Is the Carnaval over?

Carnaval 2012 is wrapping-up in Buenos Aires, the corso on Av. Boedo was opened for the last time last Saturday night, the barrio's three murgas - La Gloriosa, Los Cometas, and Los Chiflados – all came to celebrate, and San Lorenzo de Almagro lost at home 0-2 to Boca Juniors. After slight improvements in the last two matches, the result of the 'clasico' prevented what would have been the perfect celebration in the 'barrio de murgas y carnaval.'

Realistically, San Lorenzo entered the match as the odds-favourite to lose. 14th in the 2011 Apertura and failing to bring in any significant reinforcements over the summer, El Ciclón needed to rely on a gritty performance to put an end to Boca's unbeaten streak in Argentine league play, going back to last year's clausura. Christian Chavez, returning from Napoli, and “Good Charly” (Carlos Bueno) were the big hopes for a San Lorenzo victory; history giving the Saints a helping hand. San Lorenzo is known as the father of Boca Juniors because, more than any other team, San Lorenzo has won some important matches against Boca.

A sold-out crowd descended upon el Nuevo Gasómetro in the hope of seeing 'papa' beat Boca. Sunday was a another hot and sunny summer day, temperatures must have been well over 30 degrees. I arrived with a friend at the stadium by foot nearly two hours before the 5pm kick-off time. A huge line-up already extended hundreds of metres from the entrance to the local tribunas behind the goal. Luckily we avoided waiting outside for too long, as for this match I had bought tickets to the Platea Sur so my friend could watch the game with me. Non-socio populares had sold out in less than a day and many people waited throughout the week at the San Lorenzo sedes to pay their quotas to gain access to the stadium.

Being two-hours early has its benefits: you get into the stadium easily and have a decent choice of seats (though thousands had already turned up before us). It also has its downsides, which on a hot sunny day has to include being roasted. Needless to say my tan will be darker in a few days.

We sat beside a contingent of ten fanatics who travelled four hours from Gualeguay, Entrerios to see the match. Most likely not the furthest group to have travelled that day. The 'leader' of the group was a man in his 50s, who had brought with him his original player jersey and flag from the '95 San Lorenzo champion team. For supporters like him, they rarely are able to make it to local matches. Together he, his family and friends paid each 160 pesos to rent a large van and then 120 pesos for the tickets, a significant amount of money (consider a socio in the populares pays around 90 pesos, or about CAN$25, each month to see two to three local matches). In the provinces people keep in contact with their clubs through branch athletics clubs and local peñas – organized supporters groups.

30 minutes before the match the majority of the stadium was near capacity – later I heard that the doors had been opened to the south Platea because the tribuna had been filled – and the visiting Boca supporters had begun to really stream in. I'd seen the internationally infamous “La 12” live in Mendoza for the summer 'Super Clasico' against River Plate. I was much closer on this day and in many ways this match was much more important; before the arrival of 'la banda' of La 12, most of Bocas hinchas had found seats furthest away in the top corners of the visitante populares, leaving an gaping space in the centre. Boca supporters were content to antagonize with chants of “San lore, San lore, San lore en la B”.

The entrance of the banda is always an important moment, and La 12 provided a show with their blue and yellow ('gold') flags, trumpets, trombones, and drums. But their ability to draw attention was cut short; I've become biased, but for me la banda of “La Gloriosa Butteler” always manages to explode the stadium. Old torn up newspaper glittered in the afternoon sun and 35 000+ bodies forgot about Boca and had their own fiesta to the song that has become the anthem of San Lorenzo for this torneo:

Despite the daunting odds and apprehensive tension, or more likely because of both, the hinchada of San Lorenzo managed to create an entrance worthy of a clasico. They also revealed their trophy: a San Martin flag stolen from Boca.

If only the players managed to create the same sort of drama as their supporters. There are a number of qualified and more attentive analyses of the match; the short version of the story from the stands is that San Lorenzo cannot win matches where it doesn't create chances for itself. Chavéz's return was either pre-mature or he is going to be less-than-useful for the rest of the season. Chavéz, while not alone, was singled out by fans before the end of the first half as one of the players not putting in a full performance. The worst thing you can be as a player in Argentina is lazy, distracted, or tired – Chavéz was one or all of the three; hopefully he is just not used to putting in a full 90 minutes after sitting on the bench all season in Napoli and is working hard to get to match fit. But I have my doubts.

