El Cartel – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the druglord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

On Wednesday night River Plate play the second leg of the Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, from Medellín, Colombia. The first leg was a 1-1 draw so the odds are in River’s favour (although away goals do not count in the final). The Sudamericana is not the most important international competition in this continent; indeed it’s barely the most interesting competition that will come to a close this week, what with Racing, River and Lanús all in with a shout of winning the title on the last day of the season this Sunday. Nevertheless, they’re both good teams and the match does promise to be a bit of a stonker.

We came across this piece by canchallena’s Ezequiel Fernández Moores a few days ago and we wanted to share it with you. Pegamequemegusta veritably digs his comprehensive take on things and his deadpan delivery. We’ve brought you several of his articles in the past and they always get us thinking, even of hippos, so we hope you enjoy it, too. If not, pegáme, que me gusta.

Escobar's hippos
Photo by Guadalajaracinemafest

translation ~ pegamequemegusta

“What do you know about Atlético Nacional?” ask the Colombian journalists. The Brazilian player Josef de Souza replies: “They’re a good team, they’re strong in several areas and they’ve got good players, like Pablo Escobar.” It’s a few hours before the semi-final kicks off in Medellín and there are no follow-up questions. It isn’t clear whether it’s a slip, a mistake or, as many believe, just another of the little japes typical of the São Paolo player. Escobar, dead since 1993, is no longer “in the game”, of course, but his name is writ large in the history of River’s rival tonight in the first leg of the Sudamericana final. Before Escobar, Nacional had only won four championships in four decades and had never made it past the first round of the Copa Libertadores in their four attempts. Under Escobar, in contrast, Nacional becomes the first Colombian club to win the Libertadores, courts the heights of world football and establishes itself as one of the most powerful clubs not only in Colombia but in all South America. There’s no denying that they had – and still do – great players and plenty of style. Yet they were also backed by Escobar, ‘El patrón del mal’.

Before Escobar, over four separate terms from 1962 to 1983, the president of Nacional was Hernán Botero Moreno, widely remembered for, in 1981, waving a wad of banknotes during the clásico with Independiente de Medellín, suggesting their opponents had bribed the referee. Botero controlls 76% of the shares in the club when in 1985 he becomes the first Colombian extradited to the United States on money laundering charges. In response, the Colombian First Division declares a period of mourning and suspends the following round of matches. These are the times of narcofútbol. Another of the subsequent owners of Nacional, Octavio Piedrabita, also accused of money laundering, is murdered in 1986. Pablo Escobar comes on the scene. Millonarios, under Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, aka El Mexicano (the number two in the Medellín Cartel), wins the championship two years in a row (1987-88), knocking mighty América, run by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers (the Cali Cartel), off the top. In 1989 it’s Escobar’s turn. Nacional are proclaimed king of the Libertadores – but not of their country. The Colombian championship is suspended after a couple of hitmen kill referee Álvaro Ortega. “The assassination,” John Velásquez, alias Popeye, the drug lord’s right-hand man, says in 2012, “was ordered by Pablo Escobar.”

Nacional’s year is also Pablo Escobar’s. In 1989, his Medellín Cartel assassinates vice-president candidate, Luis Carlos Galán, detonate 100 kilos of dynamite in the headquarters of the newspaper El Espectador and take down an Avianca airplane with 107 passengers in the belief that among them is another candidate, César Gavira. Other politicians are also murdered. Judges, too, journalists, priests, policemen and trade union activists, many of them victims of Escobar’s cartel. In 1989 Medellín is witness to 4052 homicides, almost twice as many as in 1988. Times of car bombs, massacres and magnicides; fifteen murders a day; an explosion every second day; times of narco-terrorism and cartels, armed gangs, guerrilla and paramilitary warfare. The peak of the violence is 1991: 6349 homicides, 17 a day. The “Capital of Crime”, writes Gerard Martin in his book Medellín, tragedia y resurreción, “is more violent than the Chicago of Al Capone, the Palermo of the Corleonesi, the Marseilles of the French Connection.” Dozens of politicians, judges and journalists are bought off. ‘Medallo’ [‘Medal’], the city’s erstwhile nickname, is ditched in favour of ‘Metrallo’ [‘M16’]. Medellín, “the city of eternal Spring” is now “the city of eternal shooting” [“la ciudad de la eterna balacera”].

