Big-Hearted River

Give me freedom, give me River!

I never had a team as a kid, not a professional baseball, basketball or football team to really support. I tried the Los Angeles Dodgers at one point but they seemed too close to home in my native West L.A. I thought about striking out further a field, being exotic and not running with the masses. I settled for a time on the Oakland Athletics and then shifted to the California Angels because my favorite pitcher was Nolan Ryan.

No matter, I didn’t get into following pro sports. I was more into individual challenges – biking, running, skateboarding and surfing. I knew the names of all the top surfers at one point, and followed the pro tour as it wound round the world, even checking out the competitions at Huntington Beach and my favorite pros like Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo.

I’m still an individualist, but that is not so easy in Argentina, my adopted home. Soccer, or football, is hard to escape. People talk about matches in detail and with hand gestures, even body gestures. “Did you see that?” one will say to another. It’s all over the streets and all over the media. The top players become celebrities. You breathe the sport and the passion, and soon you are buying a ticket and standing in the stadium – nobody sits – and bouncing up and down with the masses as the stadium shakes. You go again and again. You come to follow a club – Huracan, for me – and make friends with fellow supporters, cheering at wins and wincing at losses. The fever, however, waned for me with the years. I am still a follower, but not a die-hard anymore. I am an informed fan.

My seven-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is catching the fever for River Plate, one of the country’s biggest clubs. How she came to select River as her team is unknown. She just came home from school one day and was a fan. She didn’t say, “Dad, I’m going to support River. What do you think?” No, she came back a supporter. And a die-hard at that. When we were looking for a new place to live, one apartment on the 12th floor had a view of River’s stadium. She smiled with glee.

“I want to live here!”

Another was a house two blocks from the stadium. You could smell the burgers and choripanes on the barbeques and hear the emotion of the fans. Even the referee’s whistle. Well, almost.

“I want to live here!”

In the end we moved to a house in Colegiales, where the closest clubs are first-division Argentinos Juniors and lowly Atlanta. That’s all right with my daughter because River Plate is not too far away, and Boca Juniors, the cross-town rivals of her beloved team, is well enough away in a place we don’t ever really need to go.

Except on an occasional weekend outing. We drove down to have a look around the old streets of La Boca and the Caminito. We showed our daughter Boca’s stadium, La Bombonera. She frowned and asked when we were leaving. I said that maybe we’d have lunch and wander around a bit more. “You can take some photos,” I told her.

She refused to take her camera out of its case.

“I’m not taking photos of Boca… only River.”

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