If anyone missed this, here is Annie Kelly’s gripping account of the barra bravas, the gangs that control Argentinian football.
At best its the romantic notion of a fan fighting back to get a piece of a pie that is making everyone else rich. However in a football mad country like Argentina with its huge economic disparities these Robin Hood notions turn out fanciful. The clubs and the players feed off the adulation off their fiercest fans who in turn bask in the afterglow. But behind this seemingly innocuous symbiosis lies an underworld of mercenary gain. The barra bravas in return for their fealty are given control of everything from ticket sales to drug trafficking to player commissions. It’s a racket fit for the Mafia.
The violence has gotten worse as rivals have turned on each other to muscle the other out and increase their share of the loot. They are aided and abetted by willing accomplices in a corrupt police force that receives its share of the spoils.
In River Plate’s case these barra bravas actually did more damage than good when their club was relegated for the first time in their storied history. The extra-ordinary scenes witnessed grown men weep and then inconsolable turn their anger towards the players and the club. The Monumental was damaged, cars were set on fire, and then riots broke out injuring 89 people including 35 police officers.
Players like Diego Maradona and Carlos Tevez who escaped the slums of Buenos Aires to adorn the game with their genius have unfortunately created a vacuum. They have left legions in hope but very few can become like them. The next best thing is to become the most dedicated fan. That is the hook these gangs use to recruit new members.