Triangulations

Great player appears, club happy. Club prefer money: there are plenty of good players. Player doesn’t want to leave: he’s young and besides he’s done more than most to win the title the club will probably win in a few months. Other club unappealing, also. The impertinence of talking meat. Club sigh, decide to wait. Player: Jonathan Calleri; Club: Boca Juniors; Other Club: Brighton Hove & Albion. Time: August 2015.

Roll around January 2016 and Boca really want that money. Brighton’s paltry £5m wasn’t going to cut it anyway (not even, later, $10m for 85% of his rights). Now Calleri’s a champion, even outshining Tevez on his oh so fabled patch. Inter Milan are interested now but aren’t willing to cough up $12m in cash for, in their view, an unproven player. Maybe he could come on loan and we’ll see? Cash, we said.

Enter the Investors: we’ll put up the cash and loan him to you, Inter. Boca smile. The Investors have their own little club, Deportivo Maldonado, in the second division in Uruguay. Plus, taxes in Uruguay are low-low. Boca grin. Inter squirm: third-party ownership is a nasty little business. You never know just how FIFA are going to react.

Although these kinds of deals have been done for years, in 2014, following up on an initial complaint from 2012 by the Argentine tax service, the AFIP, they fined a number of Argentine clubs – including Rosario Central, Racing and Independiente – and suspended a different Uruguayan ghost club, the unfortunately-named Sud América, from all transfer dealings for similar practices to the one proposed by the Investors. Yet only two weeks later, once the seven people who cared had forgotten, the sanctions were lifted. In 2015, however, they suspended a similarly small Belgian team, Seraing United, along with a real club in FC Twente. (Just this morning Real and Atlético Madrid were handed two-year transfer bans, but for signing minors, not for TPO). Boca’s face assumes the perplexed expression of one who is staring at their very own pie but their thumbs are numb and despite the room being full of people no-one will cut them a slice.

Bologna don’t care much about FIFA and would be more than happy to take Calleri on loan. Calleri grunts. Someone checks out their hair in the back of a spoon. The Investors tell Inter Moratti would have been all over this! Besides, they’ve done this before: former Estudiantes keeper Gerónimo Rulli is happily playing away with Real Sociedad. It’s win-win: Inter get their man, Boca get their cash, the Argentine tax man gets red faced, and we’ll probably get a little return on our investment down this rose-lined road of bridge transfers. Drop your face in the pie. escudo-club-deportivo-maldonado-rf_620285

According to La Nación, the men who control the company behind Maldonado are Malcolm Caine and Graham Shear, who for years served as Kia Joorabchian’s legal representative and engineered Tevez’s move from Boca to Corinthians via MSI, with all the trouble that ended up causing in Carlitos’ career. (Ariel Senosiain makes a link with Stellar Sports, owned by Jonathan Barnett, Gareth Bale’s agent; and it’s true they do own a horse, named Curbyourenthusiasm, together). The murk thickens: you didn’t need to be the world’s most acute scout to notice talent in Boca’s star number 9, but Calleri was brought to the Investors’ attention by Gustavo Arribas, who until December 9th was an advisor to Deportivo Maldonado and, according to Senosiain, was part of a group that signed players for the Israeli super agent Pini Zahavi. On December 10th Mauricio Macri became the president of Argentina, after a narrow two point win in a presidential run-off election. Arribas was Macri’s choice to be head of the new Federal Intelligence Agency, set up to replace the old intelligence service whose counterintuitive web of counter espionage led to the clusterfuck that saw Alberto Nisman pop a bullet in his temple 360 days ago. Macri was the president of Boca Juniors between 1995 and 2008, and is an important backer of current Boca president and bingo empresario, Daniel Angelici. The tax authorities now say that they have no interest in pursuing possible tax evasion by the president’s team engineered by the head of the intelligence service. Quite.

It really got our monocle flying because putting an end to precisely this type of corruption was one of the main (only?) promises in the campaign of Macri’s cheerfully choreographed, balloon-festooned, Cambiemos (“Lets Change”), a name and a movement that seems almost impossible to write without an exclamation mark. A serious government was required if Argentina were to become a normal country, a real one, where capital flows like cake and everybody wins. (The prosperous middle classes are generally convinced they were unfairly abandoned at birth in a shadowy underworld, envying Oedipus his shepherd). If any good was to come from this presidency, it was going to be some kind of systemic administrative reform. The Kirchners spent so much time fighting, in our opinion, the good fight, taking on many of the most powerful interests in the country, and abroad, and then putting out fires, that for all the good done only negligible impact was made in the boring but fundamental work of shoring up an institutionally and administratively fraught state. And then they botched an eminently winnable election. After all, the thousands of people who went to listen to the outgoing president’s speech the day before Macri assumed power showed he did not have much of a mandate.

