How about that Champions League final, aye?! What. a. match!
People seem to be really surprised lately to learn how much of a fútbol fan I’ve become. The truth is, it’s hard not to be in this town! Everything you’ve ever heard about Argentina being obsessed with football is 110% true. Of course there are exceptions — like people who prefer tennis or field hockey, or those who are turned off by football’s association with riotous violence — but on the whole, this country is stark raving mad for it. I went to my first River Plate match a few weeks after I got here and I was near tears at various points in the match, singing Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole as loud as I could. I was also covered in confetti.
Shortly thereafter I met two Brits here in BA who travel the world collecting chants at football matches. They plug them into an archive they’ve called Fan Chants and people can go and listen to their favorite team’s chants. I was instantly fascinated by the project. Sure, not all the chants are beautiful (and some are just downright mean), but without a doubt they are an amazing example of what this sport means to much of the world outside of the US. As passionate as Americans are for baseball, basketball and American football, I’ve really never experienced such deep, collective passion for sport.
I went on to write a story about the site, and then a series on the specific chants of eight European football clubs.
I was so taken by the stories I heard while reporting. Most of the people I interviewed expressed having goosebumps or a lump in their throat just from thinking about being in the stadium. One woman, age 74, told me London’s Arsenal club literally saved her life by helping her deal with her daughter’s death. She’s missed just one home match in 13 years — on the day her husband died. I heard stories of what Barça football meant under Francisco Franco. And how a tragic accident is remembered in the seventh minute of every Madrid home match. Of course, I heard about many a football-inspired tattoo.
Here’s a little story from a lifelong AC Milan fan:
When I was little a day at the stadium cost 55$ per person, 30$ for the ticket and 25 for the bus. I would budget to save 110$ so I could pay also for my dad’s ticket, and this meant that I needed to work at the Bingo from Friday to Sunday night for two weeks (each night I was making 20$!). Not much free time for a seventh or eighth grader, but if I’d go back I do everything all over again! We had a season pass and every other sunday we would spend 8-10 hours on a bus to then spend 2-3 hours at the stadium. It’s a passion, it’s a love that it’s hard to explain.
It’s just incredible, the passion! Similarly, here in Argentina, football always seems to be on the brain, and on TV — often countless matches at a time. I’ve talked to many a taxista about football. The first ever asado I attended, we were asked to each go around the table declaring allegiance for “River or Boca” (the fiercest rivalry in Buenos Aires). At the Gogol Bordello concert, instead of the clapping and cheering we’re used to hearing before the encore in the US, the whole venue chanted: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Gogol, Gogol,” until the band came back out and stared in disbelief at the sea of chanting, deafening fans.
Without fail, once or twice a week, usually between 7 or 9 pm, I’ll suddenly hear a sea of screaming voices from outside my window. It took me a while to realize that they were actually shouting: “Gooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaallllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Goooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!” The voices are heard from as close as the cafe on the corner to as far as what sounds like neighborhoods away. It always makes me smile, the sound of dozens and dozens and maybe even hundreds of screaming, passionate, insane futbolistas. I’m hooked.