Nacional’s successful Copa Libertadores campaign kicks off in 1989 against Millonarios. Raucous derbies and controversial refereeing. In the first round, they draw 1-1 in Bogotá and lose 2-0 in Medallín. In the second round, Nacional knock out Racing (2-0 and 1-2) while Millonarios pass Bolívar on penalties, with the Peruvian referee José Ramírez penalising the Bolivian goalkeeper in the defining stages for not staying on his line, and neglecting to do the same with Sergio Goycochea, who saved, winning his team the match. The two Colombian teams meet again in the quarters. This time Nacional win: a valuable 1-1 draw in Bogotá accompanied by scandalous refereeing by the Chilean Hernán Silva, and a 1-0 win in Medellín. “Tonight,” a Millonarios player tells a Colombian collegue, “there were guns in the stands, there were guns everywhere. I don’t know how no-one was killed.” Regarding the semi-finals, against the Uruguayan team Danubio, many will recall the referee Juan Bava telling El Gráfico: “A couple of guys came to the hotel with machine guns. They offered us money and threatened to kill us.” No further assistance required. Nacional, who had drawn the first leg 0-0, run riot 6-0.

In the final, Nacional lose the first leg 1-0 in Asunción against Olimpia. Conmebol [South American football association] decides that the return leg should be played in Bogotá. Olimpia come to the ground escorted by tanks. They lose 2-0. They also lose on penalties. Eighteen penalties, four saves by René Higuita. The fear stoked by the threats before every match played in Medellín goes to a new level in the following year’s Libertadores owing to a formal complaint by Uruguayan referee Juan Daniel Cardellino. Conmebol suspends all Colombian stadiums. “Extra-footballing reasons”, the sanctions are called by then president Sergio Naranjo in his farewell report on his stewardship of the club. That December, Italian newspapers argue that Nacional should not be allowed to play the Intercontinental Cup. AC Milan win, just about. Their owner, Silvio Berlusconni, is jubilant. “What money is clean?” wonders at one point the journalist Pepe Calderón, a character in Autogol [Own Goal], a novel by the Colombian Silva Romero.

Nacional, as has been said, has exceptional players during Escobar’s time in charge. They include some of the best players of the Colombian national team, who impress in Italia ’90 and in 1993 thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Monumental. They arrive at USA ’94 as one of the favourites but get knocked out in the first round and, upon their return, Andrés Escobar, the player who scored the own goal, is murdered. One year earlier, the army, or paramilitaries working for the state, had killed Pablo Escobar. An Independiente de Medallín flag, not a Nacional one, is placed on his coffin. Two decades later, the drug lord, who at the zenith of his power would hire the Brazilian musician Roberto Carlos [for private shows], is the subject of guided tours in Medellín – museum and tomb included – as well as a record-breaking tv series, and has even made Cannes, played by Benicio del Toro, even as the Colmbian state has been forced to castrate the hippos in his private zoo. There are now sixty of them. According to the authorities, “they represent a threat to public safety.”

Escobar is dead. Medellín, while retaining a relatively elevated amount of homicides, is a different city, whose policies on social integration are cited as models, while the public works designed to highlight its great natural beauty have been widely praised. “Cities,” the Colombian writer juan José Hoyos, “are built on amnesia: one layer of asphalt, a layer of amnesia and then another layer of asphalt.” And Nacional, without a doubt, is a different team. Between 1994 and 2014 they’ve won nine Colombian championships, the last three in succession and with their eyes on a fourth. They also win two Cups and a Colombian Superliga. And two Copas Merconorte. Now they want the Sudamericana. They still have good players (Edwin Cardona and Daniel Bocanegra), good collective play and a worthy manager (Juan Carlos Osorio, firm favourite for the Colmbian job once José Pekerman’s cycle ends). Their patrón is different now, likewise the power wielded. The Organización Ardila Lulle, one of the four most powerful conglomerates in the country, is the sponsor of the championship through the soft drink Postobón (Liga Postobón). And they televise it through a mixture of free-to-air and cable tv, through RCN or Winsports. Carlos Ardila Lulle, whose fortune is estimated to be at $3000m, is the champion of the league he sponsors and televises. His conglomerate includes La Mega, a radio station that blasts reggaeton, pop and electro. The flagship program of La Mega is called El Cartel.