And yet, within a month, the new government has declared several false emergencies in order to justify ruling by decree, since they do not have a majority in congress. Bypassing the proper channels, friendly Supreme Court justices have been handpicked; the issuing of all official statistics has been suspended until further notice; the currency has effectively been devalued by 40% in order for the oligarchs with silos full of grain can get a more higher dollar, as well as export restrictions being lifted, which means the price of food goes up since it’s effectively in a foreign currency. Those who got Macri’s party into power are being repaid in kind, and at a speed that utterly undermines any credibility in the institutions the flaky, media-led opposition claimed would be the backbone of their normal administration. For Macri is not just a charismatic businessman with strong ties to the Clarín media monopoly, he is Clarín’s candidate – hence the most grievous of all the anti-democratic decisions in the last month, the dismantling, by decree, again, of the Media Law, which could have served as a model for most countries.

Among many other elements, part of the Ley de Medios the Clarin monopoly could not hold licenses in all their current areas of interests: TV, radio, newspapers, internet, paper, etc. Despite having approved by the Supreme Court, a judge issued a holding order several years ago delaying the article of the law that required the sale of assets. Time was bought; no longer content to influence government, exchanging amicable headlines for more media licenses, Clarín took it. The independent media watchdog has been abolished and subsumed into a new Ministry for Communications with a man at the helm so Clarín-friendly one fears one of these days he might actually turn into a silhouette with a little trumpet in his hand. 

Elsewhere, on Monday Uki Goñi wrote a piece in the Guardian detailing a couple of the new government’s dictatorial faux pas from a few weeks ago (in fairness, he was probably on holidays). He doesn’t even mention the derogation of the media law in the body of his article or the fifteen thousand people fired from their jobs, hundreds of whom were shot at with rubber bullets during protests in La Plata last week; nor the suspension of pay talks with the teachers, etc. Indeed, he actually claims that “On the economic front […] Macri seems set for smoother sailing”. This is because he has a “sharp team of economists at the helm.” This explains why all those dismissals were not mentioned: just a few months ago the debate was about pay rises; now the idea that you’re lucky to have a job is being put about. Rachet up unemployment a few figures and wages will come down. Those economists sure are ‘sharp’, Uki.

Yet it’s not just economists. The new government has been stocked with CEOs – real business people to cut the “fat”, in the words of the new finance minister, from the administration. Argentina is open for business, with a capital O (the joy that informs this piece is chilling). Yet conflicts of interest abound. The Energy Minister calling for an end to subsidies has just left Shell after 37 years and must now sit down with his former(?) employers to negotiate; a key appointment to the Cabinet Office until recently was the head of the Pegasus Group, which controls chains of pharmacies and supermarkets among other interests; the man negotiating with the vulture funds who bought up debt from the 7% of bond holders who didn’t accept Argentina’s default restructuring in 200 has a history with JP Morgan and Deutsche bank; the Minister for Production already organised tech-related tax breaks for former employers Clarín and HSBC while serving under Macri in the City of Buenos Aires, not to mention having vested interests in companies whose potentially incriminating documents were incinerated in a fire that saw twelve firemen die; while the heads of the money-laundering agency have previously defended some of the companies – again including HSBC – who have ongoing cases with the money-laundering agency. The list goes on and on. Experience, of course, is a damn fine asset for any job; yet the state is supposed to look after the interests of the People. With these appointments, that looks next to impossible, to the point that it doesn’t even seem to be a concern. Nevertheless, the Wall St. Journal’s Taos Turner is, like Uki Goñi, delighted with the new regime: Macri’s uttering soundbites at press conferences already means this government is far more transparent.

