The legendary Chaquios FC!

I met loads of great people on Morro de Sao Paulo, two of whom were Matias and Martin from Buenos Aires who stayed with me at Che Lagarto. We spent a couple of nights out partying together and made up one half of the beach football match, so when I arrived back here one of the first people I made contact with was Mati.

Like so many of his fellow countrymen, Mati is unbelievably hospitable and generous. My suggestion of meeting up for a beer turned into an invite to his friend’s birthday party on Friday night followed by seeing his football team’s (Chaquios FC) game on Saturday morning – with the possibility even of a 20 minute cameo appearance from yours truly! One of my little ambitions on coming to South America was to play some decent football with local players, so I was really excited about this whole weekend.

The party was great, I felt a little bit like a fish out of water for some of the time with the level of Spanish I’m at (there wasn’t much need to ask directions to the subway, for one more beer or for the bill please sir here… ), but it was really cool to be at this little gathering of young Argentinians and I was made to feel welcome. I understand a little bit more Spanish than when I first arrived, but I really struggle to talk – being here only made me more determined to put the time into improving.

After 4 hours sleep on Mati’s sofa it was time for the football. Anyone who’s played football with me in the past would note that this is most unusual; Friday’s for me in London always being a quite night in with a bowl of chicken and pasta, focussing on Saturday’s game… That’s sarcasm obviously, I’m a veteran (sadly literally now at 30) at playing on a couple of hours kip, so I wasn’t fazed.

Chaquios FC play their games 30-40 minutes out of the city on a sports ground with a load of well maintained pitches. On arriving it all seemed remarkably familiar – it could have been a Saturday morning in hundreds of identical facilities all over England. Meeting up in the car park, the banter, the in jokes, talk about football and last night’s activities. The slight change in mood as boots go on and kick off approaches. All the different characters in the team, the leaders, the jokers – it was all so similar to the UK. This shouldn’t have surprised me I suppose, football transcends language they say – but I kind of expected the culture around it to be different somehow, but the only significant variation seemed to be the language (and maybe the haircuts and number of beards), oh, and the refs…

Damn the refs here are tough! Stupidly so for this level of football. Mati’s team have just been formed and this is their first season in this league, so their playing in the second tier. I’d say it’s similar to the level I was playing at with Nottsborough 3’s in the Southern Amateur League back in London. Decent (but they’d all gone to bed at 4am, so not quite professional). In the 100’s of amateur games I’ve played in the UK I think I’ve seen maybe three or four red cards – even bookings are fairly rare. I think I’ve been booked once or twice in ten years. Within half an hour 3 players had been sent off here! The first Mati’s left back who was dismissed for two, admittedly late, tackles which earned him yellow cards. By the absolute letter of the law it was maybe justified, but in a game like this the ref should have shown a bit more common sense. The other two reds came after a fairly innocuous clash between players from both sides, should have been a little chat – ‘calm down lads’ – but two red cards came out. So by half time it was 9 vs 10! Even more annoyingly this changed the perspective of the game and meant my little cameo appearance didn’t happen. Gutted!

The game itself, aside from the overzealous ref, ebbed and flowed quite nicely. They went 0-1 down immediately after the first sending off, but pulled it back to 1-1 fairly soon after. Just before half time the opposition scored again making it 1-2 at half time. With 9 men on the pitch this was quite a tough situation they found themselves in. This is when you need your leaders to step up – sure enough, player coach Mati popped up with a 30 yard screamer to level the scores! It was a thunderous strike, the best goal he’s ever scored he told me after the game. This sparked a full 15 man bundle, really funny to see – wish my camera wasn’t broken, would have made a great picture!

I never made it on to the pitch, which was a little bit disappointing, but it was great to be around Saturday football again with all the banter and buzz that goes with it. If I do come back to Buenos Aires I might try and work myself into the team – it was clear to me the missing piece of the puzzle for them is an old, slow, goal shy centre midfielder. You’ve got my number Mati 😉

One thing they do differently here is post match socializing. A few pints in Clapham just wouldn’t cut it for them (not even with a late night at Infernos thrown in) – it’s an asado or nothing! Their generosity was unrelenting and I was of course invited back for the asado too, in fact it was insisted that I came – not that I needed any real persuading. These boys really know how to cook meat, and after an afternoon sitting around by the pool we ate some of the best food I’ve had for a long time! It was a real privilege to be invited back to share in this weekly ritual with the team. They’re all close mates and it gave me a real insight into their Buenos Aires lifestyle. Again, the language barrier was a bit of an issue for me – not being able to talk kind of robs you of your personality – but a lot of the guys spoke really good English and were very conscious of keeping me involved. Would be fantastic to come back speaking some Spanish though so I could get a bit more in amongst it.

I got a little lesson on the various cuts of meat and how to cook them before I left, think I’d need a few more before I could cook up a feast like that though. Also made one massive blunder before leaving; on being offered a piece of grilled onion (I think that’s what it was) at the end of the asado – which is a bit of a delicacy everyone coverts – I said thanks and wolfed it down to a hail of ‘No no no’s’! I was only supposed to take a little piece, but I ate the whole thing in one. Whoops! It was very nice though…

Was a great couple of days spent with Mati, Martin and their friends. I would have joined them later for a night out too but I already had plans with another friend. Their generosity was astounding and I felt really honoured to have been included in so much. One of my only regrets in leaving Buenos Aires is that in the end everything got a bit too frantic with work and sorting stuff out for moving on that I never got to hang out with them again. Next time I’m back they’ll definitely be top of my list of people to call again… plus I owe Mati a beating on FIFA on the PS3.