Make way for the bad guy – Hooligans Unite to Save the Children

“I’m a guy who’s been working for years and I thought it would be cool to come out against violence in football, and hey, why not give it a political angle i’m personally fond of. So I said ‘Right lads, why can’t you turn yourselves into social workers.’”

Even though death snatched many fine people from us, the events of the feis went on sturdily and steadily, we were ashamed to be considered not strongly in favor of Gaelic while the President’s eye was upon us. – Myles na gCopaleen

…al esfuerzo y al heroísmo de una revolución… ¡No los queremos! ¡No los necesitamos! – Fidel Castro

Pegamequemegusta is a parasite. We make no bones about it as most dogs’ personalities are about as hit and miss as a blind old woman trying to trap an ant with a rolling-pin. David Simon can say what he likes [mainly because he’s genius and we believe everything he says] but the world needs bodies that act in ‘a secondary or accessory capacity’: hence para-site. When the ma-in-law says we’re slime, we like to think she means we’re a kind of enzyme for gringos and English-speaking sudakas to break down the world of Argieball into a digestible paste, which you can crap out later at your leisure, of course. And so, dripping slow like peace or yellow matter custard over the last few months, like some kind of filthy anemone crawling now as it leaves the sea for the first time or perhaps just waking up after a long night of cheap Egyptian beer, cobbled together with the help of un-unionised elves, this story finally has legs.

Make way for the bad guy. There's a bad guy comin' through! Better get outta his way!

Snakes on a Plane

Shortly after six o’clock on Friday the 28th of May la Selección set off for South Africa on a South African Airways 340 Airbus. After all the chaos of qualification and the controversies surrounding Maradona’s call-ups for the squad, now the group had not only been formed but it was on its way. A new era of quiet preparation was under way. No friendlies to interrupt a series of training sessions which would see all competing for a place in the starting line-up and bonding under the inspirational gaze of Dios himself, plenty of time for fine-tuning the worrisome matter of playing as a team, team-playing and play-teaming, so crucial to any chance of success, as has been expressed by Messi, Tevez, Verón, Mascherano in recent days, among others.

Yet there were snakes on the plane. Once the fasten seatbelts light went off, a small group of barras/hooligans had soon ventured up to first class, drawn back the curtain and began pestering Palermo and Clemente for pictures  and so forth. Whiskey was also on their list of demands. Nothing violent or awful, really, apart from the inevitable coarseness of such fellows, but it was certainly out of place. Twenty-two barras were onboard along with the squad, the management team, the youth team and other club directors. La Selección‘s unoffical cheerleaders (Bilardo, for one, has long-term connections to several of them, including being godfather to one of their children), it was they, for example, who were responsible for the firecracker that exploded in Palermo’s face in the farce in Cutral-Có, proof if ever it was needed that even when these idiots are trying to be nice they still manage to cause a ruckus.

The man widely acknowledged as the leader of the contingent sharing the plane with the team is Ariel “Gusano [The Worm]” Pugliese. One time leader of the Nueva Chicago barra brava, he lost his position when he was banned from attending matches owing to suspicions that he had been involved in the murder of a Tigre fan in the first division playoff in 2007. Not to be put off, these events seem to have served as a springboard to questionable roles in seemingly respectable institutions such as  Messi’s bodyguard and go-to man for the Indec (National Statistics and Census Agency). The most riotous thing pegamequemegusta ever thought had happened in a statistics office being when Steve carried the one and Mary realised life was awful, we wondered why they would need thugs. Answers were not short in coming, however, as we learned that, among other stunts, the Worm was responsible for this little set-to last month when someone had the gall to present a book at the Buenos Aires book fair accusing the Indec of manipulating data to suit their own agenda (which is true but officially recognising the real rate of inflation would have ghastly  consequences for an already limping economy). A merry band of thugs duly made its way to the presentation of the study. Charming folk, we’re sure you’ll agree, and exactly the kind of people you’d love to have ambling about not only in the corridors of power but also on supposedly secure flights:

Don Julio vs Paladino

For his part, Grondona denied in an interview with Olé‘s Marcelo Sottile last Sunday that the AFA had anything to do with the barras presence on the flight: “If they make it to the matches it’ll be on their own account. Not because the AFA gave them the tickets. Even if they wanted to pay for them I won’t hand them over.” Don Julio assured his reporter that he will arrive on Friday and ask Bilardo, Maradona & Co. if they had anything to do with it.