Speaking of soundbites, on Monday morning pegamequemegusta, early-riser always, was anxiously awaiting Victor Hugo Morales’ radio program to start, eager for his analysis of the weekend’s events. When we turned it on, he was saying goodbye: he had just been fired. Even many non-Spanish speakers know Victor Hugo as the commentator for Maradona’s Goal of the Century. Long before the Kirchners were in power, he was a fierce critic of the Clarín media monopoly, as well as its judicial wing (the price of which is two thirds of his salary embargoed after same found against him in ¡a defamation suit! filed by Clarín’s Murdoch/O’Brien/William Martin Murphy/Mr Burns, Héctor Magnetto). He was fired once before as the radio station he worked for, Continental, was part owner of the very interests, TyC’s, he was attacking, until mass protests, and sponsor pressure, brought him back. Back then his was technically only a sports show (such a neat distinction is impossible, especially here). Since the Kirchner’s raising of the Clarín Question, however, he became a vocal supporter of the attempt to forge, at the very least, a playable field (not one with a great big monolith planked in the centre stretching skyward to poke God himself in the eye). This time, however, with Macri/Clarín in power, the radio’s own sponsor income was threatened. Bouncers were put on the doors of the station to stop him getting in. However, he had come in early to prepare the show we were so eager to hear. A confused while later, minutes before nine, when it was clear he would not be allowed on the air, he burst into Paulino Rodríguez’ program:

  • Paulino…

  • My dear Victor Hugo…

  • Sorry for the interruption..

  • No problem, how are you?

  • I’m getting fired from the ra…

Cue jingle. Ads. Music.

Now Paulino’s program, while very serious indeed, is, like all the others on Continental, very anti-K (VH’s show was an anomaly, leading to legendarily tetchy handovers between shows). No journalist (or, now, hardly any), however, can accept such a personal and malicious attack on a fellow professional, so after the initial surprise Paulino let Victor Hugo back on. He spoke for about ten minutes, until just after his own show would have started so that he could say goodbye to stunned listeners like yours truly. He expressed sympathy for the very directors of the radio who were firing him (again): with a troika of executive, legal and media powers united, what choice did they have?

Later that day it emerged Victor Hugo had not been the only victim of the purge: Matías Canillán, one of the foremost journalists and football commentators on Continental, had also been given the boot. Just as Macri has called to an end for political programming on state tv, preferring bland cultural ones instead, the head of programming at Continental has suddenly decided all this talk of FIFA and AFA on the radio is a drag – girls just want to have fun. For in football, too, the changes shall be rung. Macri repeatedly stated over the years that if elected he would immediately abolish Fútbol para todos, the free-to-air broadcasting of Argentine football that in 2009 took the rights from Clarín-controlled TyC, indicted in FIFA-gate last year. It has been spared so far (maybe because we’re being gypped elsewhere) and looks set to continue, but with much heavier involvement of sponsors – a boon for those who consider public service announcements propaganda but insurance ads chicken soup for the soul.

Just as the swiftness and brazenness of Clarín’s revolution, the slowness of reform at the AFA in the year and a half since don Julio Grondona died has been surprising. No power vacuum, no real upheaval; it’s as if the clubs presidents feared he might come back. When elections were eventually held, hanging chad-type irregularities with ballot papers meant no winner could be named. Both of the main candidates are reprehensible puppets, so we’ll spare you the details. The skinny is that as both candidates square off, the real sticking point in negotiations (after all, a unity candidate could be proposed) is legalised online gambling – not whether, but how –, which is unregulated as yet in Argentina. Under the last government, Grondona pushed successfully for a rather tame pools game to be introduced. The new version – balloons ‘n’ all, no doubt – promises to swamp the winner’s hypoteneuse in cash. If it’s to succeed, of course, us workers will have to have a few pesos to spare. Macri’s CEOs will have to spare us that much.

Pegamequemegusta apologises for any queasiness this post may provoke. Yet save your real sympathy for 22-year-old Jonathan Calleri, who has been triangulated into a footballing netherworld. After further speculation about him being shipped off to Brazil came to nout, for now, he was officially released by Boca into the loving arms of Deportivo Maldonado for $9.5 m rising to $12m. Olé report: Asked by a fan on his last day of training with Boca where he was headed, he replied: “I wish I knew.”

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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.

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.

