I was watching the Argentina vs Scotland Rugby World Cup quarter-final from Stade de France in a bar with sky blue shirted Puma supporters and kilt wearing, flag-draped Scots, with ginger wigs and tartan berets.
Looking at the faces of the Argie players during the close-ups at the National Anthem (Himno Nacional) some of them looked a lot like the muggers I witnessed at La Boca in Buenes Aires on my last visit, except that one of them was crying his eyes out. Never before in the 5 previous tournaments have the South Americans progressed to the sem-final stage, but after the opening match in the same stadium, and a shock win over hosts France, now was their chance to shine. The Scots played poorly until the last 20 minutes and Argentina prevailed to face South Africa, winners over Fiji down in Marseille. The other semi-final will match France and England . New Zealand, the firm favourites, go home after losing to France in Cardiff, and hope that they can regroup for the 2011 tournament at home.
In Argentina rugby is still amateur, with the players unpaid. In fact there are 8 TIMES as many players as in traditional Scotland, and 80 clubs in Buenos Aires alone. NEVER has there been some much interest and sensationally the soccer match beween the 2 most famous teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate was actually postponed so that the whole nation could watch rugby on T.V.
Ernesto Che Guevara whose death in Bolivia happened 40 years ago this week was an Argentinian revolutionary and was responsible for the sentencing and executions in Cuba after Castro took control. He studied medicine in his native Argentina and loved playing rugby both for San Isidro Club and Estudiantes de Cordoba, despite being a life long asthma sufferer. He founded and wrote all the articles in the short lived rugby magazine TACKLE in 1951. His great great grandfather was an Irishman called Lynch and he was once interviewed after celebrating the anniversary of an Irish win over New Zealand at Harrity's Hotel bar in Limerick, while on an Air Cubana stoppover at nearby Shannon Airport on a flight from Prague to Havana. "Two sheets to the wind" drinking Guinness, was his condition. Viva Cuba Lynch was performed at the Edinburgh Festival 3 years ago. Current Argentina star Felipe Contepomi, also a doctor and an inside centre, is a fan of Che.
You don't see rugby players challenging the decisions of referees, who they usually address as SIR, and only the captains are permitted to speak with them. Contrast that with the antics of John Terry at Chelsea, any number of players at Manchester United, and most of the EPL coaches on the sidelines. To this end The Football Association Chief Executive Brian Barwick, a former Director of Sport at ITV, wants to bring in new regulations to restrain spectators, to limit referees only being approached by team captains, and to stamp out bad behavior. Good luck. He is to start with a number of lower leagues, but many think he should start with the EPL and The Championship, where week after week bad examples are set, for amateurs and youth players to copy. Referees are leaving the pastime in droves and its obvious that abuse is the main reason. In fact Barnet F C the Coca-Cola Football League II club have already implemented this rule. According to manager Paul Fairclough, it was the players idea, and has let them concentrate on playing.
Be on your best behaviour if you go and watch AC Ancona in Serie C1/B in Italy. As recently as 2003/4 they were in Serie A, then got relegated to Serie B and then went bankrupt.They have been bought by the Vatican Conference of Bishops but the players don't have to play in sandals and robes.According to Archbishop Edoarado Menicchelli of Ancona, "It's a way to moralise football and to bring some ethics to a sector of society that is going through a deep crisis in values." They play at 26,000 capacity Stadio del Conero www.anconacalcio.it. Fortunately their Ultra fans are dedicated to anti-racism and anti-fascism.
Diego Armando Maradona was supposed to be the star of a Hand of God replay match of the infamous match at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico where he brought the ball under control with his hand before scoring against England. It was announced today that the match, featuring aging stars at Aston Villa's Villa Park next week had been thankfully cancelled. Diego has a body of a God these days, but its Bhudda!!