In the first of his chronicles from Buenos Aires, Outside Write contributor Matt McGinn visits his first match in Argentina.
One would generally associate a trip to the reigning champions of Argentina with the ‘Big Five’: Boca Juniors, Independiente, Racing Club, River Plate, and San Lorenzo. La Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors, or El Monumental, home of their rivals River Plate, are prominent in the British imagination of success in Argentine football. In September 2016, I had to venture to the south east of Buenos Aires to visit Los Campeones: Club Atlético Lanús.
Lanús is an unassuming, industrial area within the vast sprawl of Greater Buenos Aires. Lanús versus Unión de Santa Fé was my first match in Buenos Aires, four days after my arrival. It was also my first trip out of the confines of the central barrios [districts]. Before arriving, a few people had told me that Buenos Aires had a tangible European feel, and before taking the bus to Lanús, I would have agreed. As the bus trundled south along Avenida Sáenz and across the Matanza River, it felt like I was stepping in to true Latin America.
Lanús has enjoyed success in the last decade, following ninety years of relative mediocrity. The club won its first Primera División title in 2007 and added a second in 2016.
With a capacity of 47,027, the elaborately named Estadio Ciudad de Lanús – Néstor Díaz Pérez is no garden shed. Two terraced stands behind each goal provide the majority of the capacity. The vast open terrace that accommodated the cluster of Unión supporters reminded me of Hill 16 at Croke Park. The exterior of the stadium looked rather like a tired ship; a mass of gently rusting metal. It has a charming, higgledy-piggledy feel. Each stand has its own character.
I arrived at the ground an hour before kick off. I wanted to be in the ground to see the atmosphere build. Tickets were for sale for non-socios [non-members] from an unmarked kiosk on the corner of Las Piedras and General Madariaga. I paid 300 pesos (approximately £15) for a ticket on the home terrace. As I bought my ticket, the club’s barras, the hard-core element of support, were hauling large sacks through security, which contained the colourful displays they would erect behind the goal.
There was a rather surreal series of events as I walked away from the kiosk, ticket in hand. As a car pulled out of the junction at a slow pace, one its the front wheels completely detached and rolled towards a ground towards a team of tethered police horses. A family of unscathed Lanús supporters emerged from the aged Peugeot, and a policeman approached the driver. Both looked thoroughly bemused.
Inside the ground, the barras were working in small teams to fix long strips of cloth to the back of the stand and to the barbed fencing at the front of the terrace. To my right, as I looked out to the pitch, a three metre wide trench separated the pitch from the seated stand. It was full of stagnant water that made the Grand Union canal look like Evian. It is a crowd control mechanism to prevent supporters entering the pitch in the absence of a fence.
Smatterings of supporters joined those already sat on the terrace to form a reasonable crowd, although the terrace was sparsely populated behind the corners. The Lanús club anthem blasted out over the fuzzy PA system. It is best described as a chirpy remix of a generic former-Soviet national anthem. Ten minutes before kick off, the beat of several drums could be heard from the area beneath the stand. Soon after, a brass band added to the hubbub.
As the team news flashed up on the big screen, the Lanús faithful let out a roar of admiration for Miguel Almirón, the young Paraguayan number ten, of whom big things are expected. He has strong stylistic similarities to Ángel Di María. Both are rangy and left-footed. But while Di María is a flying winger, Almirón was a floating, inquisitive presence behind the striker; attempting neat, fast interplay.
A well-organised Unión side, which was incisive on the counter attack, frustrated Almirón and co. The away side secured a 0-1 victory courtesy of a goalkeeping error. Fernando Monetti stuttered into no-man’s-land at a Unión corner, leaving Lucas Gamba free to nod into an empty net on 69 minutes. The margin of victory could have been wider. Unión squandered several clear chances as Lanús committed more men forward.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the away end. Although sparsely populated, it was a sea of red and white. Many Unión fans were armed with large beer-garden-style red and white umbrellas, which bounced up and down to the beat of their drums.
The home supporters were impressively vocal, considering their team gave them very little cause for enthusiasm. With a capacity crowd (the attendance was not announced, but it was fairly sparse), the stadium would certainly create a cauldron of atmosphere to warrant its nickname of ‘La Fortaleza’ – ‘The Fortress’. They increased the volume as the final whistle blew, admirable following a home defeat to relatively lowly opposition. As the crowds filtered out of the stadium, the atmosphere felt surprisingly upbeat.
I felt content as I flicked through a copy of El Grafico on the bus back to central Buenos Aires, which I had bought at a kiosk at Lanús station. I had thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of La Primera.
How to get to Lanús
Lanús is well connected to central Buenos Aires by train. It takes about 45 minutes from Estación Constitución.
I opted for a bus to Lanús station. The 75 goes through Centro before trundling south. Once in Lanús it goes around the houses, and then some more houses, before arriving at the station. It took about an hour, but was a good way to see more of the city.
http://www.omnilineas.com.ar/buenos-aires/colectivos/ is an excellent interactive tool for obtaining details of bus routes in Buenos Aires (there are many!).
The stadium is a twenty-minute walk from the station. Take the footbridge over the tracks from the side of the station that buses depart from. Walk down Avenida 9 de Julio, a busy shopping street that houses the Lanús club shop, and take a right down General Madariaga.