The Petchary is going to miss the drama. The Copa America 2011 football tournament is over, in a blaze of pale blue, as Uruguay emphatically beat Paraguay in the final at El Monumental, the majestic stadium in Buenos Aires.
The contest certainly had its high and low points, and was by turns dull, irritating, baffling and downright exhilarating. For a start, the hosts Argentina, whose hordes of fans filled the earlier games, did not stay the course and were beaten in penalty shootouts in the quarter finals by their fierce rivals and ultimate Copa winners, Uruguay. How humiliating for them to hear the Uruguayan cheers resounding in Buenos Aires over the weekend! But hey…there were many sublime moments from Argentina to enjoy, before they sadly bowed out. And there were far too many penalty shootouts in the entire competition, with their engineered drama and inevitable “sudden death” atmosphere. One always feels so sorry for the goalkeepers.
And then there were the other giants of Latin American football, Brazil, who have won four out of the past five Copas. They were beaten by the finalists and at that point low-ranked team, little Paraguay, also in the quarter finals. And woe of woes! No less than four of Brazil’s penalty takers – star boys Elano and Fred, Thiago Silva and Andre Santos – failed to score. The kind of event that makes football fans clutch their heads in despair.
And so Paraguay somehow, astonishingly, sailed on to the finals without having actually won a match (unless you count shootouts). Their defensive displays, however – especially the trusty goalkeeper, Justo Villar, who was named best goalie of the competition - were admirable. ”We got in the final because we had guts and luck,” Villar said bluntly.
There were other spills and surprises. The Venezuelan team – complete underdogs, who have never reached the Copa finals – was remarkably skillful, and as unlucky as Paraguay were lucky – balls bouncing off the framework of the goal with regularity. Their slick play was often a pleasure to watch, but the result was often unrewarding. They worked hard, and ended up fourth, beaten in the third-place match by a combative Peruvian team. Their ailing President Hugo Chavez constantly urged them on via Twitter.
But when it came down to it, the rugged Uruguayans were worthy champions (for the fifteenth time – one more than Argentina). Luis Suarez played with an increasingly fiery energy as the competition progressed. With his crooked teeth and his short crest of hair, he was a dynamo and deserved the Best Player award. He waxed poetic after their victory, speaking of the “unlimited sacrifice that every member of the team has within.” And indeed, their teamwork was remarkable. They were not, like Argentina and Brazil perhaps, just a collection of stars. They were a formidable attacking force.
But one individual has to be mentioned – the dashing Diego Forlan. The Petchary has always hugely admired the talisman of the Uruguay team (and, if you recall, the top player in last year’s World Cup). He of the flying yellow curls and laser-sharp long balls scored two beautiful goals in the finals, after a slow start to the tournament. But then, it’s in his blood. His father and his grandfather were both footballers, playing for Sao Paulo and Independiente respectively in their time.
And then there were the coaches. Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino was sternly sent into the stands and suspended for two matches after an unpleasant scuffle following a semi-final win over Venezuela. His assistant Jorge Pautasso – who bore an odd resemblance to the comedian Peter Sellers in a fake nose and wig – carried on with the harassment after Martino’s sending off, and was similarly banished a few minutes later. They sat calmly together in the stands, unrepentant.
As you would expect from Latin American football, there were tears, remonstrations, protests and much discussion. Latin players do much more talking than the rather dour players of the English Premier League (go Arsenal!) After every incident – a foul or perceived foul – there is often a discussion of sorts. The fouled one discusses the affront with the fouler, his team mates, members of the opposing team and, of course, the referee, who finds it very hard to remain aloof. Arms are waved, shoulders are shrugged, but there is often some humor and pats on the back when all is resolved.
Top scorer Paolo Guerrero of Peru was particularly adept at this. He is what the British would call “lippy.” In many European games in such a situation, there is just the short four-letter expletive (read their lips) and a contemptuous spit as the offended one walks away. I prefer the discussions and debates.
Viva Copa America, and all who sailed in her! If you missed it, you missed a treat.
