Day Ten, Monday, 29th June 2009.
Time for Paul, John and me to say farewell to Santiago and make our way to the airport for LAN flight number 445 at 14:10 to Buenos Aires. Anne and James were on a flight a couple of hours later. Only it didn't quite work out that way. Bleeding airports, it never does. Once there, the flight was delayed for a couple of hours until the captain turned up. So from the terminal we admired our last sight of the Andes before going for a couple beers, where the other semi final play off between Universidad Cattolica and Union Espanyol was on the goggle-box over the bar. It went to extra time and penalties and Cattolica won it as a drunk at the bar waved his arms around wildly at the phony spot kick melodrama on its tension-ridden way to a result. By which time the LAN captain had shown up over an hour late in one of those comic opera airline uniforms with gold braid around the cuffs, and then swaggered to the airplane like a middle aged Biggles badly in need of a haircut and a reality check. His persona reminded me of the kind of half-cut dope you find mouthing off in some pre-match pubs in England.
Sadly, I had an aisle seat next to the port wing escape door and so saw nothing except the spotless interior of a spanking Boeing 767-300. But this aesthetic and spatial chore was greatly relieved by the beautiful young Argentinean lady who sat next to me and who enjoyed light chat in a voice oozing honey and husk.......
A few hours later we touched down in dusk twilight at Ezeiza Ministro Pistrani International in Buenos Aires. More forms to fill in, more sniffer dogs - how DO braindead junkie knobheads think they can get anything in these days? - and then we were through to meet Marcelo Mazzacave (president), Gonzalo Uranga (vice president) and Fernando Iribe (trainer) from Everton La Plata, still waiting patiently despite the delay. A warm welcome and handshakes all round as we stood in what Tom Wolfe called "a bouquet of conversationalists," and waited for Anne and James to arrive. Then it was luggage and bodies piled into two cars for the road journey to La Plata.
I hadn't checked the geography at all. I assumed La Plata was a fairly close suburb of Buenos Aires. Instead it is a separate city which takes about an hour and a quarter to reach by autopista. On the way, BA street lighting levels weren't very intense so it was difficult to see much of the capital in the dark. Urban sprawl hurtled past as quickly as Boca Juniors Stadium. There was no time or vision to get a reliable impression. Lighting was the same in La Plata but we could see the city is laid out in a rigid grid pattern with occasional diagonal avenues that cause some interesting, nay exciting, car movement problems at intersections. Briefly we pondered how Juan's wild road geometry would survive transfer from Chilé to Argentina. But the general standard of driving was just as good, or better, than in the UK. Based on what we saw at that time you could forget all that crap about excitable Latin American driving on chaotic roads.
We checked in at the Hotel Del Sol to drop the luggage. Interestingly, our Everton hosts had changed the hotel when they found our booking was in an establishment known for its lax attitude to local girls. I never did get round to asking John if that was his intention when he made the original reservation.
Then we arrived at Club Everton La Plata, founded in 1905. As in Chilé, I didn't have a clue what to expect. This time, none of us did. So we weren't prepared for the circumstances we met. The club is actually the kind of members' community organisation most English fans dream of - when they can forget all the hyped-up, institutional claptrap of the Murdoch Sky TV-driven current administrative and economic structure of the English game with its new breed minority of crackpot fans and retired thugs. Meanwhile, Antonio Gramsci would be proud of Everton La Plata. It is a classic example of what can be done with communal good will, determined organisation and collective pride. It is intrinsic with Argentine "barrio" (district or area) culture, a bit like Italian campinalismo. This is not surprising given 19th century Italian immigrant influence in the country. It is more than just a football club, it is a members' community club with a membership of 1,000 paying $5 per month each. They have occupied their headquarters building for fifty years through hard work and little or no thought for self aggrandisement or, for example, shares scams. Of course this means it lives a hand-to-mouth economic existence, which also means everything looks a little tired and worn, but that evaporates in the face of enduring commitment from all age and gender groups. And the fact they know it is THEIR creation, that it is used every hour of every day and treasured with collective pride. The feel of the place is remarkable.........very similar, I imagine, to the Republican experience described by Orwell in "Homage to Catalonia."
