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.

âÂÂThe stadiums of Racing, followed by Independiente,â I said.

âÂÂOK,â replied the driver, âÂÂbut why do you want to go there?âÂÂ

âÂÂIâÂÂm a football fan and IâÂÂve got two hours to visit some stadiums in your city. IâÂÂve already been to Boca and River so I wanted to see Racing and Independiente because they are so close to each other.âÂÂ

"Five stadiums in two hours please driver"

âÂÂThe battle of the barrio,â he replied as we headed south. âÂÂThey donâÂÂt like each other.âÂÂ

âÂÂTwo hours you say?â he went on, sizing up a healthy job. âÂÂI can also take you to some more stadiums if you are interested.âÂÂ

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

Taxis in Buenos Aires are very cheap. The two hour trip would cost me ã21 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.

âÂÂWhere else are you going?â asked the groundsman.


âÂÂDonâÂÂt bother,â he said, shaking his head. âÂÂThey are not as friendly there.âÂÂ

He was right. At Independiente, a surly gateman wouldnâÂÂt let me take a picture unless âÂÂyou get permission from the club.âÂÂ

They are building what will be ArgentinaâÂÂs most modern stadium, but we didnâÂÂt 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.

âÂÂWho do you support?â I asked.

âÂÂRiver,â he replied. âÂÂAnd 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.âÂÂ

"Anyone else?"

âÂÂI also like Flamengo in Brazil and Inter Milan in Italy.âÂÂ

âÂÂWho do you want to win when Liverpool play Manchester United?âÂÂ

âÂÂManchester United, because I prefer Tevez to Mascherano. But I am happy if it is a draw.âÂÂ

After IâÂÂd 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. IâÂÂll write about the Falklands next week as IâÂÂm 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 â with several unsurprisingly dedicated to El Diego.

A young Diego in Argentinos Juniors colours

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

He wasnâÂÂt going to have an Englishman in his cab without bringing that up was he?


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