Addicted To The Game, Obsessed With The Self

There are crippling and deeply-ingrained problems with violence in Argentinean football, but they don't register here. Daniel Storey looks at our self-obsession...

Last Updated: 04/07/13 at 14:51 Post Comment

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As with any addiction, our obsession with football is not at its most evident whilst we are celebrating goals, biting nails or cursing without hope of affecting the outcome. These are all symptoms, of course, but are examples of football's high; they all take place when we have a bountiful resource of our drug. Instead, to demonstrate the game's true magnetism, we must look to times when we are without, demanding and craving for our next fix.

That time is now. Transfer talk and gossip columns act as support mechanisms as we search for any flicker of interest, a spurious rumour or even new kit release acting as our hit whilst we rock back and forth, wanting and waiting for the new season to begin. August finally arrives and we bask in the warm glow, blindly but intentionally telling ourselves that this season will last forever. Fixture release date and its frankly ridiculous pandemonium summed up our addiction better than any packed crowd at Saturday 3pm.

Such obsession is understandable, because football is a bloody lovely thing. It provides the full range of human emotions needed to transfix the addict, and yet the comparison with other dependences thankfully parts with the innate knowledge that, actually, it doesn't really matter.

However, our actions during the summer months, clambering after any meaningful morsel of information, must mean that we are not simply addicted to football, but to the English game. This may seem a statement of the bleeding obvious - of course we are more likely to focus our attentions on England. Our favourite clubs are English, it's on our doorstep, and our media is gauged specifically in order to provide the constant information we require, always eating but never full. So when I say addicted to the English game, what I mean is that we are blissfully ignorant of football on a global scale.

On Saturday, Argentine club Independiente were holding their general meeting when an organised hooligan gang attacked the club's president Javier Cantero, throwing chairs at the official being spat at and physically assaulted.

This was far from an isolated incident. A fortnight ago, a supporter of Lanus was killed after fans and police clashed during a match against Estudiantes. For the first time in the country's football history, the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino announced a ban on all away supporters, their last desperate resort after the death of 70 supporters in football related violence since 2000.

Argentinean football is crippled by organised crime. Almost every top flight club has associated Barra Bravas, organised networks of hooligans that effectively wield the power within the structure and running of their clubs. These sporting institutions are football clubs in name alone, essentially acting as the hubs of rival mob gangs who extract six-figure sums in order to facilitate their insalubrious activity.

It is almost inconceivable how far-reaching such 'organisations' have become. Ticket selling, matchday parking, merchandising and refreshments in the ground, all are typically managed by the Barra Bravas. Journalist Gustavo Grabia estimates that they even receive up to 30% of the transfer fees of departing players, and 20% of the salary of most squad members.

Whilst violence at matches has escalated beyond governmental control, such gangs typically exact their brutality through drive-by shootings or executions. In May, Independiente hooligans threatened a school nearby their club after they demanded flags were returned to them. "There will be a bomb concealed to explode in the morning. If they don't return the flags we will make them fly," was the chilling promise.

It is not my (nor should be our) intention to offer solutions to an issue that has been entrenched in Argentine culture for close to a hundred years - such problems are inextricably linked to socio-economic inequality and unrest - and that is not the intention of this piece, but surely such incidents should at least register in our psyche?

This is not some war-torn corner of the globe, nor a powerless state ruled by dictatorial hand. The World Bank lists Argentina as the 25th richest country on the planet and it welcomed over 5.3million tourists in 2011. Nor is it a footballing backwater. Sporting Intelligence lists Argentina's league as the tenth best in the world and the national team is ranked third. Finally, Independiente, of the school bomb scare, are a high-profile club. Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Esteban Cambiasso all played for a significant time under their Barra Brava rule. It seems incredible that such news almost fails to appear on our footballing radar. I saw a tweet mention the Cantero assault, but no newspapers ran the story to my knowledge. Neither Sky Sports nor BBC Sport even have a section on their website dedicated to South American football, and neither ran with the school bomb threat story.

Last season, when Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown from the stands, there was an FA and police investigation, whilst the PFA called for netting to be placed around the pitch to protect the players. Such a response demonstrates quite how far we have progressed in terms of eradicating hooliganism (disclaimer - such incidents are deplorable and I'm not saying that they didn't warrant such responses), but also shows just how insular we have become. Imagining the reaction should English fans commit any of the offences seen in Argentina of late almost becomes laughable, so abstract is it from our judgement of the football norm.

Perhaps we are not to blame for our ignorance, because maybe it is hard-wired into our subconscious. This is the 'Not In My Back Yard' argument, the same one offered as to why serious crimes in our own country cause such outpourings of grief, but yet we can sit and watch the news at night eating our TV dinners whilst learning of stories of starvation and famine elsewhere without pausing to stop our fork shovelling food into our mouths. We are not being deliberately callous or insensitive, but have simply grown accustomed to not caring. Trapping ourselves in a created bubble enables us to enjoy our own fortunes without being dragged down by the misfortune of others.

Or, instead, do we just not want to know? Football's popularity is sourced from its ability to act as our relief or release from the intensity and gravity of everyday life. As I said earlier, football's brilliance is that it matters without actually mattering. When that comparable innocence is lost (as with Argentina's violence), we prefer to turn the other cheek because it threatens to tarnish our love.

Whatever the reason, surely now is the time for us to sit up and take note. We must broaden our horizons enough for such violence to become newsworthy and notable, because it is only through awareness that solutions become more likely. Rather than desperately pressing F5 on a club forum for the latest news on a potential transfer, we could use our forced break from domestic football to examine the wider picture of our 'beautiful' game.

Or maybe English football has us too consumed, woefully hooked whilst we rock back and forth, waiting. After all, the Champions League starts this week...

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