We were met in the secretary's office by Professor Ricardo Santiago Katz who has written an official history of the club. He gave each of us a copy of his book. John got copies of two other Spanish language books the professor has authored on local history. Then we were introduced to other members and shown around the building. The facilities include a library, café, gym, restaurant, gymnasium hall, fronton Basque racquets court, roller skating hall and a multi-purpose room. They are the proud holders of two world championships in taekwondo and roller skating. The football team are an amateur team who play in the first Division La Plata League. Separate footy facilities include three pitches, one "baby football" pitch, changing rooms, a swimming pool and floodlights. The football facilities are managed by Salvador Barrios, who was brought to La Plata from Corrientes in the tropical northern jungle.
After the guided tour we were treated to a terrific barbeque of Argentina's famous meat and a formal reception, at which we were presented with an inscribed silver salver for our beloved EFC in England, and each of us given La Plata footy shirts. The barbeque was prepared by Diego and his good lady Janina who is expecting their daughter Valentina in a few months. Diego was curious about where power resides and how it is used at EFC, and also asked us for our opinions on the Falklands/Malvinas War. Mine is that it was a stupid, useless war that cost the lives of too many brave and innocent young men on both sides, that it should never have happened in the first place, could have been stopped before it got out of hand, and will be prevented from happening again only when the inevitable happens and the islands are returned to Argentina. Nobody got upset or angry and the conversation was conducted with complete courtesy and understanding on both sides. We explained too the power of major shareholdings at Everton and throughout the English professional game.
Then to the hotel.
Day Eleven, Tuesday, 30th June 2009.
We decided on a morning stroll to the Club Gymnasia Y Esgrima and a look at what was left of the former Estudiantes stadium in demolition. The previous week Estudiantes had defeated Independiente of Uruguay 1-0 in the first leg of the Copa de Libertadores and were due to play the second leg away next Thursday. It promised to be "interesting" because it seems a visiting fan had been shot dead during the game and his body dumped in the moat surrounding the pitch. Now that's what I call bias.
We set off with a tourist map provided by the hotel concierge. During the stroll we discovered just how easy the street grid/avenue layout diagonal system made navigation around the city. (Have a look on Goggle Earth). Apparently it was designed by an engineer, Pedro Bennoit, who also had a hand in design of the structural system for the catedral. If you like the "block" system of city planning, you'll like La Plata. Every street and avenue is planted with trees. Unfortunately, as they have matured the roots have of course expanded and caused the pavements to heave around them. Which means you are likely to go arse over tit if you don't keep your eye out. One wonders what the damage is to below ground drainage systems.
On the way we had a look at the only example in South America of a Le Corbusier house, the Casa Curuchet. It has his trade mark neurotic ramp inside and looks by now like a mélange of Bauhaus, art deco and deconstructovist architecture. It's wonderful what you can get away with when you are considered a design genius.
We had a coffee in a café in the park before moving on to Club Gymnasia, another remarkable creation. They are a first division club with an average attendance of 20,000, but once again so much more. The stadium itself is about as minimal as you can get; the main stand, such as it is, is largely faded, sort-of Art Deco with open bleachers on the other sides. Behind the goals areas are "protected" by high mesh fences topped with barbed wire, the sort of thing that makes you wonder if the game is worth it. But the other aged facilities include a swimming pool, clay tennis courts, pergola area and picnic zone - all of them used throughout the week by club members. Despite this, it still needs expensive modernisation to bring it up to scratch. It will deteriorate badly if it isn't. Nevertheless, the club survives and flourishes in uncertain football times.