In the meantime, the hooligans have yet to be seen. The nature of their lodgings is not yet clear and a big green fence has been erected around the training ground, sealing off the squad from all manner of intruders. Sensible stuff. Though if any of them thereafter appear inside the fence…

Grand. Twenty-two assholes on a plane. Big deal. It’s not the first or last time it has happened. But in a cash-strapped country it’s a wonder where these lads got about $2000 to pay for the flights alone. Pablo Paladino, the head of the government agency that controls sporting events in Argentina has no doubts but that “Someone involved in football is financing all of this.” Olé laconically points out that there should be no problem with finding out who bought the tickets, but hasn’t done so itself! Grondona finished lamenting the oft-lamented stupidity of the barras: “If they were in the least bit smart they’d have gone on a different flight.”

Ah, don Julio, but now they can boast that they were on the plane with the team. Compared to the tens of thousands of hooligans involved in Argieball, the few hundred or so that go to each World Cup is one little hair in a horse’s arse. Yet precisely for that reason going becomes a matter of pride, of stature, of showing you can swindle people, extort money and exert influence. If you’re a barra, it’s a perfect opportunity to showcase what a nasty little prick you are so you can talk about it afterwards.

Paladino and the head of the Policía Federal, Néstor Valleca, have done their part to ensure the South African police know what’s coming: a list with the names of 500 barras with histories of violent crimes was presented in Zurich. Yet unless Argentina meet England in the semi-final, which is looking increasingly unlikely, there is not too much concern that the hooligans will go on the rampage in South Africa: in Germany 2006, for example, while there were some tense moments between them and the organisers mainly owing to the fact that the barras are used to having the run of a stadium, pegamequemegusta understands that there were no more problems with the Argentine fans than there were with any other group.

Nonethless, one wonders how they’ll get on together. Thankfully, besides the larger Boca and River contingents, there’ll be such a mix that it’s doubtful that any one club’s hinchada will be able to predominate. Yet there will be one group that will far outnumber the rest, a non-affiliated band of brothers which for sheer weight of numbers will demand a place in the centre of the stand, whether more established hooligans like it or not, the Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas.

Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas

Last Tuesday, in the midst of the nationalist fervour surrounding Argentina’s spectacular Bicentennial celebrations and the day after the Presidency had used the Selección as a means of rewarding its loyal activists (see: ‘On who’s boss’), pegamequemegusta gave the gringo contra quoting Jorge Valdano talking about football and nationalism: “Those of us who wore the jersey in those days didn’t go out out to redeem the frustrations of the pueblo but to defend the reputation of our country’s football. No less than that, but nothing more.” However, a hermetic seal is hard to maintain when idiots of this order are involved. As a somewhat holier-than-thou Grondona pointed out last Sunday in relation to any links between the management and the barras: “I warned them that they could come out of this quite badly.”

Yet just as the yanquis proved this week by appointing Henry Kissinger to their WC2018 committee, in Argentina the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity seems to be going strong. All this week barras from an NGO named Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas [HUA] have been arriving in South Africa. Yes, an NGO.

Marcelo Mallo, HUA, in South Africa

The barras this time come from a great number of clubs [32] both from the top two tiers of Argieball. Of course, many come from the notorious villas [pronounced vee-shas] that surround Buenos Aires and the idea is that they are ostensibly ‘social workers’ whose positive experiences in South Africa will be put into effect in their own neighbourhoods once they get back home; or if that doesn’t work, then at least they will constitute a kind of fifth column inside the oft-impenetrable villas, a kind of bridgehead that will allow greater access and improvement in living conditions there:

“I’m a guy who’s been working for years and I thought it would be cool to come out against violence in football, and hey, why not give it a political angle i’m personally fond of. So I said ‘Right lads, why can’t you turn yourselves into social workers.’”

Considered to be the brainchild of ‘born activist’ and Kirchner sympathiser, Marcelo Mallo, HUA is really a refloated version of the now defunct NGO Nuevo Horizonte, which sent 23 Independiente barras to the Copa América in Venezuela in 2007. If neither of these plans come to fruition, however, they’ll always be useful as point men and/or for ‘getting the vote out’, as that sinister phrase goes. Mallo admits: “There are votes in this. Let’s say we have problems in such and such an area. I can say, ‘Alright, boys, how many [votes] can you get us?'”

