Ah yes, Ezequiel Fernández Moores, proper essay writer in a land where, despite a fine tradition of literary heavyweights weighing in on ball matters, sports journalism too often consists of semi-coherent, mono-browed training anecdotes and disgruntled fat man table-rants (unlike at pegamequemegusta, of course). We’ve brought you several of his pieces before (both with ‘Miracle’ in the title, check out ‘The Posts’ below) as his erudition, sensitivity and general class rarely fail to delight, even if his long paragraphs give us vertigo.
This article was published in La Nación last Wednesday (30/4) in anticipation of the 29th anniversary of the Malvinas/Falklands debacle, which fell last Saturday. While we feel somewhat uncomfortable with what is essentially a literary trope in emphasising one or more individual’s story in a war/conflict/débacle/clusterfuck, since the ease with which a good writer can evoke pathos leaves any such piece inevitably teetering on the brink of sophistry, Moores here weaves various tales into a delicately-levelled reflection. Of course, there are also some good anecdotes we’d never heard of (Princess Anne at Wembley, jaysus) and a few fine lines we hope we’ve done some justice to in our translation.
Osvaldo Ardiles came back to Tottenham Hotspur somewhat reluctantly in 1983. He had been the star player before the war and everyone loved him at the club. But las Malvinas was still fresh in the memory. At the Dell he was booed every time he touched the ball. As soon as he came within range, the Southampton keeper John Budgie Burridge made a comment about the Falklands. A decade later, Ardiles took over as Newcastle manager. Burridge was the goalkeeper. “Ardiles snubbed him when he went to shake his hand and told the club to get rid of him immediately.” So said an article in the English newspaper The Independent last Monday in a review of Burridge’s compelling autobiography (Budgie: the Autobiography of John Burridge). The only man to play on to the age of 43 in the Premier League, Burridge tells how he contemplated suicide following his retirement. He spent five months in hospital: “On the first floor were those with depression; on the second, the alcoholics; and on the third the young drug addicts. In a group therapy session one woman talked about how she had lost her husband and three kids in an accident. I said I, too, had wanted to kill myself as I was 47 years old and couldn’t play in the Premier League anymore.”
“It’s a complete fabrication, a nice story if you’re writing a book, but it’s not true,” Ardiles tells me. “I don’t remember him having a go at me [in the game] and if he had I would’ve ignored him. When I came to Newcastle he was at the end of his career. I had a look at him in training and then after a game decided he wasn’t the right goalkeeper for Newcastle so the club let him go. I’ve never refused to shake someone’s hand. It’s just not my style.” Ardiles also had a book out a year ago, called Ossie’s Dream: My Autobiography. The title comes from a famous song in his honour. Ardiles is regarded as a legend by Tottenham fans. The best chapters of the book concern the personal crisis he underwent during the Malvinas War, which broke out when – as he says himself – he was at his peak, and on the shortlist for Player of the Year in England. “My entire world collapsed,” Ardiles says. After an awful spell on loan with Paris Saint-Germain, by which time the madness of battle was over, Ardiles agreed to come back to Spurs. But the conflict marked a before and after. Not even the psychologist John Syers, hired specially by the club, could coax the player back to form. His cousin, First Lieutenant José Leónidas Ardiles, had been killed on the 1st of May 1982 in the Malvinas. His Dagger C-433 plane, according to the official records of the Argentine Air Force, was shot down by an English Sea Harrier piloted by Bertie Penfold. José was 27 years old. He was promoted to captain. His father, Osvaldo’s uncle, spent a long time seeking out more details. He believed José might be alive. That is, until a British pilot, authorised by his Minster for Defence, informed him that this was impossible. He told him that he personally had shot down the Dagger over the South Atlantic.