In the afternoon and evening I was caught by a stomach bug and sadly missed the visit to Estudiantes' new municipal stadium, Estadio De La Plata, and Everton La Plata football facilities conducted by Marcello. Later, our team took our Argentine comrades to dinner at a local restaurant while I dehydrated in the hotel room and Diego wondered if it was his barbeque that caused the problem. It wasn't, it was just circumstances.
Day Twelve, Wednesday, 1st July 2009.
Next day I was restored to the land of the living and joined a visit to Catedral De La Inmaculada Concepción in Plaza Mariano Moreno. It is an utterly bewildering mix of architectural styles that defies any attempt to categorise it. It's all there - neogothic, neoclassical, and gawd knows what else. But it's still a quite arresting sight. One of the two spires includes a lift that takes you to a splendid view of La Plata and a display of aerial pollution to match anything pumped out in London or Los Angeles, or Buenos Aires for that matter.
Back at the hotel we had a short debate at how we got to Buenos Aires after we checked out. No contest, it was a two-taxi job. As compensation we were able to see in the bright sunlight of a daylight journey what we missed during the night journey between the two cities. It wasn't much, just flat landscape with tomorrow's meat grazing in herds every now and then. Then Buenos Aires loomed up under yet another browny-grey cloud. The autopista cleaved its way through the city, with buildings almost against the outer edges of flyovers. This time the driving standard bordered on neurotic. Traffic, tall buildings and people everywhere doing.........what? You were in no doubt you were in one of the world's largest cities. Once again it is laid out in a Spanish colonial grid pattern with wide avenidas, including "the world's widest avenue" Avenidas 9 de Julio.
We were in the Hotel Marbella, a modest but handy place in the city centre. Next door was a billiards, pool and snooker club. We checked in and John and me went to have a quick game of snooker. The ground floor was occupied by a film crew making a movie about the Spanish Civil War, so we went into the basement area and found a single snooker table in the corner. I say "snooker table" but there the resemblance ends. It was covered with what looked like roofing felt, not baize. Beforehand, John had styled himself "Six Cushion Sid," but I was unsure if this was to explain how good or bad he was. We abandoned the game (with me winning 24-18) when one of the older members showed up and said he was a former Argentine champion. It was bad enough trying to play with my distance glasses on without having a competent player sitting on my shoulder while waiting for a game. It's not good for your competitive paranoia.
We walked a little way up the avenida until we came to one of the little squares that dominate much of the grid pattern, sat down at a pavement café and had a few beers while we loosely mapped out what to do next. James and Anne decided to get off and do some exploring on their own. We decided to do the touristy thing and wander down to the waterfront at Puerto Madero via the Plaza de Mayo. We could hear some sort of demonstration as we got nearer to Casa Rosada where the Perons gave most of their balcony speeches to the shirtless ones. It turned out to be some incorrigible Peronistas reviving old memories in the company of veteran soldiers from the Falklands/Malvinas campaign. We lingered a little bit before deciding it probably wasn't a good idea to be English and stick around near banners and loudspeakers shouting about the sovereignty of the islands.
We moved on to Puerto Madero as the darkness closed in. It is a huge waterfront development that makes our very own Albert Dock and Pierhead area look like a toy village. Dramatic multi-storey architectural shapes are everywhere. The view of the development as it lights up at dusk is really special. We ended up in a swish bar named "Yacht," which was very nice but deserted except for us. By then John was determined to get to the ferry terminal to book our tickets for the trip to Rosario, Uruguay, on Saturday. It was only another ten minutes walk to another pleasant and spotless modern building. Once there, we couldn't get tickets for everyone because passports were required. So it was back to the hotel by taxi. On the way John said he later wanted to find a seedy bar with an old cathode tube TV to watch the second leg of Nacional V Estudiantes. This seemed like a great idea.