El Pinguino

Nestor 'el Pinguino' Kirchner

Mallo is frank when it comes to his political sympathies, and the brazenly political nature of the ‘NGO’ is not hidden in any way: on their flags and banners can be seen the letters KV and an image of a Penguin. Both refer to la Presidenta’s husband, Nestor Kirchner (KV means ‘Kirchner Vuelve’ [‘Kirchner will return’], a reference to graffiti from the 1970s concerning Perón’s exile; while his nickname is ‘el Pinguino’, due to a happy irony in his having been governor of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz for many years, his enormous nose and, of course, the Batman villain), the former President who stepped aside allowing his wife to win a landslide in the last election and who is widely believed to be victorious in next year’s poll. Effortlessly passing power between them every three years or so, a World Cup is as good a place as any for a bit of electioneering and a fine occasion to ensure there will be favours to call in once the elections come round next year.

So have the government just decided to fork out loads of dough to criminals, thugs and murderers to win a few votes? Despite insisting on his Kirchnerista credentials, Mallo denies that his NGO has anything to do with the government:

“We’re going to help them [hinchas of other clubs] travel but nothing comes from the government. I’ve got a political clinic and I haven’t charged/looked for money from anyone. If I wanted, tomorrow I could change it into a private company, call it company X, organise a coffee morning or a fundraising dinner.”

This is where politics come in: organisation, favours, siphoned funds. The excellent wordpress blog los Borrachos del Tablón claims about half the money comes from Mallo’s ‘coffee mornings’ (“for which read political financing in exchange for street muscle and government presentations” (which needs must be well attended and cheery). While the other half comes from “club directors, players, managers and agents from the clubs these fans operate in”.

Pegamequemegusta gets outraged

So far since their drip-dripping arrival there has been no trouble to speak of. Indeed, despite lurking around the closed gate to the Selección‘s training centre in Pretoria and claiming some of their luggage had been mixed up with the team’s (one bag was produced, with what inside? Money? Signed jerseys, banned flags? We don’t know) apparently there has been no contact between the squad and the hooligans. The green screens erected around the perimeter and the tight security has seen to that. Some people were even complaining that the press were only getting on their high horses as they were starved of details regarding the squad’s activities.

As we said at the beginning of this long piece, apart from being pretty much business as usual, this has been going on for many months now. Yet to come up with this kind of money you don’t hassle fans for a few coins for a biscuit tin for a week or two. You have to operate large-scale scams with absolute impunity for a long time. Indeed, many were issued passports and were allowed to leave the country despite being on probation. Add to that the royal chain-yanking that these extortionists, racketeers, hired hands, thugs and murderers are said to be learning to be social assistants just by sleeping in the classrooms of a primary school; that they’ll be the only hooligans in South Africa waving flags in favour of their country’s president’s spouse (unless some dirty Frenchman decides to paw a picture of Carla Bruni in Soccer City, pegamequemegusta supposes), an act so cringeworthy it’s genuinely craw-clogging. It’s an utter piss-take.

Whatever happens on the pitch in South Africa, whatever happens in the stands, whatever happens in next year’s elections, whatever about whether football teams defend their football, their national pride or the state when they play, the scale, impunity and shamelessness of such rotten corruption, of this joke, where violent thugs pose as sisters of mercy should, barely a fortnight after the  spectacular, morale-boosting Bicentennial celebrations, irrevocably taint this country’s reputation as a serious place.

Barcelona's über crude take on Maradona's speech in Uruguay/Pegamequemegusta's attack of outrage

Messi by Rexach

“Diego was more intuitive, pure inspiration, whereas Lionel – perhaps due to having been brought up on such a mechanical style of football – has learned to choose his moments. Lionel has a better understanding of when to put the finishing touch to a move.”

Carles Rexach

This interview with Barcelona legend Carles Rexach comes from Sunday’s Olé. Rexach, who was with the club for 44 years, had a glittering career and was central to Cruyff’s revolution there before going on to have a great influence on the generation of youth players currently stamping on the big greasy face of the football world.

The interview was conducted by the ever irascible Ignacio Fusco, who’s dogged, laconic style of journalism does so much to antagonise readers and interviewees alike. Happily, as with the Pipo Gorosito interview back in March, Rexach is too much of a gent to be ruffled by the jerk.

The girls’ got the same look on her face that Messi must have given her more than once: his mouth half open, flummoxed, the eternal gesture of someone who’s just arrived in another city, another world. The girl’s name is Cynthia, Cynthia Arellano, she was a classmate of Leo in primary school. The report is on the program Informe Robinson , on the Spanish Canal Plus. Cynthia speaks, smiling now, but still nonplussed: “Once I asked him, with all the people in the ground shouting, how it felt to play in front of 80,000 people, how he was able to do the things he does. I don’t know – he said – it’s not me who does it.”

Who is it, then? Who are you?