Bueno, today paired with Salguiero, could not win a ball – hard to say if it is his fault or the dismal creativity from the midfield who, for the most part, prefer to lob the ball in the air. Ortigoza cannot be faulted for his spirited play and can make well placed passes but he is overweight. Running all-over the pitch, which despite his lack of speed he was willing to do, should not be expected from him. His creativity cannot be used when he is trying to get back into position after covering for his more athletic but less interested teammates. Half-time came with San Lorenzo carrying most of the possession but with the two serious goal chances going to Boca. Los “bosteros”, as Boca's supporters are labelled, could sense success coming their way and continued their pre-match antagonism, playing a funeral march that they had earlier played against River.

The second half was worse; San Lorenzo gave up goals on two defensive mistakes – though the second goal was conceded with the help of a foul that removed a defender from the play. Being a team fighting the ascenso and always needing to win, San Lorenzo will play the rest of the season open to counter attacks and cannot make basic mistakes, such as the give away in the defensive third that led to the first goal.

After the second goal, San Lorenzo supporters gave up on the match; this led to a small incident between supporters. Its not clear who started it, but plastic seats were thrown between the platea sur and visitante sections until reserve police arrived to push Boca supporters away from the corner. A few minutes later, a dozen rows in front of me, a small squabble within San Lorenzo supporters led to a group of people leaving the stadium. There was no fighting but people were upset; apparently the story is that someone had been taking pictures and movies of the Boca supporters. Just a reminder to any tourists who want to see a match in Argentina, you can secretly like the other team, but be smart about where you are and how you express yourself. If you are in a local section but don't want to support the local team wear neutral colours and act as a neutral and you will be fine.

Having become accustomed to the life of the populares, I was surprised by the lack of singing and standing in the plateas (though there were sections that were more engaged than others in the sur, probably because of the mass of 'populares' let in before the start of the match). In the face of defeat, its much easier to be near the banda, singing and jumping, than watching the deathly final minutes of a foregone match. Also there is a creeping feeling that those who are not singing are like the players who don't leave it all on the pitch... need to control such urges. An interesting problem about 'participant-observation' in such circumstances, do I participate as those immediately around me – la platea culture – or as the fanatic from the populares that is more infectious? Is it better to suffer four hours in the exhausting, overheated, and sweaty populares to be jumping around and singing than having the 'comfort' of a seat and the torture of dealing with defeat with only one's disgust and anguish? Only one thing is for sure: I'd have been equally sunburnt either way.

More than any other match, I felt that San Lorenzo's hinchada had been demoralized and deflated; there were moments when La 12 was clearly louder and dominated the soundscape of the stadium. I worried that the carnaval San Lorenzo had kept going despite, or because of, difficult times was coming to an end, to be replaced with cynicism of the 'consumerist' sports fan who goes to see a winning team.

Reality on this day hit supporters harder than before, maybe also with so many more hinchas in the stands who haven't been able to make it to previous matches, but by the end of the match the gloriosa began to pour over the stadium. In the final minutes of the match, unsuppressed by a flurry of red cards and the reality of defeat to Boca – or possibly forgetting it entirely – Carnaval was brought back to Boedo:

Pasaron 100 años | 100 Years have passed
que late este sentimiento | with this beating passion
quisieron privatizarte | They wanted to privatize you,
pero yo a vos no te vendo | But I wont sell.

nos siguen diciendo, que estamos de la cabeza | They keep saying that we are crazy.
nos bancamos el descenso | We withstood the 'descenco',
hicimos la cancha nueva | we built a new stadium.

yo quiero a la banda | I want a banda,
de fiesta y en pedo | of drinking and fiesta.
sabemo' que vamo' a volver a boedo | We know we'll return to Boedo.
a tanta locura no hay explicacion | The insanity has no explanation.
si yo de pendejo estoy junto a vos | Since I was young, I've been with you.

tanto sentimiento, tanto carnaval | So much emotion, so much carnival,
nos hizo gloriosa por la eternidad | we made the gloriosa to last for eternity.

This week, on March 8th the hinchada is going to make an even bigger carnaval in the heart of Buenos Aires with the “Marcha para la Vuelta” - march for the return. I'm going to try to get a post up before the march.

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