Well, it’s going to be a long hot summer. Here in Jamaica, the first tropical storm of the season, with the sweet, down-home name of Arlene, is circling around Mexico. Jamaicans in social media (and there are 600,000 of us on Facebook alone) cry plaintively, “This heat!!!” (One exclamation mark is never enough in social media-dom).
And meanwhile, some of our western hemispheric neighbors are into…rioting. And specifically, sports riots (sporting riots?). It started with the Vancouverians (no, that can’t be right, hold on a minute…I don’t know what the natives of that fair city are called but will try to find out…Vanconians, perhaps?) Yes, our “neighbors to the north” became incensed at the defeat of their ice hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks.
OK, stop right there. What in the blazes is a Canuck? It sounds like an odd little creature – somewhat chipmunkish, perhaps – that lives up there in the Rockies and eats pine cones. But no – in fact a Canuck is simply…a Canadian. Its etymology is unclear – a bit of German here, a bit of Dutch there, who knows. Anyway, it has now been established that the Canucks are Canadians. Duh, as they say. And they play ice hockey like demons.
Now, I don’t understand the rules of ice hockey, but it was clear that the Canucks were getting the proverbial whupping in that last game, at the hands of (gasp) Americans. Battling Bostonians, no less, who can exhibit just as much testosterone-laden aggression as any Vancouveronian/Canuck. As usual, the incredibly high tempo game gradually degenerated into regular pushing and shoving sessions on the plastic margins of the ice rink, during which at least one player got a bloody nose. It all ended in defeat and despair for the hapless Canucks. And defeated, not by fellow-Canucks (remember, Canuck = Canadian), but by Americans (or whatever their probably highly derogatory word for Americans is).
Yes, among sports fans things get visceral. Name-calling is but a small part of it. In any case, the humiliated fans decided the only thing to do was to “get on bad,” to use a charming Trinidadian phrase. And so they did, bringing shame and disgrace on the city of Vancouver. ”We should not be smug,” reflected one writer in the “Vancouver Observer,” adding rather pompously, “civilization is a precious and fragile thing.” Indeed. And sports fans, let’s face it, quite often border on the uncivilized. One sees plenty of evidence of that scary dark side of human nature, whether it’s racism, ultra-nationalism or just sheer mindless violence (when I was growing up in London, Chelsea fans were to be feared and respected. They were a mob of mindless hooligans, who specialized in smashing up trains).
But hey, sports is supposed to be fun! And for some Vancouverites (ah, that sounds better) it was, apparently. They posed in their Canucks paraphernalia in front of burning cars. Cheerful peace signs were flashed in front of smashed plate glass windows. The rioters did not have the grim look of hardcore anarchists. They were enjoying themselves.
I thought I understood the Canadians. I always think of them as a milder version of Americans, but now I realize they can be pretty edgy too. Once, while traveling alone on a bumpy plane journey, the turbulence made me feel so sick that a kind Canadian sitting next to me gave me some rather disgusting herbal chewing gum that was supposed to settle my stomach. That’s the kind of thing I expect Canadians to do. Not this… In the middle of a serious riot.
I wonder what the hockey players thought – the Canucks and the victorious Bruins (what is a Bruin, by the way? Further investigation needed).
Now, let’s move much further south, to some other battling denizens of the western hemisphere. Ah, here we are… Argentina.
The River Plate (Rio de la Plata) is a large and harmless river that happens to flow along the border between Ecuador and Argentina, lapping at the edges of their respective capital cities, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. It’s actually a huge estuary, brown with sediment; the fresh river water on top, heavy salt water underneath. And there was a battle there, in World War II, in which a German ship ended up out of sorts in the port of Montevideo.
It’s also, of course, the name of the famed Argentine football club. For the first time in its 110-year history, Club Atletic River Plate has been relegated to the Nacional B division. Fans of its huge rivals, the Boca Juniors, must be laughing cruelly (the BJ’s are where the ebullient Diego Maradona was virtually born and raised). Such are sports fans.
