sudamericana holders Arsenal de Sarandí out of the bag.

But none of that made the headlines in Argentina. Instead, Olé’s front page on Monday morning read: ‘Collective Bad Conscience’. Friday evening saw the start of it, with a lower division derby in the country’s Andean northwest between Gimnasia y Tiro and Central Norte, both in the city of Salta. The match went ahead (Central Norte won 2-0), but had a tragic prefix when a 17-year-old girl walking to the stadium with her boyfriend was shot in the head on a street corner. There was a late-night medical centre on the same corner, whose staff tried to help, but they could do nothing to prevent her death. The bullet was fired by another minor walking with the pair, but reports are confused as to the circumstances – a tragic accident seems most likely.

In Argentina, whose media, like its football, is dominated by the ‘giant’s head on a dwarf’s body’ of Buenos Aires, the news barely registered, until, on Saturday afternoon, another fan was killed. Emanuel Alvarez was on a coach carrying fans of his team, Vélez Sársfield, to their match at San Lorenzo. The convoy was passing close to the stadium of San Lorenzo’s local rivals Huracán when a gun was let off which went directly into the 21-year-old’s heart.

Again, the circumstances were confusing, not least because of the location – which Vélez’s chief of security later said wasn’t significant.’[The bullet] didn’t come from La Quemita [Huracán's social complex],’ Eduardo Capucheti told reporters, contrary to initial reports that the coach had been ambushed by a gang linked to Huracán. ‘It was an extraordinary piece of bad luck.’ Some fans in the coach convoy disagreed with the ‘bad luck’ part of this version of events, but one thing that’s clear is that a gun was used, and another is that – like the incident in Salta the previous night – this wasn’t a clash between barras.

The match was called off, as was the Gimnasia de Jujuy vs. Lanús clash. That second, mercifully, was for non-football related matters linked with an ongoing industrial action by workers in the state government, which used up police resources for the afternoon. On Sunday afternoon, though, violence was back in the headlines thanks to – and those who’ve only heard of two Argentine sides before coming across this article will be on firmer ground here – Boca Juniors.

Boca Barra

We’ve looked before at the ‘civil war’ going on inside River Plate’s barra brava, but on Sunday there was the first major fight in a while between two factions of Boca’s gang, La Doce [open to a few interpretations, this title, but it's normally translated as 'The Twelfth Man']. The gang’s hierarchy were sentenced to varying jail sentences last March, and now a struggle is brewing to see who will take control in the interim – and possibly beyond.

As Boca’s fans gathered to board the coaches which would take them to Huracán’s stadium a fight broke out and the police, it seems, were slow to react. When the backup forces arrived they were approached by a 40-year-old man, still unnamed in the press, with a deep knife wound in his abdomen. He was rushed to hospital and pronounced ‘out of danger’ before the match had even got underway, but in total there were 183 arrests. I’ll repeat that: one hundred and eighty-three arrests. This wasn’t some small school playground scrap (although worryingly, nine of the detained were minors).

The occurences are likely to re-open a few debates in the coming weeks. First, there’s the question of whether matches in the Primera A should take place from now on without away fans present, as has happened since the start of this season in the lower divisions. This doesn’t seem ideal from the point of view of the majority of fans who are innocent, of course, but if it could have prevented Emanuel Alvarez’s death, it would surely have been worthwhile.

Secondly, to my mind, it should also raise questions as to how much longer the Government of the City of Buenos Aires can retain control over matchday security within the bounds of Buenos Aires’ Capital Federal region. The central areas of the city are marked off as an autonomous area of Argentina, subject to certain different laws, and included in these are issues of football security. In the Province of Buenos Aires, the awkwardly-monikered CoProSeDe (Comisión Provincial de Seguridad Deportiva, or Provincial Commission of Sporting Security) are in charge of match-day operations. They’re clamped down in a major way in the last couple of seasons, and the result has been notably fewer headlines regarding the barras of clubs like Racing and Independiente (not that I want to leave anyone under the illusion that these clubs are squeaky clean), whose stadia are outside Capital Federal and thus under the jurisdiction of the province’s force.

For those clubs inside Capital Federal, though – which includes Vélez, Huracán, San Lorenzo, Boca and River, as well as clubs notorious for their barra bravas such as Chacarita Juniors (currently in Primera B Nacional) – the story is different. CoProSeDe has no power in the autonomous district, and security is laxer. It’s a point that much of the Argentine press – again, it bears repeating, based exclusively in the central districts of Buenos Aires – don’t seem to be talking about much. But surely, a unified security operation for the whole of the Province and the Capital district would make sense, given that this would cover all of the six most-supported clubs in the country as well as the two La Plata sides, Estudiantes and Gimnasia.

That’s not going to happen, though. And pipe dreams on the author’s part about streamlined security measures aside, the sad fact remains that another weekend of largely entertaining football has been overshadowed in Argentina by the actions of an idiot minority. And however much Argentines – and those of us who love the country and its football so dearly – cry ‘¡Basta!‘, it’s unlikely to be the last time.

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