So after a shower, freshen up and reassembly we set out to find such a bar in the back streets. We failed dismally and ended up in a good restaurant with a large flat screen TV. We finished the nosh just as the game started at nine o'clock and families came in for their sensibly late evening cena. By then we were suitably stocked up with enough wine and beer to get us through the match. Estudiantes won it handily in a fast moving and skilful game way above anything we saw in Chilé. There was a lot of individual skill on view but not enough goalmouth action for me. I enjoyed it but wouldn't want to watch it every week.
Day Thirteen, Thursday, 2nd July 2009.
Time to visit Boca Juniors La Bombanera stadium (formally Estadio Alberto J. Armando, informally also "Chocolate Box") down by the river in the old abandoned port in La Boca barrio. John wanted to use the underground Subte and then walk to the ground through the barrio streets. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it brought the only Bad Moment of the entire trip.
The Buenos Aires Subte is not recommended, especially during a Swine 'flu outbreak that was plastered all over the media. Some people were so scared they even wore white surgical masks. I thought if we're going to catch anything it will be from an overcrowded old train packed with coughing strap-hangers with their mouths stuck below a folded-up coat collar. Four stops later we were at the end of the line and got off at an impressive main station. John asked a disinterested looking bizzy the best walking route to La Bombanera. Since it seemed only a few blocks I wondered aloud why we didn't simply take the most direct route. I should have known.
Everything seemed fine as we meandered down main roads and past a lot of green space, and then some colourful old houses amidst the rundown buildings and streetscape. We could see the blue and yellow painted La Bombanera in the near distance, but John wanted to stick to a main road skirting the area and then approach the stadium through Camanito, a small area noted for its bars and restaurants as it tries to regenerate itself. Everything was going swimmingly. We were nearly there - in fact you could hear the music a block or so away. We relaxed, which probably was the worst thing we could have done. Things always happen when you least expect them.
James was walking in front. I was walking with John, while Anne was a few metres behind us with Paul carrying his coat. We passed a group of three or four late teenagers sitting on a small flight of steps. They didn't look particularly threatening but there's no question they had The Look, that combination of sullen defeatism and sharply moving eyes some people mistake for intelligence. We didn't pay them much attention and walked on. It was a mistake. We pieced together later what happened. We had walked maybe twenty more metres when we heard a shout behind us. As I turned, John went flying past me like a shot from a gun. One of the teenagers had tried to grab Anne's camera, while another had threatened Paul and demanded his money. John's radar system had worked perfectly and he was on them even as I started to get back with James, and he had a tenuous hold on one of them and tried to run him into a tree to rearrange his facial geometry. But the gobshite squirmed away as John slipped over, and they all fled. It was over in a flash. Nothing was taken but it was a near-run thing. The situation was rescued thanks to John's instant reaction. Paul had been winding up to give his opponent a good smack but everything happened so quickly he didn't get the chance. Which in retrospect was probably a good thing because you never know where these things can go if they get out of hand. It was satisfying to think the culprits had to suffer a severe blow to their "masculinity" (actually gutless cowardice) for the next day or so.
We walked on until we found a suitable pavement café in Camanito, a small length of pedestrianised street where locals are doing their best to revive the area and make a living without much help from the local police. Word mustn't half travel fast, because no sooner had we entered one end than there was a sudden spurt of gaucho dancing and street tangos along its length, and street sellers inviting, almost dragging, you into each café we passed. A cappuchino later - John dubs it "fluffy, girly drinky" - and a look at some mounted paintings, and we walked on up to La Bombanera and a guided tour of the stadium and its smart museum.
The bowl-shaped stadium regularly hosts a gate of 58,000 on three levels, three sides open to the elements, and is on a small site. The fourth side is an odd, five storey structure containing club offices and corporate boxes and seating. Standing areas are behind the goals on all three levels, with a single row of crush barriers at ground level and an increasing number on each of the two other levels to account for the increased pitch of each. Visiting supporters are restricted to a small area in a top tier corner. Seating areas are limited to the lower levels opposite the admin block. The players enter the pitch from separate underground tunnels, one for the home team and one for the away team. In a thoughtful move, the away team have to enter next to the "home" end. It doesn't take much imagining what the place is like for an important match with the home masses jumping up and down and hurling streamers and god knows what else. It probably makes a Nazi party rally resemble a Sunday School debating society. Which is alright if you have the mentality of a Nazi, but not if you love football and civilisation.
