The railway children

Ferro Carril is a typical Argentinian sports club and centrepoint of the community

Watching Ferro Carril Oeste play their final Primera B Nacional game of the season, against cross-town rivals Nueva Chicago, is how I spent Monday afternoon. Having told my workmate that I was keen to join him in the terraces at his local beloved Ferro one day, we quickly set the date for the first of the two consecutive public holidays this week.

Like many sides here, Ferro’s story is one steeped in history. Translating literally as ‘Railroad west,’ the club was founded in 1904 by a group of railway employees. Some thirty years later it cut ties with the railway company and was renamed to reflect this. In the meantime, it was in 1911 when the club had settled on its home colours. More than a century on, green remains synonymous with Ferro, as does the sense of community in the Buenos Aires barrio of Caballito which has the club at its epicentre.

Indeed, annexed to the right-hand side of the wonderfully-lidded main stand is a basketball court, for example. This is just one of many sporting facilities available at the club. Others include taekwondo and table tennis in the sports hall under this stand; swimming in the pool on site; and athletics on the track adjacent to the pitch. Oh yes, this is more than just a football club. We were reminded of this at half-time too when the club’s respective sports teams were paraded in full kit to warm applause.

With regards to the game itself, there was not much of note as Nueva Chicago edged it 1-0, ensuring their survival. Or at least I think that’s what happened, based on their ascension from 25th position (of 25 teams) to 23rd as a result – and the wild celebrations on the pitch at the end. One caveat I would add is that, for anyone familiar with the incongruous Argentinian promedios, you will know that a calculator is always needed for this kind of thing. Originally designed to protect the so-called ‘Big Five’ – of Boca, River, Independiente, San Lorenzo and Racing – this format decrees that average points haul over three seasons determines final standing. Ironically this worked against River Plate in 2011, when they were relegated.

An admittedly rawer experience than my occasional trips to El Monumental to watch the aforementioned domestic giants, the tone was set by the barbed wire and zoo-like cage securing the perimeter of our stand. This was just as well, as Nueva Chicago’s matchwinner Lucas Baldunciel was pelted with bottles, lighters etc as he celebrated his close-range strike immediately below us.

The real villains of the piece however are captured in the photo, both cutting isolated figures as play goes on elsewhere. Running the line on our left was ‘el gordito,’ the overweight linesman targeted by a frustrated crowd after a couple of inopportune waves of his flag. Subsequently it was manager Alejandro Orfila, a man forlornly watching from his technical area throughout, who bore the brunt of this frustration at the end. The biggest footballing insult in Argentina, vitriolic cries of ‘PECHO FRIO!!!’ (‘cold chest’ = without heart/guts), were directed at Orfila who had no answer as his side went out with a whimper, rounding off a disappointing season.

A quick Google Images search of the Ricardo Etcheverri stadium captures not just what a glorious old stadium this once was, but also its projected majesty for the future. Yet currently, due to league regulations stipulating that wooden stands are no longer fit for purpose, there is a noticeable absence of two of Ferro’s original four stands. As can be just about seen, the modernisation process is underway, although they have only got as far as building the concrete steps that lead to nowhere. The requisite money for a full revamp remains outstanding, and so there is no timeframe for its completion.

This uncertainty is altogether a bit unsatisfactory for an outsider looking in. My workmate, a longstanding socio (member) is unfazed about the whole thing though. For him, Ferro is a way of life. He is in good company too, with many of its socios the descendants of the club’s founding fathers from generations not so long ago past. If called upon they will doubtless step in to prevent Ferro from hitting the buffers, as the club explores all its possible avenues of investment first. Hardly full steam ahead then, but for now this train continues to roll along just fine.

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