Railways & Chili Peppers

More than that, though, it also throws some light on what players go through when they move abroad. Argentina’s tradition of mismanaging its own riches, sending them abroad and somehow ending up empty-handed, if it’s under threat politically, is very much alive and well in don Julio Grondona’s sphere of influence. The players leave early and haphazardly, even against their wishes. They are not just going to the big leagues either: more and more they move to leagues that heretofore were worse than the Argentine league. Odd; everyone loses. One could dismiss this as just ‘weird’ China stuff, as Pupi would no doubt say, but we suspect that Salmerón’s experiences are not unique. For even the biggest clubs in the wealthiest leagues still seem remarkably careless when it comes to – whatever about their transfer ‘policy’ – helping players acclimatise. You make a sandwich, someone buys it off you, the money magically disappears and you see the bastard leave it in the sun, the mayonnaise curdling, the ham turning green, the lettuce brown and the bread harder than a coal-shoveller.

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With a steep nose hammer on a four-foot switch channel,
John Henry raised it back till it touched his heels,
then the spike went through the cross-tie and it split it half in two –
35 cents a day for driving steel,
(He said sweat boy, sweat, you owe me two more swings)
I was born for driving steel.

Two things that get pegamequemegusta all warm inside are football and railways. We’re pretty sure most of the world’s ‘problems’ could be resolved with a return to that most human of technologies, the tooting power of steam. Today’s story joins these two brackets like a buck-tailed rivet. 

Argentine rail network superimposed on a map of a disfunctional peninsula in the northern hemisphere

For a quick glance at a map of Argentina’s infrastructure – what home is without one – will reveal the how the country was designed to be pillaged. Little or no thought was given to moving goods around the country, within its various cities and provinces. Instead, the railways, built for the most part by the two scaldiest imperial powers of the age, Britain and France, ensured that the riches of the land could make it quickly up to Buenos Aires, and thence to the bellies of the rich abroad. The laden ships leaving port would meet the poor of those same countries coming the other way. A quick buck, short-termism, always looking abroad for answers, no real faith in the land or people, confusion, despots, exploitative capitalism, a mess.

Moreover, the legacy of this private, capital-driven policy is that a third of the population of this vast country live in greater Buenos Aires. The cramped conditions exacerbate poverty and leave the people there with little else to do but shout and bludgeon each other over the head, if the news is to be believed. It also makes it delightfully vibrant and, arguably, contributes to its enormous cultural pedigree. On the whole, though, it’s excessive and unnecessary.

The problem was the radial design of the network, of course; the railways themselves were good. Work was plentiful and hands spread out across the land. Football was one of the few things the railway actually brought to the country rather than out of it. The network’s stations and workshops saw the birth of many a club and lent itself to the formation of various leagues in the years before the AFA was founded. Very few of these clubs remain.

One notable institution, however, Ferrocarril Oeste (literally ‘western railway’), is still in existence, albeit in the shadow world of la B gnashing their teeth alongside Riber Plei. One of their former players, Luis el Pupi Salmerón, had an interview in Olé last week (Spanish here). A non-too-easy-on-the-eye, journeyman of a second division striker if ever there was one, el Pupi ended up plying his trade in China. We bring you the interview basically because we thought it was funny.

More than that, though, it also throws some light on what players go through when they move abroad. Argentina’s tradition of mismanaging its own riches, sending them abroad and somehow ending up empty-handed, if it’s under threat politically, is very much alive and well in don Julio Grondona’s sphere of influence. The players leave early and haphazardly, even against their wishes. They are not just going to the big leagues either: more and more they move to leagues that heretofore were worse than the Argentine league. Odd; everyone loses. You make a sandwich, someone buys it off you, the money magically disappears and then to your horror you see the bastard leave it in the sun, the mayonnaise curdling, the ham turning green, the lettuce brown and the bread harder than a diamond-eyed coal-shoveller.

One could dismiss this as just ‘weird’ China stuff, as Pupi would no doubt say,  but we suspect that Salmerón’s experiences are not unique. For even the biggest clubs in the wealthiest leagues still seem remarkably careless when it comes to – whatever about their transfer ‘policy’ – helping players acclimatise. Some just get on with it, of course, and sure aren’t they played enough. Yet these random transfers can really mess up a player’s career, the chronic lack of stability making him a journeyman and depriving him of the chance for growth. He’ll probably be mis-used, misteated, forgotten, a puppy on the sixth of January (viz. Stracqualursi). Obviously, the clubs themselves lose out, too, wasting assets… One need look no further than Carlitos Tevez, whose career has been haunted by Boca’s selling him into the neon clutches of Kia Joorabchian.  