But if you had any romantic ideas of La Bombanera you can forget them - the place is an utter, disgusting dump except for the museum and shop and the administrative block. The structural frame is exposed, primitive board-marked insitu reinforced concrete. Externally the frame has been painted in the club colours of blue and gold to ease the worst visual affects. Inside, the circulation spaces are appallingly narrow and some of the terrace support raking beams actually drop below head height and have been painted in warning black and gold stripes. I found the stadium suffocating and intolerable and likely to encourage only the kind of mentality that nearly killed the game in England. By comparison, Goodison Park is gorgeous and so are most of our stadia.
It's a different matter in the club museum, which would be first rate if it had employed just a little more imagination. Nevertheless, it is a credit to the club and well worth a visit. Just beware of the ramps. It even includes a small maxi-screen inside a footy shaped spherical auditorium, though you might find the movie more than a bit sickly-sentimental. Elsewhere, the museum employs IT and video areas and trophy and model displays. There are also Citizen Kane-sized coloured photographs to remind everyone of How Great Boca Juniors Are. If we are to make the most of the Everton Collection we could do much worse than have a look at how Boca have presented themselves in this part of their stadium. I think we could do a lot better once someone has calculated how much floor space is needed.
Back at the hotel, John had arranged for us to visit a bar for a nosh and to watch tango in the evening. It turned out to be singing, not dancing, and broadcast on local radio. A couple of local ladies belted it out in a wonderfully melodramatic style that was better in its poses than its singing. Finally, a younger hopeful came on with her boy friend guitarist and struck a more melodic note that augers well for her ambition.
Then we moved on to a couple of other bars before settling in one that featured good jazz band music and loads of old movie posters. Somehow, John managed to dislodge one of them in his corner, and as it fell narrowly missed being guillotined by its glass. He claims he never touched it (Who? Me?) but that might have more to do with the pilsner we were all drinking than any realistic assessment.
Day Fourteen, Friday, 3rd July 2009.
Friday was recuperation day for everyone. The party scattered to do its own things. I ended up going for a short walk with Paul and a chat about all things footy before getting ready for the evening.
A meeting had been set up with the Centro par la investigación de la historia del Futbol (CIHF), a group of football fans/journalists formed under the leadership of Carlos Yemetti and Jorge Gallego. We were entertained at their monthly meeting in a pizza parlour. Once again wine, food and footy chat flowed freely. The members meet to show their latest research or cuttings to each other and generally to talk about The Beautiful Game. Their hospitality was the same unstinting and warm welcome we received everywhere in South America. And their knowledge of English football old and modern was amazing, including the history of the English game and its South American traditions. Meanwhile, TV showed Racing play Newell's Old Boys and win 2-1. I have seldom met a more serious and informed group during my time as a supporter. The English game could do worse than produce the same in place of the tribalist nonsense that dominates our game. As our Argentinian friends proved, it is possible to be obsessed healthily with football without being obsessed with club tribalism and its tenth rate loony hatreds.
Day Fifteen, Saturday, 4th July 2009.
To Uruguay via Buquebus hydrofoil at 9.30 a.m. across the River Plate to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Colonia del Sacramento, thence by road to Rosario. The journey across the river takes about an hour and a quarter depending on conditions. The hydrofoil is beautifully kept and spotless with better-than-airline comfortable seating. You can scarcely feel it when it leaves harbour and heads off to the country that achieved so much in the early years of World Cup footy. This is despite a tiny population measured in 2-3 million - now made up almost exclusively of 19th century Italian and Spanish immigrants at the expense of indigenous Indian tribes - over the years and being sandwiched between giants Argentina and Brazil.