Now let’s get this straight. The mighty River Plate football club has towered over most of its competitors for over a century. Its huge stadium, nicknamed “El Monumental,” was built in 1938 and is the largest in Argentina, holding over 76,000 including the standing-only areas. When megastars are in town, they play there; Michael Jackson, Madonna, AC/DC and earlier this year, the inane Miley Cyrus played sold-out concerts. Yikes.
River Plate has won the national league, the Apertura, countless times, and was named Best Argentine Team of the 20th Century in a FIFA-sponsored poll. In the 1940s, during a particularly splendid patch, the team was called “La Maquina” (The Machine). But crisis was looming lurid on the horizon, like an approaching thunderstorm. The club’s president, Jose Maria Aguilar, left the club with debts bursting out all over. The writing was on the wall.
I am using this dramatic language advisedly, because there is nothing quite like the drama of Argentine football. The huge swelling masses of fans, walled off against each other, sway against the tall chain link fences topped with razor wire that pen them in. The Petchary thinks she would not like to be in the middle of that mass of humanity. Within minutes of a game, the pitch is littered with what look like scraps of toilet tissue and other debris, almost as if a bomb has landed in an office building and papers are scattered everywhere. And the game itself is no-holds-barred. Unlike their rather effete footballing neighbors Brazil, they don’t worry too much about fancy footwork or cute hairstyles. The main thing is to get the ball in the back of the net, so they can go racing about tugging at each other’s shirts, kissing and hugging and so that their fans can do likewise.
Now, the Petchary has more sympathy with the mortified, devastated River Plate fans than with the young, exhibitionist Vancouveronians. After all, their team was relegated for the first time ever. And the “Gallinas” – chickens, as fans of rival clubs call them – took the streets. Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned.
Dennis Brown had a song called “Love and Hate.” It’s something like that, no half-hearted emotions here. In the case of the River Plate riots, mostly grief and hate, starting with pitch invasions when things took a turn for the worse, and death threats against the referee, who had a pretty nervy half-time break. The threats were allegedly made by one of River Plate’s gangs (yes, gangs) called Los Borrachos del Tablon (the Drunks in the Stands). Then thousands of fans who hadn’t got tickets charged the stadium, throwing lumps of rubble at the police who responded with tear gas. 89 people were injured but miraculously, no dead chickens.
- Now the Copa America, the final of which is to be played in El Monumental, is on the horizon. But peace will be restored by then. That phoney football love and harmony will flow across South America as Argentina host the Copa. After all, it is club football that inspires the deepest love/hate/passion/fury/delirium – not national teams.
- Just a footnote: the Petchary is no way condoning violence and criminality in this blog post. It’s just that she understands the agony and the ecstasy of club football (there she goes again with that melodramatic language). It is sad to see grown men cry and tear at their chests in wild grief.
- No doubt about it, River Plate and its fans will just have to suck salt from a wooden spoon (or the Argentine equivalent) throughout the upcoming season, and make sure they win the second division. And there will be no El Classico – the hyped-up annual game between them and super monster rivals Boca Juniors, either.
- What further dramas will unfold, one asks? Well, the summer is young, but getting hotter. Where will the fun and games break out next? When and where is the next G-20 or IMF meeting? That’s always good for a bit of action. Somehow I prefer sports fans, though.
- They’ve got more “oomph.” And sports is more interesting than politics.
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At some point I know I am going to have to write about the massacre of Tivoli Gardens, one year ago. It is like a huge balloon full of water, so heavy it is about to burst. But for now, let me turn to the Petchary’s one big distraction (and great passion) – that is, football. And to be specific, the Arsenal Football Club, North London‘s finest.
Apart from the name of the club (which, if shortened, is rather a rude word in “English English“) there are some lovely players beginning with “A.” I hope they will be with us for another season, which again this year remained “trophyless” (an awkward non-word, but you know what I mean). No bloody silverware, again, and the Carling Cup slipping from our grasp – and won by a team which has now been relegated!