A FIFA Tsunami

It was a strange day in Zurich. In the morning, about a hundred journalists awaited a press conference with a supposed informant, who never materialised. In the afternoon, former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger got the FIFA Congress under way in the Hallestadion, before 1,200 guests. The first act was the 21 year old Czech juggler, Alan Sulc. But the main event featured an even more adept juggler, Sepp. Then Swiss musician Nicolas Senn played a complex-looking string instrument. The Mayor of Zurich, Corinne Mauch, hailed dearly-held FIFA ‘values’ such as ‘discipline, solidarity, and social responsibility’. And Grace Jones closed out the show singing La Vie en rose.

It all began when pegamequemegusta was just a buck, heavily braced in shoulders, legs and teeth. After years of cuddly, warming smog and the coal trucks beloved of all tykes, the streets had finally been repaired following the gas works, freed up for the clean energy of the soon-to-be-abundant automobile. We finally got a glimpse of the cruel Irish sky, when we had been told our dreams were merely nestling behind the clouds. We turned our gaze earthwards in dismay only to be rewarded with a truly celestial presence, Kevin Kilbane tearing down the left wing. Up in the schoolboys’ section of glorious old Marquess Lansdowne’s little fantasy patch, when we weren’t reenacting the heroic battle of Kloster Kampen, we would clutch our two punt tickets into a ball into a dropsyish fever as Killser hared past skittish defenders and drove towards the byline. The tension at such moments was no less than the pressure exerted by a badger’s jaws on a wayward postman’s leg. Cross it, cross it! we’d roar. Killser knew better, though. Such a move demanded a still more stunning finish. The ‘keeper wouldn’t be expecting a shot from such an outré angle. Thwack! 

Invariably, however, his shots would end up in the side-netting. Such brilliance undermined by a fatal flaw. His teammates would march back to pick up their positions and await the ensuing goal kick. Another move, albeit brilliant, the product of a single genius, wasted. We would mutter oaths about the perfidious French and tend to those fallen comrades of ours who really had been suffering attacks of the dropsy during the excitement. 

Thus began pegamequemegusta’s inability to finish anything we start. thousands of words written, no conclusion, days pass, out of date, dodgy enough anyway, abandon, delete, chau. Translations, on the other hand, pose no such problems, some other proper person already having done the hard part and concluded the tale. So here’s another one from the always substantial Ezequiel Fernández Moores of La Nación from last Wednesday.

Off the Ball listeners and assiduous internet football ‘people’ will probably knew most of this story already, but pegamequemegusta has never been about bringing you the news. No, amongst all the shrillness this week, there was much amazement at the fact that most media organs outside Britain & Ireland didn’t really seem to care too much about the FIFA congress and Blatter’s farcical re-election. While there has been precious little mention of it here, either, we thought it worthwhile to highlight EFM’s contribution. He speaks English himself so will have read many of the same pieces as you, dear handsome reader. Indeed, the piece almost seems written from the English point of view: he doesn’t question any of Triesman’s assertions at all, for instance. Then again, he’s no pirata, and we found intriguing the statement that the clean-up at the IOC was “more ethnic than it was ethical”.

It’s a subtle piece, globetrotting as always but arguably without the range of strands he usually weaves in. Yet it definitely picks up momentum as it goes on. The last few paragraphs, in particular, are definitely worth reading. Pegamequemegusta was very taken with his deadpan description of the line-up at the FIFA congress. While we we positively thrilled with the tale of Grondona and Platini’s encounter at the Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg last year – the Michael Moore-style intrusion of the I is delightful, sudden and, mercifully, baseballcap-less. We also enjoyed the nugget regarding Sepp’s impressive haul of titles.

We’ve committed our usual sacrilege of chopping up some of his monstruously long paragraphs. We just can’t take ’em. Besides that, we hope the translation is readable. Enjoy or, if not, pegáme, que me gusta.