We were greeted warmly by Jorge and Hugo of Everton Club, Rosario, who also explained to us the Uruguayan culture of maté, a herbal tea carried around in flasks and imbibed through an impressive ornamental metallic straw (bombilla) from ovoid gourds (culha) seemingly carried by every fourth Uruguayan we saw. None of us felt like giving it a go. Instead we went and hired a car and set off to follow Jorge and Hugo to.Rosario.
We went first to the town centre to get some dosh from ATMs. Everyone else managed to dig provide me with a lifeline. Then to a restaurant owned by Reuben, a resident of Rosario and a big Everton Rosario fan. We said we felt like "a snack" but ended up being spoiled by the kind of food and drink that would have done you till the next day. When it came time to pay the bill and go Reuben said, "In your country you do what you want. Here, I am the boss." He wouldn't let us pay for anything. It was just the start of an incredible few days in which we were simply overwhelmed by kindness and friendliness at every turn, even more so than in Chilé and Argentina. Words alone cannot express how we felt about this.
There were two further stops before we headed off to Rosario. The first was La Colonia's cobbled streets and old fort complete with medieval cannons as street furniture, all of it small scale delight with the river as back drop. It's a beautiful and serene location despite its association with colonial confrontation between Spain and Portugal over three hundred years ago. Yes, it was touristy.....but so what? It wasn't Blackpool, or Florida or (gawd help us) that ultimate slum of neon-lit human imagination run by organised crime, Las Vegas. La Colonia still has the healthy feel of being human instead of a money manufacturing centre. The second was El Presidente's country residence, where the nation's leader was apparently enjoying a fishing weekend when we arrived. The only security we saw was two soldiers in battle fatigues hefting assault rifles, intimidating stares and side arms. Over on the horizon across the river you could just make out Argentina and its cities. Apart from that you could have mistaken it for a country estate in Europe. You could understand why Uruguay was once named the Switzerland of South America.
Then to the club building in Rosario. Which were at least as amazing as in La Plata. Everton Rosario is once again a community members'club boasting different facilities used by everyone. It isn't as big in size as La Plata but it has a heart as big as Uruguay. It reminded me very much of the Catholic social clubs that once ringed inner Liverpool and were a centre of social activity. They even boast the Under 15 buque champion of Uruguay, a sort of vigorous game of bowls in a long narrow court. At the back of the site a huge log-fire was in place roasting massive slices of beef for next day's celebrations. Hundreds of huge chorizo sausages were strung from hooks awaiting the same fate. It was going to be some doo.
From there, check-in time at Hotel Rosario in Rosario. A cheerful log fire crackled an the open grate next to the reception counter. My room backed on to the grate so I had the satisfying experience of a permanently heated bathroom. A quick shower and reassembly in the lobby and we were met by Jorge, who took us on a short walk through the streets and around the main square. Local kids looked on curiously at the visiting gringos as everyone took photos of the impressive church and landscaped area before we ambled off to a local bar and restaurant to be greeted by club members and another log-fired open grate sizzling a barbeque on a griddle as large as the one at La Plata. Everything looked and smelled delicious. Then locals suddenly appeared from all directions and piled through the doors to greet us. To say it was overwhelming is the understatement of the decade. Smiles, handshakes, and Hugo appeared at my elbow with the biggest grin you've ever seen to shout, "THE BAR IS OPEN!" It wasn't the last time he did it either and it was always followed by a Niagara Falls of beers all round and the kind of animated chat you associate with pre-match games at home. He told us straight-faced that Hugh Grant has been his favourite film star ever since Pretty Boy got nicked in LA for illegal gymnastics with a hooker.