Ricardo Villa was a team-mate of Ardiles at Tottenham. They were the first two foreign players to arrive once English football lifted the ban on players from overseas. War or no war, Ricky, as he was known, was fit to play the FA Cup final – for the second successive year. He didn’t either, however. It was deemed inappropriate that, in the event of a Spurs win, Princess Anne should bestow a medal on an Argentine at Wembley. Ardiles didn’t play since, as had been planned before the outbreak of war, he had to join up with the Argentina squad for the Spain World Cup. I remember having written, on an old Olivetti Lettera, about how strange it felt to be travelling to cover a World cup when the country was at war. The article was never published. The ’78 champions, plus Maradona, Ramón Díaz and Jorge Valdano, set off thinking they would retain the title. And that Argentina were winning the war. For so said José Gómez Fuentes on state TV, so said the covers of Gente, and Nicolás Kasanzew from the islands, as well as the military propagandists, whose lines were faithfully reprinted by the dailies. “If they want a fight, we’ll give them a fight!” rang out dictator Leopoldo Galtieri’s cry to the baying crowd from the balcony of the Casa Rosada. The AFA renamed the 1982 Metropolitano championship Soberanía argentina en las Islas Malvinas. In the stadiums they were burning English flags. ¡El que no salta es un inglés! [‘Whoever doesn’t jump is English!]. The World Cup commentators wouldn’t mention England by name: ‘The team in the white shirt is moving up the field.’
In his foxhole, hungry and freezing, private Edgardo Esteban, who one year previously had been to see Queen play in Vélez’s stadium and had seen Diego Maradona share the stage with Freddy Mercury, wanted to hear Argentina’s first game at Spain ’82. “The champions are making their debut. Today is a historic day,” sang el Gordo Muñoz on Radio Rivadavia. “We were getting murdered in the Malvinas and he was saying it was a historic day for the country,” thought the conscript Rodolfo Carrizo. A shock wave blew Esteban a metre and a half into the air. Marcelo Rosasco heard about Belgium’s goal while engaged in hand to hand combat in Monte Longdon. On the 14th, Esteban and other soldiers, fed up with their officers, stole and ate some chickens and had a kickabout, with helmets for goalposts, a scene which is reprised in the film Iluminados por el fuego [‘Blessed by Fire’, 2005]. By the next game, a 4-1 win over Hungary, they were already prisoners aboard the British frigate Canberra. They got so excited when the result was read out over the loadspeaker and written down on a blackboard, that their guards raised their weapons thinking an uprising was underway. Las Malvinas were the Falklands once again. The war was directly responsible for the deaths of 746 Argentine soldiers and 255 British soldiers, without counting the hundreds of suicides that came later. Without the crutch of another World Cup win, the dictatorship fell the following year. Margaret Thatcher won another four years. Esteban always recalls how, upon his return to Morón, the only people waiting for him were his mother and a barking dog.
If football, as some sociologists say, is a substitute for war, in 1982 Argentina and the United Kingdom did both simultaneously. This Saturday marks 29 years on from another April 2nd. The two teams did not meet in Spain as both went out in the second round. The history of the meetings of the two sides is detailed in a new book published in London. Animals! Argentina versus England was chosen as one of the best sports books of the year . Its author, Neil Clack, a regular visitor to Buenos Aires (he even got his coaching badges though an AFA course) goes through every game between the two and interviews key protagonists. In Argentina, one of the people who did most research into Anglo-Argentine sporting links was the anthropologist Eduardo Archetti. A pioneer in academic studies into football, Archetti was an admirer of English football, something which is not uncommon in Oslo, where he lived. In 2005, despite poor health, Archetti was delighted to accept an invitation to give a talk at the Argentine Embassy in London. Sitting in the front row was Tony Adams. Legendary Arsenal and England captain, Adams went as he was studying Sports Science at Brunel University.
Author of his own autobiography, Addicted, which speaks of his alcoholism, and the founder of Sporting Chance (a treatment centre for addicts), Adams, currently managing a team in Azerbaijan, was fascinated by the talk. Archetti died twelve days later, proudly telling his friends that a former captain of the England national team had attended his presentation. Perhaps Archetti, born in Santiago del Estero, and Adams, from a working class neighbourhood in London, understood that sport neither comprises nor reflects the complex relationship between the two countries; perhaps it is but a complement.