Football for Argentinians is about passion and suffering. Hardcore fans, known locally as ‘hinchas’, dedicate their lives to their teams and no one suffers more than the hinchas of lower division clubs. Rarely will they experience the success of lifting a trophy or the glory of defeating a dominant ‘large team’. Yet to say they are any less passionate than hinchas of the topflight clubs would be stupid.
In the lower divisions small fields are surrounded by terraces built out of concrete slabs and wood. Razor wire and chain link fences struggle to keep hinchas and players separated. These are the homes of some of Argentina’s most devotedly followed clubs, if not always in the greatest numbers. Often located in the heart of the neighbourhoods that the GPS labels as “dangerous neighbourhoods”, hinchas of these clubs can have notorious reputations.
After more attending more than 50 matches in Argentina’s first division in little over a year between 2011 and 2012, I finally ventured into a stadium of the violently competitive Primera C fourth division. I was invited to attend a match of Deportivo Laferrere, known by many simply as Lafe, against San Miguel. Lafe was chasing the title and more than 7000 hinchas showed up. I was standing on the terraces behind the goal underneath the streaming white and green banners in the club’s colours. Beside me the band of more than a dozen drums plus trumpets and trombones belted out the rhythm to which the supporters frenetically sang.
Terraces in Argentina are the ‘heart and soul’ of the supporters sections. They are often located behind the goal. Standing is always required. Large banners disrupt the already precarious view of the field. Nevertheless the cheap and easy access to the terraces ensure they are always the most populated parts of the stadium. Along with the band, singing hinchas on the terraces ensure the stadium is filled for 90 minutes with song. There is generally one rule for the terraces: support the home team, win or lose.
The number of hinchas was even more impressive for a fourth division team given that two week previously a member of the team’s barra brava—the Argentinian equivalent of notorious hooligan firms—was gunned down by a rival faction. Rumours of continued violence, including the possibility of a retaliation, added to the intensity. Barra bravas derive a part of their authority from their control of the terraces, which includes providing security to the band. The “capo”–leader– of the barra brava, while outside the stadium runs the group like a territorial mafia, is responsible for organizing match days and song selection, while making decisions about security on the terraces. Deportivo Laferrere is followed by a barra brava known as La Eterna Banda Villera—The Eternal Band of the Ghetto.
Lafe takes its name from the municipal division of Gregorio de Laferrere, part of the sprawling working-class Buenos Aires suburb of La Matanza. Almirante Brown, the historic rivals of Lafe, come from just a few kilometres to the northeast in the same city. Separated by two divisions, these clubs have not recently met, yet violent confrontations between the barra bravas are common. On the evening a young member of the Villeros stood up on the metal anti-avalanch bar showing off the yellow and black jersey of his rivals, most likely stolen during a fight.
Despite so much attention to the barra bravas, however, I notice how many of the people are young guys and girls who have come to support their local team. Drawing the line between passionate hincha and violent barra brava in Argentina can be complicated. Most people, as in any stadium in the world, come to celebrate their teams small successes and suffer through another demoralizing defeat; living out their day-to-day struggles through their support for their team that they share with friends and family. Violence in the Argentinian stadium is just another extension of the violence they encounter everyday. Violence inside and outside of the stadiums is often out of their control and, while associated to, often disconnected from their passionate support.
Hinchas of Laferrere celebrated that day on the terraces, a four-one victory over San Miguel. It made for an even more sensuous celebration on the terraces. Deafening roars of “GOL!” accompanied by the undulating crowd. The concrete bending under the weight of each bounce. Singing and chanting is the most common expression of an Argentinian hincha. Hinchas take pride in the creativity and expressive passion. Loud singing and clever lyrics in insulting opponents, singing the praise of their team, or describing their band is important. On this match day, the passion of the hincha of Lafe was on full display through the performance of song. Each goal was met with a collapse of people, strangers and friends alike, in full embraces. In a few shorts seconds, songs were picked up once again but several decibels louder. Here is the La Banda Eterna Villera on another match day:
Songs of the Argentinian terraces appear complex by English standards. Written over popular melodies and often with familiar phrases, hinchas have repertoires of dozens of songs. The hypnotic rhythm and engaging melody quickly pulls people in and the crowd sings along. For example take this song of Lafe:
Lyrics describe both their devotion to their club and what is symbolic of the hincha of Lafe, their life and what makes their support more ‘true’ than any other club. Sexual domination of the hinchas clubs and making the police run suggests the Supporting Lafe during the bad times and never leaving the club suggest the endurance needed to overcome daily struggles and their battles against other teams. Being a passionate hincha requires suffering and losing control from time to time, fighting and never running away.
Argentina’s terraces are amongst the most dramatic and passionate. They are notorious internationally for the violence that is linked to the barra bravas of the clubs. Alongside the violence, some of footballs most creative supporters belt out songs with complex lyrics and melodies. This mix of the best and worst of football combines every match on the terraces of Deportivo Laferrere; it is infectious and frightening. Yet it only makes sense because of where it is happening. Football is always political and social, reflecting the world inside and outside of the stadium. Football belongs to the lives of the supporters who cheer every goal and suffer every defeat.
Written by: Matt Hawkins