Security! Magellan, Drake & the AFA

Magellan, though, ah Magellan. As a youth we’d draw our grubby finger across the beautiful, though distorted mess of the Mercater world map. Invariably we’d end up at the Strait of Magellan. We still don’t know why; we’ve yet to venture there. It exercised a sense of wonder on us matched only by the awesome phenomenon that is an eleven o’clock dusk in Dublin. Of course we were schooled in the feats of Magellan, his empirical demonstration, by proxy, of the globe’s theoretically palpable rotundity; his obscene death, riddled with arrows, run through with spears knee-deep in the breakers of his very own Saipan. Only later did we look into Magellan. We learned that he personally ordered that some 1,200 bells, mirrors and trinkets be brought along, notwithstanding the clear space restrictions even with five ships, convinced as he was that whomsoever or whatever they would meet on the journey into the unknown, shiny stuff was bound to go down a storm. So it was that whilst waiting out the winter way down south in San Julián, in the yet unbaptised Argentina, that Magellan’s men managed to capture some simple giants with big feet (‘patagones’). Crude but effective, they distracted the friendly giants before slapping some irons on their legs, in cool civilised fashion.

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A lot of philosophical faff is spoken about exploration, the final frontier and all that. Oh it’s all very well when some French poet says it, plonger au fond du gouffre, we lap that stuff up, too. Most of the time, though, such witherings are not much more than cowardice-baiting self-flagellation. Going where no man has gone before, a mere quest for minerals; travel broadening the mind no further than knowledge of the price of a coca cola from Ayres Rock to Macchu Picchu. Pegamequemegusta never got those North or South Pole guys, either, like lonely husbands locked in a windowless shed in winter searching for wet wipes in the dark; their wives must have been unbearable. Nor do we have much esteem for those moustachioed gents in ten-gallon sombreros carved from ivory, trotting around Africa discovering the longest-inhabited regions of the Earth. No, enough of these inconsequential failures, ignorant masochists for the most part. There’s another kind of explorer, though, whose deeds we can delight in even in the face of his cynically imperialist designs, the kind of person who when they set off had people on the quay muttering thanks to Jesus; we prefer the rogue. 

Our favourite explorers are those who clearly didn’t have any illusions about what they were doing, either because they were completely taking the piss, didn’t even consider themselves explorers or never intended on coming back. Hence, the high regard we hold for Magellan, and, somewhat begrudgingly, Sir Francis Drake. The only reason to like the latter is because he was such an absolute joker – a Queen-sponsored pirate who circumnavigated the globe stealing wine and gold from the Spanish wherever they went, just to fuck with their heads. Like the CIA, but just one bloke and a ship. Other than that, he was about as appealing as a year of wife-beaters and flip-flops. 

Magellan, though, ah Magellan. As a youth we’d draw our grubby finger across the beautiful, though distorted mess of the Mercater world map. Invariably we’d end up at the Strait of Magellan. We still don’t know why; we’ve yet to venture there. It exercised a sense of wonder on us matched only by the awesome phenomenon that is an eleven o’clock dusk in Dublin. Of course we were schooled in the feats of Magellan, his empirical demonstration, by proxy, of the globe’s theoretically palpable rotundity; his obscene death, riddled with arrows, run through with spears knee-deep in the breakers of his very own Saipan.  Only later did we look into Magellan. We learned that he personally ordered that some 1,200 bells, mirrors and trinkets be brought along, notwithstanding the clear space restrictions even with five ships, convinced as he was that whomsoever or whatever they would meet on the journey into the unknown, shiny stuff was bound to go down a storm. So it was that whilst waiting out the winter way down south in San Julián, in the yet unbaptised Argentina, that Magellan’s men managed to capture some simple giants with big feet (‘patagones’). Crude but effective, they distracted the friendly giants with jingling before slapping some irons on their legs, like a credit card company at Christmas.

The giants would later die of starvation on the prolonged crossing of the cruel, listless Pacific (which ol’ Fernando also named, of course – he had a gift for unimaginative names that actually sounded very cool, viz. Montevideo, ‘I see a mountain’ (?)), and Magellan himself would follow soon after. However, Magallanes knew he had succeeded already. He had earned the right to be a prick. Such a reckless invasion was not hubris, it was a death wish. He was disinterested enough in the fatherland to set off under a foreign flag in the first place (he was Portuguese but served the Hapsburg Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos I of Spain). His return to Europe offered little more than politicking his way round the Emperor’s Court for the rest of his days, where some indiscretion or other would probably see him wind up like the giants, in chains, anyway.