It never ceases to amaze me, even after all these years, how people communicate even when they have language differences. It was utterly infectious. Before long the place rocked with laughter and the warm feeling of successful communication. I got my come uppance too at one point when I went to warm my hands at the fire - I had come out in a shirt and no coat and John said, "You've started the myth of El Miguel, Hard As Oak." My hands had gone cold from the refrigerated beer. Which made John's words too funny for words considering my age and disregard for that sort of thing. But Hugo wasn't going to let it go. He appeared at my elbow again and shouted, "Ey Miguel! Not so hard now, eh?" It brought the house down, as it should. Soon the photos were going off all over the place, arms around shoulders, footy stories somehow swapped, and Jorge even cornered me to ask my opinion about the European economy and how I thought Obama might make a difference in the world. My opinion is of course socialist, which means it is out of kilter with the times. But not the mood. Cheer up (again) socialistas.
Our hosts wanted to take us off to another bar, but at 2.30 a.m. I had reached my limit and was about to turn into a pumpkin. Time for bed.
Day Sixteen, Sunday, 5th July 2009.
It was matchday, Everton Rosario V Colegiales, an 11.00 a.m. kick off in a local derby in a six-club league. Everton were top after two games in the Rosario League. Afterwards, everything was set for a celebration of Everton's 89th birthday. We checked out of the hotel in preparation for the return journey to the Buquebus hydrofoil terminal at La Colonia.
It was a beautifully warm sunshiney day as we were led out to the venue, which was a municipal ground rented to the teams. One side contained a tiny run of concrete bleachers with five terraces and the other side had an even tinier two storey structure to house local radio and TV. Loudspeakers blared advertisements, local ads and music. You'll be pleased to know Little Eva still performs, "Do the locomotion." John was interviewed before, during and after the game to maintain his continent-wide presidential ambitions. We calculated he'd win in a landslide at this rate. In the warm-up area kids of all ages practiced the kind of step-overs, drag-backs and flicks that had you slack-jawed.
The kick off was delayed because the policia had to be present and someone had forgotten to wake them up. They arrived forty five minutes late in a Toyota pickup. Everton kicked off in a yellow strip and Colegiales in broad blue and white stripes. The playing level was about the equivalent of an excellent Sunday League Premiership in England and had some wonderful play and hairy moments throughout, though the opening was a bit subdued.
Colegiales were the first to impose themselves on the game through their midfield. They were bigger and stronger than the Everton boys and began to make it tell with long passes that had their equally large front players dealing out a gruelling time to defenders. The big Colegiales centre forward got dropped a few times before he nearly got cut in two by a "tackle" that finished somewhere near his navel and must have left a corrugated impression on his groin. It was a booking that should have been a red card. But a deserved goal came to them after twenty minutes when another long ball caught Everton with two defenders against three attackers and 'keeper Miguel got lobbed as he came out. One down and the prospects looking more difficult with each minute. Half time came as a relief.
Despite some of the tackles the game had been fairly quiet and looked like a one or two goal defeat was likely. At least it did until suddenly the game went off like a fire cracker in a way that seems unique to South American football. It started about ten minutes after half time when Everton got a penalty and equalised. It was a doubtful decision that would have annoyed anybody on the receiving end, let alone someone who'd taken a few kickings without complaint. At such times you feel like the world's against you. A towering defender certainly did because he committed the unforgiveable sin of pushing the ref and rightly got sent off. Now Everton felt they had a chance and started to attack more. Yellow cards got handed out left, right and centre as matters started to get tasty.
Then Everton went in front with a shot from the edge of the box that thudded against the bar, down and back out. The linesman signalled a goal and the ref gave it. That did it. The Colegiales 'keeper and most of the rest of the team went ape shit in a circle around the ref. One who didn't came charging over to the linesman and got right - and I do mean RIGHT, friends - in his face with a look that dripped potential homicide. The linesman didn't flinch and quite properly raised his flag to attract the attention of a referee now besieged. Next thing, the Colegiales 'keeper got an early bath, players on both sides got booked - there were so many I couldn't count - and then the ref finally saw the linesman and booked Jack the Ripper too. It was like Casey's Court out there. Ten minutes later an already-booked Everton player did one of theirs again and ended up taking the long road home with the two Colegiales players.