But there now, I have started picking at that wound again, and it is going to reopen. We Arsenal fans can’t help but feel bitter though, especially as we held doggedly on to second place through three quarters of the season – even snapping at ManU’s heels once or twice – only to slip determinedly down in the last three or four weeks, allowing both Chelsea and Manchester City to step over us, to end up fourth. How did that happen, Mr. Wenger? I’m tired of seeing you pursing your lips and thrashing angrily at the air as we miss yet another opportunity to score that elusive GOAL. I felt like thrashing angrily at you, on many occasions.
Well, we Arsenal fans have been accused of being whiners, and that’s exactly what I am doing, so I had better shut up. Let’s go then, A is for…
Andrei Arshavin. A small dynamo of an attacking midfielder, and hugely popular with the fans. He had a really bad patch half way through the season, but was looking very lively towards the end and played with determination and flair even in games we only drew (or lost, ugh). He has been a Gunner since 2009 and I really hope he sticks around. He has speed and great footwork at his best, darting and dribbling right up to the goal.
Young Andrei was born in St. Petersburg in pretty poor circumstances. Injured in a car accident as a child, his early years were tough. He was a naughty boy at school too, and got himself expelled. And hey, his thirtieth birthday is this weekend! He doesn’t look that “old.” But he started playing football really young, and in 2007 had a wonderful season scoring and assisting for his home town team, Zenit St. Petersburg. After Mr. Wenger had finally got hold of him, the diminutive Russian scored his first Arsenal goal against Blackburn Rovers in March 2009. In a terrific game against Liverpool last season, he scored all four goals for Arsenal in a game that ended 4-4. I remember it well, definitely a great highlight. Loud and raucous shouts in the Petchary household.
And do you remember that heavenly shot from thirty yards out against ManU last summer? There’s much more to come from Andrei, I feel sure. And he’s a great little team player. There are serious rumors that he may be lured away by fellow-Russian, the Chelski owner. Or back to St. Petersburg. I hope not!
Trivia question: What does Andrei Arshavin have a degree in?
Next: A is for Aaron Ramsey. A pale young Welshman who didn’t start playing until March this year; he suffered a broken leg, inflicted by Ryan Shawcross in a game against the ever-physical Stoke City. Poor Ramsey; it was quite a blow to him so early in his career. But he has come back gamely and is showing promise. He is a really versatile midfielder and can do all kinds of stuff when given the chance. And he is only twenty years old. He started his career with Cardiff City as their youngest ever player, sixteen years old. He became a Gunner in June 2008 and Mr. Wenger describes him as “a fantastic engine.” Well, not sure what his locomotive qualities are but I think I get it…
And he also scored against the much-loved (much-hated by me) Manchester United – his first goal this season! Well done. And let’s crown him Football King (or Prince, too young to be a King) of Wales. He was named Captain of the Welsh team earlier this year, although they played England and lost. He is now the permanent Wales captain, and their youngest ever. And he’s bilingual, a true Welsh speaker. Gwych, Aaron! (That means “great” in Welsh, but don’t ask me how to pronounce it).
Trivia question: What sport did Aaron play really well as a “young youth”? Hint: not football/soccer, of course. We know he was good at that.
OK, here’s another. Alexandre Song. Or to give him his full name, Alexandre Dmitri Song Billong, one of Mr. Wenger’s collection of Francophone players and a particular favorite of the Petchary’s. Very much a defensive midfielder, he is usually pretty solid – although he does have his “off” games, when he seems to hang his head, as he often does when things don’t go his way. He had a few fairly dreadful games this season, when my son and I have called out exasperatedly from the sofa, “Oh, Song!” And we weren’t asking for anyone to start warbling, either.
Song is really strong. Yes, I know that rhymes. He pushes furiously up and down midfield, head down, patiently scooping up the ball. He gets yellow cards a lot, like most defensive players, and then a dogged, resigned look crosses his face. He walks away, shoulders slumped, but soon cheers up again.