No, he knew it was pointless; the point was the risk, but not just risk in the sense of ideals or dreams, always likely to change. Rather, consigning himself to nothingness opened a space for him to live, to live ruthlessly, with disdain in his heart. Also in the winter of 1520 in San Julián, he had brutally put down a mutiny from the uppity Spanish unhappy to be serving under his Portuguese command. Some members of the party were marooned while several of the captains were hung, drawn and quartered on the coast for their insolence.

More than fifty years later, Francis Drake, el pirata par excellence, would find their rotten bones still hanging from the gibbets on the desolate shoreline. Indeed, they undoubtedly inspired the execution of one his own crew members, the gentleman Thomas Doughty. Drake, quite brilliantly in our opinion, accused him of being a traitor and a ‘sorcerer’. This did not go down well with all on board, leading Drake, who was also given to abrogating to himself the power to issue impromptu excommunications, to retort: “I have not… to do with you crafty lawyars, neythar care I for the lawe, but I know what I wyll do.”

They say Drake’s decision to behead Doughty was one of the defining moments in naval history as it established the captain of a ship as the absolute ruler in his sphere of influence, a floating dictator. That surprised us at first but it got our brain cogs chugging like a sweaty man in a beer-drinking contest in a steam train museum.

It’s all about security, you see. We’ll sacrifice almost anything in order to be safe. The threat of random violence is too terrifying. We’d rather nine none-too-guilty men go to prison than face the daunting prospect of self-preservation, or even be bothered at the bus-stop. Anything that happens to us, be it illness, crime or an accident, is by definition ‘unfair’ – someone must pay. Fair enough, all those things are horrible, but eliminating contingency costs. Fear and the prized principle of recompense, not any conspiracy, will lead to the abolition of man, in C. S. Lewis’ phrase. 

Now we’ve accused the AFA of many things over the years, but we never suspected they would be one of the organisations to advance this creeping dystopia. If anything, the antics of Grondona’s brave band of knights are more akin to the bluster of an Arthurian quest, with Verón as Lancelot, and Cristina the Lady in the Lake, or perhaps Guinevere. Yesterday, however, they unveiled plans for a new ticketing system to be applied in Argieball that includes some nigh-on draconian (not the pirate) measures.

Now this will directly affect you, dear northern one, as little as it affects Atlantic-bound, Primera-free pegamequemegusta. Yet you will no doubt agree, once the apple  is removed from your gob, that it’s curious to see a notoriously sluggish institution characterised by neglect suddenly wake up and take action –  under zero pressure to do so, no less. That the plan is rather misguided is less surprising, but its scale and ambition cannot be faulted.

The current system is much the same as anywhere else, in theory at least. Each clubs’ members, their socios, have first refusal. After that, anyone can buy tickets from booths at the ground, or from touts. Tourists tend to go on school tour-type jaunts, escorted to and from the game, and get royally gouged for the privilege (though they now have the option of going with these jocular fellows). 

The AFA, however, have decided that this system has to change. With next to no fanfare, the plan was announced on their website on Wednesday under the catchy title el Padrón nacional de aficionados, the National Supporters’ Register. From this December, supporters of first division teams (plus Riber, oddly enough) will be able to register their details with their respective clubs – you have to be aligned to some club, it seems – in order to be able to attend Argieball games and Argentina matches (though the system will be implemented later, of course). Once they’ve given their names and their DNI (national identity card) complete with photo and fingerprints, they’ll get an ‘non-transferable’ card with a magnetic strip that can be used to get tickets from ATM machines and other means of e-sales. Paper tickets will become defunct. Upon arrival at the stadium, the supporter will pass through a police checkpoint to make sure they are entering at the correct gate and their card will be inspected. Finally, at the turnstile their fingerprints will be scanned to ensure they are the person who bought the ticket. 

