This week the FWA takes a winter break and travels to the sunshine of Buenos Aires
Reuters’ Rex Gowar on interviewing a stunning lioness, the English theatre of football and 15 red cards
MONDAY FEBRUARY 20
As I started this new “challenge”, I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast in temperatures with what I’d seen on the box on Sunday – Gus Poyet and my old amigo Mauricio Taricco all wrapped up on the B&HA bench at Anfield while we’re sweating down here in the higher 30s Celsius.
Started with a routine check of Latin American websites to see where the weekend story was outside the main leagues in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. It turned out to be Peru. The first weekend of the championship was chaotic with the professional players on strike and teams fielding their junior sides or none at all while the conflict between the players’ union and the league clubs over their wage debts raged on.
A couple of other stories cropped up so I was mostly stuck to the laptop at home, in the kitchen where I get the most light, accompanied by a good Malbec in the evening.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 21
More on Peru and the effect of the players’ strike on the national side preparing to meet Tunisia in a friendly in Rades as part of their preparations for the next round of World Cup qualifiers in June — followed by the Copa Libertadores at night.
Three nights a week of Libertadores group stage matches involves a lot of juggling – whether to stay up late for a wrap of the action or do a reaction piece the next morning. Sod’s Law is that the night I decide not to stay up for the late match is when five payers are sent-off or the crowd causes some sort of mayhem.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 22
The interference of other sports meant I had to move away from football today but it was a sacrifice I made in the name of professionalism. Went to see Las Leonas (lionesses), Argentina’s world champion women’s hockey team – most of them would not be out of place on a catwalk – begin their preparations for the Olympic Games where they will be one of Britain’s chief rivals for the gold medal. Did an interview with one of them and then headed for the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club -where all the courts are clay – for the Buenos Aires Open, Argentina’s ATP tournament. Reuters wants copy on the semi-finals and final so I just sat in the sun and enjoyed a Franco-Swiss second round match.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23
As the demand from editors for Olympic-related copy increases, I was involved in planning a feature on Brazil’s obsession with the football gold medal, the one major title to have escaped them so far. This year they won’t have holders Argentina to contend with as they did not qualify but Uruguay go back for the first time since winning the second of their golds in 1928. The story will be written by one of the Reuters reporters in Sao Paulo – in English which is a relief. I cover the Brazilian League with the help of a young Rio reporter who sends me his copy in Portuguese and I put it into English, a routine weekend task when the 27 state championships end and the Brasileirao (big Brazilian) national first division kicks-off in May.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 24
This is the day I stand the best chance of taking off but I couldn’t help getting back to the Leonas for another interview. Professionalism shines through.
The Friday routine, though, is to meet with three colleagues, and sometimes more, for lunch at a grill in the Palermo barrio called La Dorita. We happen, since the middle of last year, to all be supporters of second division sides, three of us River Plate and one Huracan, both relegated last June. And the restaurant – I’m not sure why the others chose it before I came back to Buenos Aires in 2009 – is a haven of arch-rivals Boca Juniors bedecked with blue and yellow memorabilia including a framed shirt signed by Martin Palermo.
We are two from Reuters, one ex-Reuters now working in radio as a tennis specialist and one ex-DPA now at sports daily Ole and the topics – women and futbol. Early last year the three of us who are River fans decided to write a book about JJ Lopez, a great former midfielder who was the coach we thought would prevent us from the drop. As, after defeat by Boca in April, it became increasingly likely we would be relegated, we let the plan drift away so losing what had been a regular lunch topic.
This Friday, we talked about English football and another old friend, Ossie Ardiles, got two mentions. First because he is a former player of Huracan and fan Federico Coronado spoke proudly about Huracan FC London, a Sunday League team who came to Buenos Aires on tour last year.
Then Luis Ampuero of Reuters said what he didn’t like about English football was the tactical rigidity and lack of spontaneity of the kind you get from players like Ardiles and Sergio Aguero “whose goals nearly always come from a jinking run”. On the other hand, he said, Argentina had the often chaotic organisation of the game and the violence of fans that England had cured. “Really,” he said, and brought his hands together in an arc, “football in the two countries is not so different.” He added: “I love the setting of the matches in England, it’s like theatre.”
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25
Covered the tennis semi-finals and Cruyff’s appointment as a consultant of Guadalajara, a surprise story that cropped up late at night (we are two hours ahead of Mexico), while keeping an eye on the Argentine league programme. Referees dished out 15 red cards on the previous two weekends ( in 20 matches) in a clampdown on players’ general poor behavior announced before the Clausura championship started on February 10.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26
An all-Spanish tennis final in Buenos Aires, a new colonialism? David Ferrer beat last year’s winner Nicolas Almagro. There were no red cards in the five matches on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday’s four games produced four so the chances are that with one game to go on Monday night we’re looking at an improvement.