Todo Por La Vuelta

On 2 December 1979, San Lorenzo played their last match at their stadium on Av. La Plata in the heart of Boedo. Known only by its popularized name “El Gasómetro”, the stadium had been built in 1916 on land bought by the founders of the club. Over the years, the massive wooden stadium, holding at its peak 75 000 people, hosted many of San Lorenzo's greatest moments and players – spectacular goals by club idol José Sanflippo, the undefeated 1968 “Matadores”. Forced to sell the stadium property during the military dictatorship, the club spent the following 14 years borrowing rival clubs' stadia. In 1993, San Lorenzo moved into its Nuevo Gasómetro, located in the close by barrio of Bajo Flores. The sentiment of the club's unjust dislodging from Boedo, however, has permanence within cuervos, San Lorenzo's hinchas. Tomorrow, March 8th, the Sub Comision del Hincha (SCH)– originally formed by a small committed group of hinchas and socios of the Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro (CASLA) – will bring an expected 100 000 people to Plaza de Mayo, asking the City of Buenos Aires for one thing: to return their club to the neighbourhood of Boedo.

The campaign began over a decade ago as a small project among friends; supported by the dedicated work of club historian Adolfo Res. Res has been central in uncovering and constructing the narrative of the vuelta. As the story is now told – I do not mean to say 'ficticious' story – is that the City of Buenos Aires, under the control of the Brigadier Osvaldo Cacciatore of the military dictatorship, forced San Lorenzo to sell El Gasómetro for $900 000 with the excuse that the land was needed to connect the streets and improve circulation in the south of the city. As most football clubs, CASLA was legitimately in debt and was also told they would also lose access to city land in Bajo Flores where the club was planning on building a new sports complex if they did not accept. Four years later in 1983 not a single street had been extended; the land was sold to Carrefour – a French supermarket chain – for $8 million; an ironic 'cross roads'. Rumours have swirled about corruption and flows of money and questions about Carrefour's own role in the dirty business dealings.

By the late 1990s, hinchas of San Lorenzo began to talk about the possibility of regaining the club's presence in Boedo – particularly the property known as “Tierra Santa” where the Viejo Gasómetro once stood. Drawing upon the narratives of justice and historical memory that have combatted silence and immunity in post-dictatorship Argentina, the campaign found traction within the popular consciousness of the hinchada. In 2010, supported by legal volunteers, the SCH presented the “Ley de la Restitución Historica” (Law of Historical Restitution) in front of the legislature of the City of Buenos Aires; with the intention to return the 'stolen' property to CASLA.

Since 2007, popular mobilization has arisen as a necessary strategy to push the proposed law through the legislature. 20 000 participated in the second march on April 12 2011, then 40 000 went to the city legislature on July 5th 2011. Around 7000 got together in December to hand a letter to the French Ambassador. I was fortunate enough to participate in this march, which was unlike any other 'protest' I'd ever been to: the culture of the terraces was transferred into the streets of Buenos Aires' most exclusive neighbourhood. All for a letter! Read something like this (over course more formal): “France you have a company that has the land of our stadium, we would like it back. Please talk to them. Thank you very much, signed the hinchas of San Lorenzo”

Standing in the terraces of El Nuevo Gasómetro, you will undoubtedly be exposed to this narrative. Most songs written by the hinchada in the past few years includes at least one reference to “la vuelta”, “a volver”, or to Boedo. If you are from San Lorenzo, you are from Boedo, and your dream ('ilusión' in Spanish) is to return. The passion for the return to Boedo is undeniable, what amazes me is the people driving this campaign: those who are too young to have any memory of El Viejo Gasómetro or San Lorenzo in Boedo.

In many ways the ideology of San Lorenzo is deeply embedded within the constructed social-cultural memory of “El Gasómetro”. This memory is made, reinforced, and defined by the generation of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and all those who make up the previous generations of cuervos. For the previous generations, the Viejo Gasómetro was a place where they learned from their father how to curse at the referee, played football under the stands, spent summer afternoons in the pool, and went on their first date.

I asked an older cuervo, “Why does the Gasómetro have such a sentimental value?” He told me, “If I closed my eyes, I could tell you exactly how it was.” Of course I asked, “How was it?” He began to describe, starting with all the club facilities beyond the actual stadium, the layout, playing football under the stands, and meeting the players such as 'El Sapo' Villar, before even mentioning watching matches from the stands with his friends. Very typical of the generation now occupying Boedo's cafes. Eventually most descriptions from those of earlier generations reaches the conclusion: My life was in the Gasómetro, every minute outside of school and home was at the club, I grew up in the Gasómetro.

Those in the 'new' generation grew up not in the Gasómetro, but hearing these stories; as most hinchas are hinchas because someone older in their family is an hincha. What is more interesting is that the 'life' of the social club that is told by the older generation figures heavily in the justification of the new generation's desire to 'return'. Returning to Boedo, in this regard, is like a time-machine. Anyone who has seen the film “La Luna de Avellaneda”, about the loss of the sports club culture in 1990s Argentina, will likely have some skeptical reservations about such nostalgia. But it is undeniable that the hincha desires San Lorenzo to have a significance more than being a football team – and they have latched onto the memory of previous generations to describe a social-cultural sports club.

Today, talking to a cuervo, this dichotomy figured heavily in his reasoning why he supported the vuelta: some see San Lorenzo as its professional team, and he wanted San Lorenzo to be his club that also had a professional football team. What is pulled through this single campaign, I believe, is the same struggle that many supporters face around the world – how to define one's passion as something 'more' than the 'business' that surrounds the professional game. For the Cuervos of San Lorenzo, the “vuelta” is both a physical and metaphoric. Regardless of individual opinions on the political possibility of regaining the property from Carrefour the marches have become the physical manifestation of the ideology of San Lorenzo: “mas que una pasión”.

For these reasons and more, thousands – maybe even 100 000 – hinchas of San Lorenzo and sympathizers will take over the Plaza de Mayo on March 8th 2012.

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