Song is 24 and he is from the Cameroon. He played for his country in the last World Cup. He was born in Douala, and had a pretty deprived childhood. There wasn’t much opportunity for a good footballer in Cameroon, and “Petit Song” (his nickname) moved to France and started playing for SC Bastia at the age of sixteen. Two years later he got married; he has two children. Then Arsenal bought him for a mere one million pounds.
But this season, something terrible happened to dear Alex. He dyed his hair yellow (not blond, yellow), then grew a beard and of course, that is yellow too. He had a very strange rush of blood to the head. He claims his wife likes it, and he was bored with his spiky locks, all the black footballers have them. Now his hair looks like a washing up pad that has scrubbed too many pots.
Apart from acquiring some great new players, I am hoping that Mr. Wenger might be able to use the time between seasons to persuade Alex to wash out that yellow stuff.
Trivia question: How many brothers and sisters does Song have? (Take a really wild guess).
And now to Abou Diaby. Tall, lanky, and just celebrated his 25th birthday. Diaby reminds me of a former Arsenal player I used to love, Patrick Veira; but he claims to be much less aggressive than Patrick, who used to have furious temper tantrums quite regularly (the dreaded “red mist”). Still, the same long-legged but surprisingly delicate touch on the ball. Monsieur Diaby (yes, another Francophone) has had a kind of on-and-off season, I would say. Moments of great clarity, and other days when he seemed bent on passing off the ball to the opposing team. Sigh. He has had some fitness problems but… well, when he scores the occasional goal, it is a beautiful thing to behold. So all is forgiven.
His first name is actually Vassiriki. Eh? And he is a Frenchman of Ivorian descent, and a central midfielder. He trained at the famous Clairefontaine Academy and played for a few French teams before he was honored with the Gunnership in 2006. He was a member of the tremendously pig-headed and pathetic French team that melted down in last year’s World Cup. Another sigh. The French national team seem to court drama (remember the Zidane head-butt?)
Trivia question: What religion is Abou Diaby? (Easy)
There is another “A” in Arsenal, finally. And that is the esteemed manager, Arsene Wenger. He has been described as “professorial,” whatever that means. And I am so thankful he doesn’t chew gum, like Sir Alex. So undignified. But I will write more about AW another time, when I have composed my thoughts. At the moment, I don’t feel kindly disposed towards him. My feelings may soften.
Now, the Petchary also loves Argentina. They are so rough and tough and full-blooded, not so much of that pretty stuff the pretty Brazilians do. So I read with interest an article in the newspaper, in which Diego Maradona and some other players were reminiscing about the good old days. I was struck by the headline, “Maradona teammates deny consciously taking drugs.” In the article, Diego’s former teammates are a little vague in their recollection, but Maradona himself puts it in his own inimitable way: ”What happened is that to play against Australia [in 1994] we were given a speedy coffee. They put something in the coffee and that’s why we ran more.” They were apparently given a choice – speedy water or speedy coffee.
I know what he means by a speedy coffee. I take one every morning to get my brain working in the office. And sometimes I do wish it had performance-enhancing ingredients.
Gunners forever!! Viva Argentina!!
Firstly, the Petchary learned with deep regret of the passing of Paul. Paul who, you may ask? Well, your memories are short. Paul, who was reportedly hatched (yes, hatched) in January 2008, passed away peacefully overnight, after an eventful life.
Paul the Common Octopus was a high achiever. British born and residing in a tank in Germany, he successfully predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s matches in the football (soccer) World Cup, by scrolling himself slowly into a plastic box containing a mussel, his favorite dish – all the while gazing at the camera with that strange, heavy-lidded, almost human eye of his.
Paul’s short life was not without its pressures. There were threats. When he predicted that Germany would beat Argentina (an outcome that filled the Petchary with sorrow and shock) an Argentine chef immediately posted a recipe for octopus on Facebook. But that’s the price of fame… Enemies are never far from your door.
RIP Paul. But did you know that the Common Octopus is considered one of the most intelligent of invertebrates? Then why don’t they live longer? Answers on a postcard, please.