“Many times they’ve asked me how he does it, and I think the best answer is this: not even he knows. Seriously: not even him,” says a smiling Carles Rexach, the manager with whom Messi made his debut in Barcelona, in a chat with Olé. A player in the World Cup in 1978, league champion with Barcelona in ’73/’74 but no longer working with the club, Rexach gave Messi his first ten minutes, as a replacement for Deco, in a 1-0 victory over Espanyol on the 16th October 2004 [not true – it was Rijkaard]. “I remember that people were telling me back then ‘This kid isn’t all that special, man; he’s looks like a 5-a-side player (jugador de futbolín).’ And I said to them: “Alright, do me a favour: every player you find that you reckon is a like this guy, a 5-a-side player, bring them all to me.’ Messi’s special: even if you haven’t got the slightest clue about football, you get Messi. There are some players you have to know really well in order to sign them. With Messi, no: even the blind can tell you how good he is.”

  • So he’s a 5-a-side player…
  • In the youth team they said he used to dribble a lot. He hogs the ball, they used to say.
  • A glorier…
  • Yeah, of course, but that’s how he is; let’s hope he keeps on dribblin and dribblin away; all the better, I used to say, as in football there aren’t even that many really skilful players. Even when he’d just arrived in Barcelona. Lionel was a great player, he was – but only when he had the ball. In the last few years, and it was inevitable, he’s come round to the idea that football is a collective game. Messi used to play on his own, and look at him now: five moves in a row he only touches the ball once, then finally, all of a sudden, he does his own thing. And i’ll tell you something else: Barça could even be boring without Lionel.
  • Really?
  • Definitely. You see Barça play and they make it look easy, pam pam pam, but the breakthrough comes when Messi gets the ball. Without a guy like him, Barça mightn’t win as much. I’m not sure if i’m making myself clear: not even Maradona was as great an interpreter of the collective game as Messi is.
  • Could you explain that further?
  • Let’s see, let’s see [long silence]. Diego was more intuitive, pure inspiration, whereas Lionel – perhaps due to having been brought up on such a mechanical style of football – has learned to choose his moments. Lionel has a better understanding of when to put the finishing touch to a move.
  • Among the many reasons that prevents the Argentine public from taking to Messi is, I suspect, his perfection. Diego’s sins, Ronaldo’s ego, the humble background of a Tevez or an Adriano, they make the fans see the player as one of their own. While Leo is so quiet, so flawless.
  • Yeah, it’s true, but look at it this way: look at Puyol, he keeps his mouth shut. Take Valdés, the best Spanish goalkeeper and he doesn’t get called up, nothing. Xavi never opens his mouth either. The environment he’s in helps him maintain that tranquility. I have a great relationship with Messi and the most i’ve ever heard him say is “alright, yeah, no, okay and nah”. You’d do well to have anyone in your life like that. Besides, listen to this: neither Ronaldinho nor Ronaldo were able to take playing here so well and for so long. For that you need Leo’s calm.
  • Speaking of pressure: now it might seem irrelevant, but was it not a bit too much for a 16-year-old to take on the responsibility of supporting his family, and in another country?
  • Yeah, but the club strove for him to forget about that. They sought to find work for his father so the boy could forget about that pressure. You guys speak about his character, and Lionel suffered a great deal when his parents would go back to Argentina, when we still had to prove that his family worked here and that until that was sorted he couldn’t play, when the days were long and grey, when his teammates cried because they were alone and homesick… Look: I wouldn’t let my son go to Argentina at 13 years of age. It must be very difficult, but sure people just think about long-term success.
  • Why do people get so annoyed, then, when people say that Lionel is Catalan, Carles, if he grew up and got used to living over there? Isn’t it logical that he should feel a greater affinity with his adopted city?
  • Argentina’s problem with Messi is that he’s not anyone’s patrimony. At best, if he had come through the ranks of Boca, today there’d be lots of pro-Messi people, which of course, there aren’t. Having been formed over here, then, you consider him a foreigner. It’s ridiculous, but that’s how it is, and it may well affect him, his country, everyone. Messi does get nervous when he tries to imitate himself.
  • You lot mustn’t believe what you’re seeing when you watch Maradona’s team.
  • On the contrary to all those teams where they’d get the ball and it was a bloody chore to get it back off them, this Argentina team lives off its opponents’ scraps. And it’s strange, too, how few chances they create. All the less, football matches are decided in the box and Maradona has great players in both. Some people say Messi will only be a great player if he wins a World Cup, and it’s true that he’s still very young; he could even win two. And the day he wins the second, man, it will be a shame, as by then he’ll be 30 and he won’t have much time left. Let’s enjoy it: life is too short to speed it up any further.