Saturday, July 25, 2009

Indenpendiente is confusing club both geographically and in terms of fame.
To most football aficionados Argentine football is River Plate and Boca Juniors – everything else fades behind the two world famous clubs from Buenos Aires. But in 1972 Independiente was often presented to curious Europeans as the most popular Argentine club. It may had been so back than – on one hand, fandom was not yet consolidated around two or three clubs and not only in Argentina – many clubs still had significant number of supporters, following traditional lines of neighbourhoods and cities. Massive consolidation came later. On the other hand, Independiente is a geographic puzzle: sometimes they are listed as club from Buenos Aires, but just as often Avallaneda is given as their home town. In fact, they belong to Buenos Aires only if we speak of Greater Buenos Aires – Avallaneda is incorporated into the megapolis, yet it preserves distinctness. It is not suburbia, outskirts, or even township – it is part of the whole called Buenos Aires, but preserving local pride and identity. Certainly bigger than a neighbourhood or even city district, yet not exactly separate entity. Finally, situated between Buenos Aires proper and La Plata, Avalleneda curiously serves La Plata – further away from the centre of the metropolis, La Plata is always taken as a distinctly separate city thanks to the vague border area called Avallaneda: at least in football, clubs are from La Plata, although there is no visible separation between this city and Greater Buenos Aires. Anyhow, going back to the issue of popularity, Indenpendiente may had been easily the most popular Argentine club at the time – no less than 9 clubs from Buenos Aires played in the first division in 1971, half of the 19-team league, that is, and not counting second and third division clubs. Buenos Aires is probably the city with most football clubs in the world, most of them old, with well established fan base thanks to combination of neighbouring pride and Argentine peculiarity – clubs are not simply clubs, but actually community centers with many activities, one among them – the professional football team. The most important one, but just one among many other activities nevertheless. This peculiarity attaches clubs to politics, which at the end makes fans out of people who may be supporting the club for political rather than purely sporting reasons. At least that was the general picture back in the early 1970s and although River Plate and Boca Juniors were traditionally the most popular Buenos Aires clubs, they still had to compete with many other clubs for the potential pool of supporters. Avallaneda was different story: the total number of local clubs was much smaller and competition with Buenos Aires concentrated fans to one of the two big local clubs – Racing Club and Independiente. Thus, it was very likely Independiente to have had more supporters than River or Boca in total numbers. Besides, the 1960s were not the best years of either giant – River Plate did not win a single title between 1957 and 1975. Boca Juniors won 5 titles in 1960s, but their record is checkered – no clear dominance and no international success. In contrast, Racing Club, Independiente, and Estudiantes (La Plata) won 6 Libertadores cups during the 1960s. 1972 was just the beginning of continental domination for Independiente – they won 4 Libertadores Cups in succession, which is South American record. Indenpendiente also won most Libertadores Cups so far – 7 in total. As it is, hardly small potatoes.
The team featured good number of Argentine national players – Sa, Balbuena, Pastoriza, Santoro, Semenewicz and was captained by Uruguayan star – Ricardo Elbio Pavoni. Pastoriza was part of the revived European import of South Americans, starting in 1972, but as a whole Independiente preserved the winning team, eventually adding more talent. In 1972 they were welcoming change – at least for South Americans – after the dreadful years of ugly Estudiantes and not exactly flying Nacional (Montevideo). They appeared elegant, attacking and, in contrast to the mentioned above teams, modern. To European eye, they were rather the same old story – brutal tricksters, naturally technical, but with no real spark. Tough and well organized team, but light years away from the beauty of total football. Which was true is difficult to figure out – Independiente did not dominate Argentine football, yet they dominated South America and were successful against European clubs too. However, Brazilian clubs were in various difficulties during the best part of the 1970s, and the Uruguayans were steadily declining as well, so the usual competition was not great in South America. Ajax refused to play the Intercontinental Cup in 1973 and Bayern also refused in 1975, so Independiente did not meet the best European clubs either. But numbers are numbers… and Independiente is the King of Cups in South America. So far.