A whistle-stop tour of Buenos Aires arenas

I ducked out of the shade and flagged a taxi down in the scorching Buenos Aires sun.

“The stadiums of Racing, followed by Independiente,” I said.

“OK,” replied the driver, “but why do you want to go there?”

“I’m a football fan and I’ve got two hours to visit some stadiums in your city. I’ve already been to Boca and River so I wanted to see Racing and Independiente because they are so close to each other.”

"Five stadiums in two hours please driver"

“The battle of the barrio,” he replied as we headed south. “They don’t like each other.”

“Two hours you say?” he went on, sizing up a healthy job. “I can also take you to some more stadiums if you are interested.”

Interested? Does Garth Crooks ask long-winded, multi-claused questions?

Taxis in Buenos Aires are very cheap. The two hour trip would cost me £21 and I got to see a lot more than two stadiums.

At Racing, the gatemen welcomed me in when I told them that I was from Manchester and just wanted a quick picture. Even better, they got the groundsman to walk me into the centre of the pitch where Ricky Villa once played.

“Where else are you going?” asked the groundsman.

“Independiente.”

“Don’t bother,” he said, shaking his head. “They are not as friendly there.”

He was right. At Independiente, a surly gateman wouldn’t let me take a picture unless “you get permission from the club.”

They are building what will be Argentina’s most modern stadium, but we didn’t hang around to sort out the bureaucracy and got on the motorway to see the home of another great club, Velez Sarsfield.

Velez Sarsfield's Estadio Jose Amalfitani

The taxi driver liked football.

“Who do you support?” I asked.

“River,” he replied. “And Quilmes, the team from my barrio. And I like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in England. English football is very strong and I watch them every week. And Barcelona in Spain.”

"Anyone else?"

“I also like Flamengo in Brazil and Inter Milan in Italy.”

“Who do you want to win when Liverpool play Manchester United?”

“Manchester United, because I prefer Tevez to Mascherano. But I am happy if it is a draw.”

After I’d been to Velez and their steep-sided 48,000 ground, where another friendly gateman let me onto the pitch and a kindly club official insisted on showing me some of their trophies (like the Inter-Continental Cup, won in 1994) we went to the nearby home of All Boys.

It was here that Carlos Tevez played before Boca Juniors signed him. The Islas Malvinas stadium (what Argentinians call the Falkland Islands) was another traditional football ground, with steep painted terracing.

All the grounds were the opposite of the new identikit stadia that have spread around Europe. They were loved and cherished, even though they would never get a health and safety certificate in Britain.

There was also a map of The Falklands behind one goal. I’ll write about the Falklands next week as I’m to travel there by ship via Antarctica.

The final stadium was La Paternal of Argentinos Juniors, the first club of Diego Maradona himself. Stunning murals cover their homely 24,000 capacity ground – with several unsurprisingly dedicated to El Diego.

A young Diego in Argentinos Juniors colours

“Do you remember when he scored against England in Mexico?” the taxi driver asked as he sped me back into the centre of a quite brilliant city.

He wasn’t going to have an Englishman in his cab without bringing that up was he?

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