the true meaning of an hincha's hope
Sitting at a late-night cafe with cuervo friends, the topic of conversation has once again returned to the importance of hope and possibilities. “What more can you do? It's better to be hopeful and positive. I'd rather go to the stadium expecting the best. It's my opinion – what do I know?” states a friend. San Lorenzo has one game left to save itself. It is hard not to hear the resignation in their voices despite all efforts to find the positives. Reality, the poetic enemy of hope, for San Lorenzo is stark with their fate is only partially within their control.
An online survey by the popular mundoazulgrana.com.ar website over the past few days reveals the lack of optimism resignation of many cuervos. Most believe that San Lorenzo after this Sunday will be in one of two direct relegation spots and no possibility of salvation.
Expectations for the performance of the team have sharply dropped over the past two weeks. After an expected but demoralizing 3-1 defeat to Tigre in Victorino – the names ominous enough even before considering Tigre is currently sitting first while also carrying favour with the politicos of AFA – San Lorenzo's still was in control. Two victories in the last games would have guaranteed a fighting chance to stay in the Primera possibly even salvation. Unfortunately, the reality is San Lorenzo hasn't won two straight matches in over a year.
Last Sunday the group met under low and looming grey clouds. In Buenos Aires it is not the temperature of winter, it is the damp humidity that invades through your clothing which makes you feel cold. Little did we know, the miserable light drizzle would turn out to be a perfect fit for the 'spectacle' we were about to see. Independiente de Avellaneda vs. San Lorenzo de Almagro is supposed to one of the 'clasicos' of Argentine football. The 0-0 tie was probably the worst match I've seen this year by both teams. Standing at the top of Independiente's partially completed and ironically grafittied “¿estadio europeo?” I felt already emotionally prepared for what was to come. As we prepared for the match, the supporters seemed more concerned by the poorly placed San Lorenzo banners that blocked the view of the goal far below. And to hurled insults of “you are in the B” by Independiente, a friend responded in a moment of brain-to-mouth: “you'll join us next year!” before another friend chided him with a sardonic laugh “hey, hey, be careful what you say!”
There is not too much to say about the match itself, though a last-minute goal-line clearance after a comedy of errors by San Lorenzo may turn out to be a perfect metaphor and important moment in this year's tournament – if they stay in the Primera. As the referee blew the final whistle for the first time this year the majority of San Lorenzo's supporters headed directly to the exit without applauding the players. Mid-game as the hinchada tried to sing through the lines “todo juntos podemos, nosotros alentamos, ustedes pongan huevos” felt more like an angered plea falling on deaf ears. Sports commentaries function through simple metaphors: but It is easier to watch the team 'go down fighting' then to see resignation.
One of the most important expectations of an hincha is that their players “show their feelings for the colours” - losing comes after the indignity of watching and supporting a team going through the motions without playing with emotions. The driver of our group had threatened to not enter the stadium, earlier in the week explaining “After the Newell's game, where the players did nothing, it was the hinchada singing that basically won the match... like the song 'all together, we support and you play with guts' [my translation]... and everyone in the stadium was crying but most of the players don't feel this way. It just make me feel angry.” He nearly missed the game, dropping us off two hours before the match to avoid the murder of cuervos expected to be waiting outside of the stadium looking for extra tickets. He had given his ticket to a friend and our group entered without him. Only to see him again one hour later – how he got another ticket I'm not sure – climbing up the now half-full terraces. “Where else could I watch the game?” he said after I asked him.
It is not a cliche that such difficult moments create problems for the hearts of sports fanatics. Another friend three weeks ago spent several days in the hospital to have his arteries cleaned and missed the last two visiting matches. He'll be returning to the Nuevo Gasómetro this Sunday afternoon: “It would be worse for my heart if I was at home watching the game alone; I'd rather be with friends if they lose.” Which is not to say there is resignation to lose but the debates about possibilities and realities are beside the 'real' point.
And I think that is the feeling underlining the 'hope' for San Lorenzo fans: the need be with the club and all that it represents. There will be time later to fight over the politics of poor performances. In the past two days the ticket sales for the final match of the tournament have exploded. Yesterday there was a line-up five blocks long in the city centre office, two blocks at another location, to buy tickets. I imagine many fathers, uncles and older relatives who don't normally go to the cancha anymore will be holding those tickets, standing beside the family and friends that share their passion for their club. Hundreds, if not more, will wake early Sunday before the match to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Luján asking for a favour or some luck.
San Lorenzo de Almagro the club is transcending San Lorenzo the team. Hinchas are pleading among themselves through social media that difficult times need not lead to violence; to be different from the riots that followed River Plate's relegation last year.
"This Sunday, whatever happens, do not forget San Lorenzo de Almagro. The club is of the people of San Lorenzo, not the players nor the leaders; it is ours. Beyond the anger and sadness, together we will not hurt the club. Honour the San Lorenzo that we Cuervos deserve because no one else will. We remind ourselves what we think of those who destroy their own clubs. Be the example we always are. We are San Lorenzo; do not forget it"
Whatever happens on the pitch is bound to bring strong emotions for the tens thousands of Cuervos in the stadium (and many more watching on television) – elation at one more breath or great sadness – but all in the hope to share the experience with people who will understand 'what it feels like'.