How dangerous is it to watch football in Argentina?

Going to see a football match is one of the must-dos for any visitor to Argentina. For some, it's the only reason to visit in the first place.

Once the idea of fitting in visits to the Bombonera and the Monumental (while bargain-hunting for vintage Diego shirts and hydrating yourself with Quilmes) takes shape, a spanner then appears in the works.

Newspaper headlines report shootings, murders, fighting amongst football fans. The doubt creeps in. How dangerous is going to watch football in Argentina?

In an effort to go some way to answering this commonly-posed question, Argie Bargy has devised a quick check-list to assess the chances of being caught up in some nasty business. Tick as appropriate…

- You stand around in the streets near the stadium with a cloth in your hand, flagging cars down and charging for the parking space, and a promise that you’ll see to it that your wheels are still there in two hours time.

- You stand around in the streets near the stadium with a wad of tickets that you got from the ‘club’, reselling them at several times the face value.

- Alternatively, you charge tourists to go to games and watch the match from right in the middle of the mosh pit with you and your pals.

- You stand up on the barriers up on the terraces and orchestrate the singing during the match, angrily pointing at anyone not singing loudly enough.

- If there’s a gig at your club’s stadium, you organise security, plus parking and tickets (see above).

- Your weekly kickabout with mates is on the pitch where the club’s first team train.

- You receive thousands of dollars from politicians to hold up a specific banner, or flag, at the stadium. If it’s during an election campaign, all the better.

- You receive a percentage from player transfers.

- If you feel so inclined, you can call the police and tell them to take a hike when you want to do some business in a certain area of town.

- Miraculously, you then manage to get past police controls despite being banned from going to football matches.

- You go and have a chat with the squad after training about the poor results, and one of the team’s players pulls a gun on you (he was carrying it because he was expecting your visit).

- You too sometimes take a gun with you to a game, just in case.

- Once in, you carry on watching the match even though you hear that your mum has just been held at gunpoint by other fans a few miles down the road.

- You murdered your wife, did time in jail, then became close friends with the club president and became the ‘No.1 fan.’

- You have shootouts in parks on Sunday afternoons. And not penalty shootouts.

- The day after an argument, or maybe one of those shootouts, there’s graffiti around where you live saying ‘there are enough bullets for everyone.’

- You get high-profile players, internationals even, coming to visit you in jail once you have been convicted of a serious crime.

If any of the above apply to you, then you are at risk. It also means that you are part of the ‘barra brava’ – loosely translated as football hooligans.

That said, it is really is a loose translation because, unlike the hooligans, the problem of the barras is institutionalised in football. It’s more than a bunch of guys getting together for fisticuffs. Clubs know who they are, and what they are doing.

The key issue here is that the violence surrounding football is essentially a civil war amongst the barra brava over money.

The examples above are a mish-mash of widely-reported, well-documented and well-known facts that make up the colourful biographies of individuals or groups, both known as the barra, belonging to various football clubs in Argentina.

Just last week saw the third murder in two months involving the Newell’s Old Boys barra – that of the former leader, ‘Pimpi’ Caminos, who was shot dead. The first of the three deaths was 14-year-old Walter Caceres, on the way back from a game.

Caceres was literally caught in the crossfire. There's a chance of that happening to you, but it's not common. Violence between the warring factions of the barra is common, though.

Be sensible, don’t flash your camera about and enjoy the game. Just don’t forget that those touting the tickets, those with the flags, those doing the singing, those providing the atmosphere: those are the barra...

The murder of fomer Newell’s Old Boys barra leader ‘Pimpi’ Caminos last week was the 249th recorded football-related death in Argentina.

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