A minute from time the game was sealed when Everton got a free kick just left of the D and it got cracked home brilliantly past the substitute 'keeper. So it finished 3-1 and everybody celebrated as though it was a championship decider. Over at the media hut, John walked past the opposing dugout and one of the Colegiales staff asked him how much he'd paid the ref. It was a fair question to which there was no reasonable answer except to say everybody should have kept their cool. You can't blame the referee and linesmen for some of the behaviour aimed their way. The really funny thing is nobody seemed to think it was anymore than run-of-the-mill stuff. Still, a win's a win for all that.
In the late afternoon and early evening came the anniversary celebrations in a packed clubhouse. Once again we were treated like visiting royalty and spoiled at every turn. It was community pride and honest enjoyment in a way long forgotten in mean-spirited contemporary Britain, and it would be instantly recognised by Scousers and other similar areas as the Way We Used To Be before the late 70s went along with the There's No Such Thing As Society society. There was the food, the wine and beer, the photos, the dancing, and the singing led by one truly incredible old timer accompanied by thunderous drums and exuberant youngsters agog with enthusiasm. Everybody wanted to shake your hand and have a photograph taken with you. You could scarcely move for warmth, good will and friendship openly offered by all ages.
Then the club presented John with a plaque, a club shirt and some pennants before he reciprocated in kind and made a speech of thanks in Spanish. The event was sealed and it was time to go. We piled into the hire car to follow Reuben. But he took us in a circle around the block and back in front of the club, where the road was filled with members all waving and cheering us again. I don't mind telling you I was close to tears. The car was silent for a mile or two as we tried to absorb it all. Then we each tried to put it into words and failed dismally. All I can say is that I have never seen such kindness on such a scale, not anywhere home or abroad. This is one Evertonian who will never forget what was done for us in the name of friendship.
Then it was back on the hydrofoil for the journey back to Buenos Aires and a night's rest before the long journey home.
Day Seventeen, Monday, 6th July 2009.
Then we took the twenty-four hours return journey home across the continent and the South Atlantic. It was all over.
It is quite impossible to recount everything that happened on the trip. This three-part diary only describes the central bits. It is equally impossible to express enough thanks to The Ruleteros Society for their work in organising the trip and the meetings with the three Evertons.
John Shearon was the centre of everything and didn't stop from first day to last. He was our translator and our life-support system. Without his energy and great sense of humour it is fair to say nothing could have happened in the way it did. How he crammed so much into such a short space of time is one of the miracles of relativity. Evertonians can count themselves lucky to have such a man in their number, and be proud of the fact. The only pity was that Tony Heslop couldn't make the trip and that there weren't more members on it.
The flights were arranged by Paul Wharton, indefatigable historian of Will Cuff and other early histories of EFC, while John researched and organised the itinerary of the trip on top of all his South American research. Where he found the energy and determination only he knows. Anybody who has ever had to perform similar tasks will know just how much work that entails. By comparison all I had to do was turn up and enjoy the whole wonderful experience.
Now the ground work has been done and the ties made stronger it is to be hoped our own Everton Football Club - the historic root of our brother Evertonianos in South America - will be able to thoroughly cement the relationships and formalise them for future generations. There is still a great story to be researched and told, as John found out when he buried himself in dusty South American libraries and archives while officials shook their heads at the crazy Anglo. He has shown everyone how to do it. It's up to all of us, including club officials, not to lose impetus. History will be unforgiving if we pass up this opportunity.
Now is the time.
¡VIVA! EVERTON.......VINA DEL MAR, CHILÉ.
¡Y VIVA! EVERTON......LA PLATA, ARGENTINA.
¡Y VIVA! EVERTON......ROSARIO, URUGUAY.