Members of the FIFA Executive Committee in Zürich this week

A FIFA Tsunami – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

“We own vicepresident of FIFA,” Karen Asche sings mockingly. “He’s the people king / De minister of everything.” In February the song Uncle Jack helped her become crowned the Calypso Monarch for 2011 in Trinidad & Tobago. The song is back in fashion already: everyone in Trinidad is talking about Jack Warner, Uncle Jack, the Minister for Work & Transport. The government is defending him, the people demanding his resignation. And he’s getting fed up.

Has something changed or do the votes of federations like Anguila, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Curaçao, Dominica, Granada, Montserrat, San Cristobal, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and the Turks & Caicos Islands no longer count? Are the votes of these twenty-five federations from the Caribbean Football Union [CFU], of which he has been the head since its creation in 1979, are they no longer relevant? Or what about the ten further votes he wields in his capacity as the president of CONCACAF, a position he’s held since 1990? “If they don’t want me around anymore, i’ll give them a football tsunami,” Warner threatened. His old mucker Sepp Blatter, who today will be re-elected as president of FIFA, was unruffled, however, as he got the congress in Zürich under way yesterday. He’s adopted the maxim of his permanent ally, the eternal president of the AFA, Julio Grondona: Todo pasa [This too shall pass]. So will the tsunami.

Blatter, FIFA president since 1998, promised he will leave office in 2015, when he will be 79 years old. He no longer needs Warner. Hence, this past Sunday he took out two birds with one stone. The Ethics Committee suspended Warner and the Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, who was his rival in tomorrow’s elections. To this end, FIFA showed the press a photo of twenty-five envelopes containing US$40,000 each. According to the charge, Bin Hammam brought them to the Port of Spain Hyatt Regency in on the 10th of May past, where Warner doled out the envelopes amongst the CFU federations. Uncle Jack was playing both sides. On the third of May in Miami, according to his own self-incriminating declaration, he was happy for Blatter to promise a million dollars, in addition to computers and projectors, to the CONCACAF and UFC associations. Seven days later there came a million from Bin Hammam. Uncle Jack was squealed on by the American Chuck Blazer, secretary-general of CONCACAF, his right hand man for the last twenty years. The fat man in suspenders with an enormous white beard like Santa Claus, was also looking to kill two birds with one stone: Warner and the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar won at the expense of the United States.

Blazer had long been in thrall to Uncle Jack’s tricks. In 2002, when Blatter looked in danger of losing his throne, Warner lied to his courtiers telling them that he had resisted stern pressure from the challenging candidate, Issa Hayatou, from Cameroon. “Hayatou,” Warner dramatically entoned to his followers, “told me that black voters should go for one of their own, but I let him know we were independent.” Blazer told this anecdote to his former employee Mel Brennan, whom he impressed by chauffering him round Manhattan in a black limousine, including a visit to the strip club Scores, before picking up the tab with a jet black CONCACAF American Express credit card. But now Blazer has decided to distance himself from Uncle Jack. Lawyer John Collins, another former ally of Warner’s, furnished the dossier with photos and other documents confirming Bin Hammam’s brazen bribery in Port of Spain. The charges were extended to include Jérome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA. Blazer and Valcke go way back. The American judge Loretta Preska rebuked them both in the harshest terms in a notorious case that MasterCard won against FIFA in 2006. Blatter kept them close. And together again this week, they took down Warner and Bin Hammam. The Ethics Committee was ruthless, suspending both of them and denying them the right to appeal. Enough to get them both out of the way for today’s procession.