We though it was interesting and strangely charming anyway. Enjoy. Pegáme, que me gusta.

  • So, what’s the story with China?

  • In terms of football, it was grand, I scored a few goals and all but it was weird. When I left here it was roasting and when I got there it was freezing. I was all over the place, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. You know, they were all speakin’ Chinese, for jaysus’ sake…

  • Well, yeah…

  • Ha ha, yeah, but I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I had to use sign language, like a caveman. It was a mess. Besides, I don’t speak a word of English, you know?

  • Very frustrating.

  • You don’t know the half of it. I actually could have learned English, but I gave up after two classes… Then when I was in Shanghai, without a breeze, unable to even ask for some salt in a supermarket, I realised what an eejit i’d been.

  • I can only imagine what your trips to the supermarket must have been like…

  • Oh man, yeah. To find out which one was the tomato sauce I had to buy about ten different tins, but they were all bleedin chili peppers, hot bloody chili peppers. It was a joke… First i’d have to bite whatever i’d bought to find out what it was. And if I didn’t like it i’d have to throw it out. This one time I thought i’d bought some ham but it turned out to be some caramel yoke.

  • So what did you eat, then?

  • Ah any old thing. Later on I learned how to get certain types of meat. They eat a lot of fish, a lot of rice, a lot of duck. Later on I brought some stuff over from Argentina, like maté. I gave a couple of the Chinese lads some maté to try out. One of them liked it and he’d always come into my room going ‘maté! maté!’ I became good friends with that little budgie; he was the number ten.

  • Were you able to communicate with one another?

  • Whenever he’d come into the room, me and the other Argentine lad, Facu Pérez Castro, would speak to him through Google Translate. That was a real life-saver…

  • You didn’t have a translator?

  • Yeah, yeah, but he was some 20 year-old kid who didn’t have a clue about football. Let’s say we were working on tactics or something. He’d say something like: ‘The cone is your enemy, then kick the gate’, christ. He’d get me into trouble sometimes with the manager ’cause i’d say something and god knows what this lad was passing on. All of a sudden the gaffer’s voice would be getting angrier and angrier and I didn’t have a clue what was going on! That kid really wasn’t on out side: at one point when we’d lost a few games in a row, we were training and me and Facu realised the Chinese lads were taking the piss out us and the translator was pretending nothing was going on. ‘Facu, they’re bleedin laughin’ at us’, I was sayin’…


  • What about the people?

  • The people were grand. I didn’t get recognised much on the street but after the match they’d all come over to congratulate you or just say hello. ‘Popi, Popi’, they’d say to me, instead of ‘Pupi’. Every match was a full house. Once we were winning 2-0 and they came back to 2-2, and in the last minute I scored the winner. Everyone went mental and ran over to hug me: the players, the coaches, the water boys. I was thinking: ‘Why such a fuss, che?’ Only then I found out it was a derby! The translator told me, ha.

  • And what’s the deal with football in China?

  • It’s actually much better than I thought it would be. They’re plowing in the money.

  • You’re back now, then. Where do you see yourself in 2012?

  • I don’t know. When you finish your first asado with the fam, you say ‘no way am I leaving here’. I showed I could play in China and score goals there. So if they want me back there, they’re going to have to pay me what I asked for, considerably more. Otherwise i’d prefer to stay here. Not necessarily in primera as I know that things didn’t really work out for me with Banfield, but maybe in la B. If it’s in Buenos Aires, sweet, and if it’s Ferro, even better.

  • Have you been watching the games?

  • While I was in China I was always reading stuff about Ferro and Argieball, i’d check Olé everyday. I remember staying up ’til five in the morning to see River-Belgrano. The next day we had training and we were absolutely knackered. All the Chinese lads were saying they couldn’t believe that River had gone down.

  • All in all, then, what do you make of your stay in China?

  • It was tough because of all the things I was telling you about. Now they seem funny but at the time, man, I was going mental. Luckily, though, I learned a lot about another culture and actually became closer to my family.

4 thoughts on “Railways & Chili Peppers”

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