El Tano Pasman at Cape Bojador

In any case, even if we suppose the superstitious sailors are correct in their suspicions that the admiral and the sea monster are one and the same, it is still true that many a ship has sunk down to the murky depths owing to seamanship so reckless it was tantamount to skuttling the vessel. After all, the paralysis that affected the once awesome battleship River Plate last month was so sublime precisely because even with the rocks dead ahead the mariners seemed determined to maintain their course. No treacherous fog enveloped them, no whirlpools formed suddenly off the bow. The sky was clear Belgrano blue and the ripples on the green sea carpet were no more pronounced than the muscles on a proud stevedore’s physique. With morbid fascination we watched from the shore as they seemed to will themselves below the waves.

Among us there was one who suffered more than most; a man whose forebears sprung from a land with a distinguished seafaring tradition, el Tano Pasman. Oh how he suffered as he watched his once illustrious frigate struggle feebly with some poorly-armed piratas from Córdoba. Sure it was well known that the SS River Plate had traded in their sails for magic beans and had replaced the mast with empty bottles of rhum, but no-one expected such a collapse. The dear mothers of our town had to lead their bonny children away by the hand as the expletives rained from his seething gob like foam from the mouth of the opprobious kracken. Luckily it was filmed for posterity, dear handsome reader, and while we make no claims to novelty we feel it’s worthwhile including it here if not for your edification at least for your titillation.

Quem quer passar além do Bojador, Tem que passar além da dor

Back when River were relegated at the end of June, we didn’t have any time to write about it. Pegamequemegusta was laughing too hard anyway. Besides, we were sure the suck from that sinking ship would continue to stir the waters for some considerable time to come. 

And so it has been. Given that we’re far from God’s firm earth, given we’ve rounded the Cape of Bojador and are far out on unchartered, treacherous waters, ’tis no surprise that strange sea monsters should loom out of the dark water like Satan’s fist, flashing teeth like manicured nails. Why, just like week we had Cherquis Bialo, the AFA spokesman, openly admitting the plans for the new megatournament were only rushed through congress in order to ensure the return of River to the first division.

The widespread discontent with the plan saw the brine boil and almost immediately sailors began to throw themselves from the rigging in dismay. The ship’s wheel rolled unchecked from side to side as everyone bickered and denied they were responsible for charting the course in the first place. The thirst for untold quantities of dear spices had certainly been the motivation for the trip, but how they had ended up adrift in this hell hole no-one was able or willing to say. Some blamed the king for sticking his oar in when the good ship AFA was most certainly not a Roman galley. Others expressed wonder that the captain, an admiral in fact, usually so sturdy, could have proposed such a plan. The incompetent officers, in no mood to analyse their own role in the fracas, passed the time talking with the ship’s abundant parrot population and taking turns atop the crow’s nest lighting candles and sending smoke signals, though nobody was quite sure what they meant. Further confusion arose when the ship’s doctor, Bilardo, complained that there was no way he would work in an office, when most presumed that’s what he had been doing the past few years. Biscuits and rhum were running low. For the first time in all their sailing careers there was some talk of mutiny. Agin the capt’n?! Are you mad, sonny? By Aunt Gunning’s prize gunwhales, sure that thar’d be akin to paintin’ o’er the Stella Maris.

Enough with your barbarous chatter, sea dog. For hate’s sake I spit my last scone at thee. So far there has been no mutiny. Yet the mere murmurings of one are cause enough for giving pause. The sailors, who for so long only stirred from their poppy-besmattered bunks to carouse and switch to grog-fuelled mayhem, finally took it upon themselves to do something about the continual mismanagement of the ship’s affairs. A march was planned to the captain’s quarters demanding changes. It was to take place this evening and such was the fear of what they might do, the admiral last night decided to row back on plans to promote the scurvy-ridden curs he was trying to curry favour with erstwhile. The course remains unclear but for the moment the fury has been quelled. Some sailors insist they will march nonetheless, but the most remarkable fact in all this is not just that they have remained compos mentis long enough to even make a real threat, but that many have begun to wonder openly if the admiral is not in fact in league with the evil sea monster that harrasses them so and seems to be the only one who really controls their fate. 

Perhaps it will be another Kronstadt, who knows.