The man in charge of the commission to roll out the project, Fernando Casalla, stated that the idea is to “increase control and commercial exploitation of matchdays by eliminating the resale of tickets”. Moreover, the sale of tickets will  be federalised, available to all, as it will no longer be restricted to the stadium itself. Argiestadia will boast the finest gate technology in the world. The future will be bright and clean; order will be imposed. This, while it was not mentioned explicitly, will no doubt go down a treat with FIFA in the event of a serious candidature for the 2030 World Cup; likewise with whatever deal they’ve struck with credit card companies to have the supporters’ cards work in the ATMs. A juicy one, no doubt. (The banks here, distressingly enough for our barter-friendly soul, have grown in stature even in just the last few months since a law was passed guaranteeing everyone the right to a bank account, with many companies opening accounts in their employees’ names, boosting coffers considerably and grabbing them a whole new customer base that was somewhat isolated up to now – get your free credit card!).

That’s not all, though, In the meantime, according to Casalla, there will be health and safety benefits since the new system will make it much harder for undesirables to get into the ground. There already exists a blacklist of hooligans for whom clubs reserve a special right to refuse admission. From now on, they won’t even be able to purchase a ticket, and even if they appear at the turnstile in some crafty disguise their fingerprints will give them away. In this way, administration costs will be reduced and crowd safety increased. Filthy, grubby paper money will be done away with, credit-rich families will flock to the games, Coca-Cola-brand picnic baskets in hand, happy and secure, to cheer on their heroes.

It all sounds delightful, of course, but it’s too happy, it’s too clean; it hasn’t got enough snarl to it. It wilfully ignores the real state of things. Instead it conceives of the barras as mere cheeky chappies who’ll jive off with their paddy caps in their hands once they’re foiled by the beeping turnstile. (Goshdarnit, exclaim the ragamuffins, hey, who’s up for stickball?). This is , we argue, somewhat unlikely. Besides, it ignores the profoundly corrupt, twisted and symbiotic relationship between the clubs and the hooligans, who were never true patrons in the first place.

After all, the only real problem with the current system is that tickets tend to fall into the hands of the barras, free, of course, who then sell them on for their own gain. This sucks money out of the clubs, making them weaker as it makes the barras stronger. There’s no mention of cleaning up the clubs, investigations into corruption or even a window-dressing ‘wish’ to do the same. There’s no talk of sanctions for clubs who collude with the parasitic mafias who feast on them in the name of flag-waving love. Violence can be controlled by repression, cheap, faceless, machine-led repression, with no contemplation of the causes, no measures to stifle the activities of the mafias who extort money from every hotdog vendor and car-parker within a ten-block radius of the ground on matchday, earning tens of thousands of dollars per game. That the pie is so enticing explains the constant murders and battles for control of each club’s barra brava – not some schoolground tiff, as suggested recently on a ‘proper’ blog.

So the plan contains plenty of positives, especially considering it’s from the AFA. It’s pleasantly surprising to see the AFA take action on something, anything. Remember, the last time we heard from them was when they came up with the credibility-sapping 38-team tournament. Furthermore, the dystopian elements largely stem from the national identity database, which, while we don’t like it much, already exists so there’s not much point complaining about it. Likewise commercial control over consumer information is hardly anything new.

The problem is that it’s an answer to a question nobody asked. It doesn’t solve any of the real problems we outlined above. It also begs the question just what kind of football these well-documented fans are going to be watching. Perhaps the AFA should do something about sorting out the clubs’ budgets, the flogging off of young players, refereeing, the state of the grounds, policing, etc.

It’s also curious that the plan is so anodyne. Unlike the government, which has a fine eye for catchphrases and infectious marketing campaigns, the AFA is severely limited when it comes to PR. They could have named it something ‘grand’ like Operación hincha or positioned themselves, however falsely, as the custodians of the game, with something ‘dynamic’ like Somos la popu! (Reclaim the terraces!). The fact that they didn’t exposes the purely financial motivations at play here, the continuing lack of concern for the game, a profound disdain for the genius and pageantry that make Argieball so special off the field.

Put a machine in charge of something, however, and people see progress, safety. It makes them feel oddly superior no matter how much of their birthright they have to give up for the privilege. Make that transaction easier, sanitise it all, stick a recognisable brand on it, reassurance, no jostling, the policeman’s there to help you, listen to the jingling of the bell, see how shiny it is, sit down, consume, risk has been abolished, the sorcerers are in the stocks, turned to dust with a well-timed blow from an umbrella.

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