Ilusion is both a word and a concept which, among many others, is devilishly tricky to translate into English. It is something more concrete and believed in than a hope or dream, while nowhere near as deeply held or certain as expectation.
One could even argue that the very concept itself of ilusion has been lost as the English language grew to reflect a more cynical, logical way of living. It says something that we can still become disillusioned, with life, our football team or whatever it may be; but positively illusioned? It suggests a belief in something that is not there, a feeling rather than logic and calculation, and the word no longer exists in our language.
In Argentina however, and especially in Racing Club, we can become illusioned over all manner of possibilities and prospects. The hope returns every six months as ‘La Academia’ kicks off a season, and only grows as the team puts together a winning run. This was what brought almost 50,000 people to El Clindro on Saturday to see Racing take on San Lorenzo in the second clasico in a week; and despite a narrow defeat it is fair to say that in the hope of great things this season, the ilusion remains.
My Saturday began bleary eyed at 3pm, thanks to my willing indulgence in the chaotic Buenos Aires nightlife the evening (and morning) before. Nevertheless I found myself in the same place as always, clutching a litre of Quilmes with some friends round the corner by 4.30 as we prepared to make our way to the ground. I had managed to convince a fellow Anglo Argentine football fanatic Rupert Fryer to make the trip, posing a few problems when meeting with Lucho, Nico and the other Racing boys.
The language difficulties were overcome with a mixture of some deft interpretation, frantic hand signs and good old-fashioned guessing; the fact that we were six people heading to the ground in a five seater car on the other hand was insurmountable, and meant a cramped, not to mention fairly dangerous hour’s trip down to Avellaneda from Villa Crespo. We made it one piece though, and after the habitual pre-match milanesa sandwich and beer in the legendary Susie’s - a bar by the stadium as old as it’s eponymous owner, and a traditional La Academia fan haunt, we were in the ground with time to spare.
It was entering the stadium however when the sheer belief and excitement of Racing fans hit home. The bottom tier popular (terraces) were almost filled to the 20,000 capacity, and the top platea tiers were filling up nicely. It was later estimated that nearly 50,000 people made the trip for the match, the biggest gate of the past few seasons. As the home team came onto the pitch there was an electric atmosphere as banners, fireworks, flares and singing came from every corner of the terraces.
The fans can only do so much though before the players have to take over, and on this occasion Racing were hit with a first half hammer blow. In a completely innocuous play on the edge of the area San Lorenzo’s Guillermo Pereyra somehow managed to squeeze the ball past the Racing defence and into the left hand corner, giving new goalkeeper Robert Fernandez no chance. Early on it was a minor setback though, and the fans continued to support the ‘celeste y blanca’ as if the goal had never gone in.
All in all it was a frustrating game to watch from the home terraces. Although clear leaders in possession and territory La Academia could not penetrate the sturdy three man defence of ‘El Ciclon’. Patricio Toranzo was one guilty party with more than a few truly awful attacking dead balls coming to nothing. New fan’s great hope, Colombian Gio Moreno had an equally frustrating game.
Undoubtedly fantastic on the ball and equipped with a magician’s top hat full of tricks, ‘El Flaco’ nonetheless plays the game with a languid disinterest which echoes the great Riquelme on a particularly lazy day, and for someone who stands 6’4 cannot or will not head a ball to save his life. As someone accustomed to the ‘swimming in treacle’ pace of the Colombian leagues however he will take time to adapt, and should be given that time by a Racing team more established and comfortable than for a long time.
Half-time came and went, with referee Hector Baldassi making himself 47,000 enemies by criminally overlooking two penalty claims from the home team. The second was forgiveable; the first however was a shin high reduction on Gio from veteran Diego Placente, and could have easily been a straight red card for the ex-Argentina international. Racing finally managed to break through early in the second half, and fitting with the carnival atmosphere of the first three fixtures it was ‘the clown’ himself Pablo Luguercio who popped up. The not so prolific striker who boasted a total of 7 goals in 72 games notched his eighth with a blistering long range strike, leaving the fans’ favourite to enjoy the adulation of his many supporters in El Cilindro.
Lugueeeeercio, Lugueeeeeercio, Lugueeeeercio!!!!!!
With the game levelled up then the home faithful got in full voice, and it looked as if a draw if not a Racing win would be a fair reflection of the game. Then with five minutes left on the clock, disaster. Ignoring Rupert’s eminently sensible advice to mark BOTH posts at a corner, Uruguayan striker Sebastian Balsas admittedly incredible header was left to spiral into the unattended far post: 2-1, and devastation.
The contrast between the tiny minority of away supporters and the legions surrounding was telling; the San Lorenzo massive went into party mode, while in our end Lucho to name just one retreated to the top of the terrace head in hands, crushed by the late strike. Things only got worse after the final whistle blew. As is customary, the home supporters must wait in the stadium until the away lot have filed out; and the 4,000 odd Ciclon fans were not going anywhere. All we could was wait, curse anyone we could think of, and wait some more.
It is right to say the loss against SanLore was a crushing disappointment, but unlike previous seasons the ilusion did not disappear with the loss of the three points. This is a different Racing side; Claudio Yacob and Patricio Toranzo are coming of age in the middle of the park, the defence despite Saturday’s slips is tighter than it has been in many years, and most importantly this La Academia is not giving up games as it once did.
If anything the defeat came from over-enthusiastically chasing the win - and as ‘El Payaso’ Luguercio said himself, this team will win more games than it loses playing in this way. For now the ilusion remains, injured but not extinguished; and while it lasts the Racing faithful will continue packing the stadiums week in week out, wherever it falls for them to play.
NEXT WEEK: Racing go on their first road trip of the new season, 700km down the road to Bahia Blanca to face Olimpo on Sunday. Eighteen hour round trip be damned: my seat’s already booked on the supporters’ bus!