Another footnote: On Dizzy’s cheeks. A faithful reader of this blog pointed out to me that the famous round cheeks that puffed out when he blew his trumpet are symptomatic of a condition now named “Gillespie pouches,” and I quote: ”In which the cheeks of the mouth expand greatly with pressure, such as with the famous bebop trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy played his horn incorrectly for some 50 years, letting his cheeks expand when he played, instead of keeping them taut as is considered correct. This was mostly due to his general lack of early musical education. Although Mr. Gillespie was able to create a surprisingly good sound using this form, over time it left his cheeks saggy and loose. A doctor who wanted to use his image in a book named the condition after him. With Gillespie pouches, the cheeks inflate to look almost like balloons. Besides brass players, Gillespie pouches may be found among some balloon artists, who regularly apply great pressure to their cheeks while inflating balloons.” From http://everything2.com/title/Gillespie+Pouches
Now the Petchary is shamelessly posting a photo also provided by the above-mentioned dear reader… Delightful, and I love the sleek black fedora on top!
- Paul the World Cup octopus is dead (bbc.co.uk)
- Successor To Paul The Octopus Named (huffingtonpost.com)
- Dizzy Gillespie Google Doodle: Iconic Cheeks and Bent Trumpet (nowpublic.com)
The Petchary just learned that Belize has created a sanctuary for jaguars. It has a wonderful but slightly cumbersome name: the Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary. It is not a vast acreage, but the important part is the word “corridor.” Rather than have the gleaming, magnificent animals languish in small and ever-diminishing pockets of rain forest, the Belize government has, with thoughtful foresight, opened up a passageway, along which they can come and go. They can pass through the forest, one expects, from one end of the country to the other, and from country to country, from Central America all the way south – perhaps as far as Argentina.
The jaguar is a true creature of the Americas. She still lives in eighteen countries in the region. She once lived in the United States, and is rumored to perhaps live in Arizona and other parts of the south-west. But this population will, sadly, be cut off, isolated on a North American island, because the north-south border and the barriers and the checkpoints and the high wire fences and the trucks and the customs men and the human smugglers and the desperate illegals are blocking off their corridor. There will be no dank, richly scented, green passageway south for them.
She is not so much nocturnal as crepuscular – that is, she loves to hunt through the rain forest at dawn and dusk, as the calls of the forest change and recalibrate, night creatures rustle and day creatures roost and curl up in their leaf-strewn, muddy holes and lairs. She walks quietly along hidden forest paths, and she loves the deep forest pools, the stagnant brown splashes and waterfalls.
The jaguar was the spiritual companion of the Mayas – a people who somehow always seemed to exist in the shadowy regions between life and death – and she helped communicate between those two spheres. As noted above, a crepuscular, twilight being, jaguars inhabited the underworld as much as the real, bright, daylight world. And the underworld was a watery world in Maya cosmology – just as the jaguar loves water.
The Aztecs also revered them as noble and warrior-like; and named their elite group of fighters the Jaguar Knights.
The picture above is actually a carved relief of a Maya king sitting – or rather, curiously perched – on his Jaguar Throne, his posture strangely bird-like. There is one such throne in Chichen Itza, Mexico. And below is an Aztec Jaguar Knight, fitted from top to toe in a jaguar suit.
Yes, I know, this is the modern-day stuff of video games and fantasy novels. But the jaguar is a creature living on the edge of endangerment, trying to find his corridors, pacing through the jungle mostly alone unless she has cubs, walking through Mexico and Belize and onwards south. A corridor that runs alongside highways and housing developments and dams and cities and electric pylons and landfills. Sometimes their paths circle lands where cattle farmers try to protect their animals with guns.
Which is worse – killing such a beautiful animal so that one can parade – and fight – in its skin, or simply shooting it as it emerges at the edge of a deep green cattle pasture?
Both are, of course, clear examples of the relationship between humans and animal predators. Because, after all, we humans want to be the Kings, the Warriors, the Gods. We want to be the only predators around. And perhaps, one day, we will be.
Meanwhile, long live the Belizean Corridor, and those who walk in it.