So, Warner followed through on his threat of a ‘football tsunami’: that Blatter had given a million dollars to CONCACAF, that Valcke had sent him an email saying that Qatar had ‘bought’ the rights to hold the 2022 World Cup and that four members of the Executive Committee (one of whom was Grondona) had each received five million dollars each to vote for Qatar. All of them deny the accusations, of course. Grondona, who from Zürich yesterday confirmed his own re-election, which will take him to 36 years at the helm of the AFA, said that he would never have voted for the USA bid as it would have been “like voting for England”. In the last year, at least half of FIFA’s Executive Committee have been accused of something or other. Blatter paved the way for the scandal when, conscious perhaps of the money changing hands, he decided to up the stakes and hold the votes for the host nations for the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 on the same day. Former chairman of the English FA, David Triesman, accused four members of the Executive Committee of demanding money and/or special favours in return for their vote for England to host the 2018 tournament, which was eventually awarded to Russia. Yesterday the FA withdrew the charges. The report, nonetheless, exposes the desperate attempts by the Paraguayan Nicolás Leoz, to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth, be given a knighthood, or at least to have the FA Cup named after him. It’s understandable really: Blatter’s webpage lists 62 honorary titles, from a knighthood from the Sultanate of Pahang to the Golden Key of Johannesburg. Triesman also told how he thanked Ricardo Teixeira (president of the Brazilian football association and head of the Brazil 2014 World Cup organising committee) for Lula’s support for the English bid. “Lula’s nothing. The question is what’s in it for me,” Teixeira is said to have responded, according to page 12 of FIFA’s own report.

“So, what, are we supposed to presume that the ‘incorruptible’ Michel Platini was bribed, too? He also voted for Qatar 2022,” argues a South American source. President of UEFA, three times winner of the Ballon d’or, Platini did of course also vote in favour of a World Cup that will be played under temperatures of 50°C. And didn’t the bid also receive the backing of noted figures of football such as Josep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson and Zinedine Zidane? The English FA asked yesterday for the vote to be postponed. Only one of FIFA’s 208 associations backed the move: Scotland. The English press is leading the outcry. They cannot believe that the coverage of newspapers such as la Gazzeta dello Sport and L’Équpe consisted of no more than a couple of lines on an inside page.

It was a strange day in Zürich. In the morning, about a hundred journalists awaited a press conference with a supposed informant, who never materialised. In the afternoon, former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger got the FIFA Congress under way in the Hallestadion, before 1,200 guests. The first act was the 21 year old Czech juggler, Alan Sulc. But the main event featured an even more adept juggler, Sepp. Then Swiss musician Nicolas Senn played a complex-looking string instrument. The Mayor of Zürich, Corinne Mauch, hailed dearly-held FIFA ‘values’ such as ‘discipline, solidarity, and social responsibility’. And Grace Jones closed out the show singing La Vie en rose.

The scandals engulfing FIFA are, according to many experts, similar to those that in 2002 forced the IOC to clean up its act. The changes were demanded by the organisation’s sponsors, worried about negative publicity. Then again, the IOC clean-up was more ethnic than ethical: there was evidence impugning almost every country, yet action was only taken on those implicating members of Third World countries.

Andrew Jennings, the journalist whose investigations brought the FIFA scandals to light at least five years earlier than they otherwise might have been, believes that Blatter has been sufficiently damaged that he will not remain in power until 2015, when this new term ends. If in today’s elections he receives less than 160 of the 205 votes, it will be a farce. Jennings believes Blatter will look to Teixeira, not Platini, to take over at FIFA. Blatter took the French crack under his wing at FIFA but he has since increased his own power base and, increasingly, has found his own voice. In the restaurant of the five-star Michelangelo Towers, in Johannesburg, I found myself in the middle of a conversation and translated into Italian to make things somewhat more intelligible for Platini. Grondona, you see, was speaking to him in porteño [Buenos Aires patois]. Platini was the one who had to understand him. Just metres away, Blatter looked like Mick Jagger, signing autographs and posing for gawkers.

Tomorrow FIFA, which employs 387 people in its hundred million dollar bunker in Zürich, and is exempt from tax and anticorruption laws, will approve a budget which contains almost US$1,300m in cash reserves. The 2014 World Cup, O Estado reported on Monday, will leave FIFA a cool US$200m better off. Brazil, on the other hand, according to the same report, will spend some US$14,000m, a figure it will be paying off until the year 2030. Last weekend, Blatter stopped off in South Africa, whose 2010 World Cup, another smart bit of business by FIFA, left the country with a billion dollar hole in its budget. Blatter was looking for votes for his re-election campaign and headed up a conference titled ‘The Legacy of the 2010 World Cup for Africa’. In the press conference afterwards, annoyed by a question, Blatter thumped furiously on a table saying: “I won’t abide anyone in this room saying FIFA is corrupt.”

April 2nd – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

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.

April 2nd

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.’

'We saw the English surrender'

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 [2010]. 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.