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.
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.
The barras this time come from a great number of clubs  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?'”
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.