San Lorenzo es un equipo de sufrimiento

It is uncommon in Buenos Aires to encounter a taxi driver who does not associate with Boca or River. Not impossible: I've met taxi drivers from Racing, Independiente and even a handful from San Lorenzo; but uncommon. A taxi driver outside of the 'big five' is very rare. Taxi drivers are, at least in their football teams, representative of Argentine society.

In my first months in Buenos Aires, taxi drivers easily identified that I was not from the country (I can now give my address with a sufficient accent that their interest is not piqued). Conservation invariably reached the question: “what are you doing here?” and to football. Given the composition of taxi-drivers, I did not receive too much sympathy for my team choice. More, however, than an Argentine would.

Descriptive labelling is integral to Argentine conversation. Person's names are often replaced by ambivolent physical descriptions: “¡ey flaco!” “¿que tal gordo?” “bien bien, ¿y vos negro?” (Suaréz wasn't making up his defence from nothing, 'negro' is often used). Foreign players, and foreign immigrants, are often called by their nationality. Examples of San Lorenoz players: Ortigoza is called “el Paraguayo” and Salguiero is “el Uruguayo”. It is not always positive but unlike such labelling in North America it is also not always negative.

Hinchadas of football teams are also reduced to several descriptive labels. The most common and one of the most insulting is to say 'pecho frio' – literally cold chest, but I think cold heart is a more accurate translation. Vélez Sarsfield is the classic example – if they are losing “la gente” (people) don't go. At least that is how non-Vélez supporters see it. It may be jealousy, as Vélez has been consistently good since the 1990s. Nevertheless, for most hinchas what is worse than having a losing team is to have an hinchada that does not show its support through the 'buenas y en las malas mucho más' (in the good and in the bad, even more).

Two teams that don't consistently earn the label of 'pecho frio' from Buenos Aires taxi drivers are Racing Club de Avellaneda and San Lorenzo de Almagro – first because both are large enough to general topics of discussion. Instead most will agree they are clubs 'de sufrimiento' – of suffering – spoken with the tone of grave sincerity but approving nod of the head. In a twisted world, suffering is seen as an undesirable but admirable trait. In footballing terms, it means that people show up in the stadium to see their team lose.

And San Lorenzo is living up to its label this year. Last weekend I travelled to Rafaela, Santa Fe with buses organized by supporters – it is a seven hour trip of singing and drinking, on the way up at least. Around 600 people made the journey is a similar fashion (most from Buenos Aires and around, but others came from La Plata, Cordoba, Santa Fe, and other cities). We arrived early to pass the midday in a park. 600 cuervos eating choripan, relaxing in the autumn sun, sporadically groups launching into another song. While I heard people mention that they were nervous and anxious about the game, most came with an enduring hope that their collective presence would help lift their team.
It wasn't going to be a good result, despite pulling thousands (including many locals and people who found their own way) to Rafaela, their support was not enough to pull San Lorenzo back into the match that they briefly were leading. The 2-1 loss to Rafaela is a disaster in terms of San Lorenzo's position in the decenso; the team is within a hair (or another Tigre victory to be precise) of the direct decenso. No opportunity for redemption at the end of the season if the ciclón's fall continues.

The flow of the match has a big impact on how supporters react. I'm finding that an hinchada is willing to sing in matches that are a complete disaster (Lanús) but are disillusioned and likely to fall silent if their moment of hope is snatched away. San Lorenzo supporters walked out of Rafaela without singing, without applauding or even swearing at their players. “Why are you clapping, they don't deserve anything” someone said. Silence from thousands of people is one of the most imposing sounds.

How much suffering can people take, however, before they reach their limits? There are 12 matches to be played, the next one against the pecho frios of Vélez – still standing near the top of the table – behind closed gates. The incidents from two weekends ago led AFA to suspend local supporters. San Lorenzo supporters have a lot of potential suffering to endure – given how this team is playing and the troubles going on behind the scenes. They are not going to get any breaks; in Rafaela there was again more controversy with penalties not called in San Lorenzo's favour.

But as the bostero or gallina taxi drivers will admit, to a foreigner at least, there is an Argentine dignity to enduring suffering. I think to suffer means you do not have a cold heart, even more literally: not dead. With suffering there is passion and life, thus optimism that at the very least tomorrow and “siempre te voy a acompañar” - I will always be with you.

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