In any case, even if we suppose the superstitious sailors are correct in their suspicions that the admiral and the sea monster are one and the same, it is still true that many a ship has sunk down to the murky depths owing to seamanship so reckless it was tantamount to skuttling the vessel. After all, the paralysis that affected the once awesome battleship River Plate last month was so sublime precisely because even with the rocks dead ahead the mariners seemed determined to maintain their course. No treacherous fog enveloped them, no whirlpools formed suddenly off the bow. The sky was clear Belgrano blue and the ripples on the green sea carpet were no more pronounced than the muscles on a robust stevedore’s torso. With morbid fascination we watched from the shore as they seemed to will themselves below the waves. 

Among us there was one who suffered more than most; a man whose forebears sprung from a land with a distinguished seafaring tradition, el Tano Pasman. Oh how he suffered as he watched his once illustrious frigate struggle feebly with some poorly-armed piratas from Córdoba. Sure it was well known that the SS River Plate had traded in their sails for magic beans and had replaced the mast with empty bottles of rhum, but no-one expected such a collapse. The dear mothers of our town had to lead their bonny children away by the hand as the expletives rained from his seething gob like foam from the mouth of the opprobrious kracken. Luckily it was filmed for posterity, dear handsome reader, and while we make no claims to novelty we feel it’s worthwhile including it here if not for your edification at least for your titillation.

The video went viral,  becoming what they call in the village an internet sensation. El Tano Pasman was hotter property than the throne of a flatulent arsonist. Pain sells, and when it comes with this many bad words it’s worth a shipload of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Only coming to light about two weeks after River went down, the video constituted a sort of national catharsis, for many had thus far kept quiet given the seriousness of what had befallen what had once been one of the proudest institutions on sea or land. In short, it finally allowed people to openly take the piss. An interview in Olé was but one of the many media outlets keen to exploit the old man’s distress. 

Hence it was with some misgivings that pegamequemegusta greeted the news that there was going to be an interview with el tano on one of our favourite shows on Argiewireless, Perros de la calle.  Uy, we said in our default snobby way, this is a bit low, a bit cheap. And indeed at first it was. The usually excellent hosts don’t seem too sure where to bring the interview. They look for soundbites and encourage the old geezer to repeat his famous lines cursing River’s drunken sailors. It’s brought home that he’s just a normal bloke caught up in truly odd circumstances. Indeed, he’s giving the interview from the bus on his way to work. It drifts. 

Then he mentions that the great Beto Alonso is his favourite ever River player and the production team duly get him on to exchange a few words, not expecting much more than a novel piece of flimsy. Yet it turns out there’s a lot more to the caricature of el Tano Pasman we’ve all formed in our minds. There’s nothing stulted in the conversation of el Tano and Beto. They begin to chat as if they’re not even on air. It turns out el Tano has a Johnny Giles-type memory of every River match of all time. Besides referring to famous goals and games, which any fan might do, he also recalls starting line-ups as well as individual substitutions and yellow cards from more than 30 years ago; he remembers certain passes from summer friendlies in the 70s. He even corrects Beto Alonso once or twice on things his idol once did himself.

Clearly embarrassed at the situation he has found himself in, he takes the opportunity to apologise for taking his father’s name in vain during the match. The whole of his childhood, you realise, is inextricably bound up with the club. Without wanting to go too far, it appears his relationship with his father revolved almost exclusively around going to games and all the rituals that entailed. It is, dear handsome reader, quite moving. What began as a fluff piece, has suddenly become brilliant radio, surpassing itself, full of insight. Bizarrely the most famous symbol of River at an infamous time, we immediately take this buffoon as the prime example of the typical fan. Yet the radio interview shows us the other side of the caricature. He’s not a cartoon after all. From the video it’s clear he’s a massive River fan but we’ve become accustomed to dismissing such figures as mindless fools. It’s only as he speaks, as he’s given a voice, that it becomes clear he’s anything but. We’ve seen passion marketed so lamely so many times we’re wont to forget what it is. In the interview, el Tano Pasman reminds us indirectly that it’s people like him who make Argieball great, not the clowns in charge of the clubs.

At a time when Argentine football is in a terrible mess, both in institutional and sporting terms, with serious concern even being expressed with regard to the heretofore fruitful youth ranks, it is revitalising for this weary would-be hack to be reminded of the intensity that really keeps the air in the sails of the floundering schooner Nuestra Señora de Argieball. Indeed, it’s doubly pleasing to be reflect on this in these days when the drunken sailors look like they might well topple the evil admiral Grondona and rescue themselves and their ship from the monsters off Bojador, for a while at least.