After almost a week in Maracaibo I came to Barquisimeto yesterday to catch the last two games in Group C and next Sunday’s quarter final.
The problem was getting here. There is only one bus a day between the two cities and that was full so I was forced to catch a mini bus with a bunch of Argentine fans who were leaving from the same hotel. They were struggling for transport too and so together we rented a van and set off.
The journey took about four-and-a-half hours on windy roads between the hills of western Venezuela. In addition to our Venezuelan driver, there was an older couple from Rosario and four young hinchas from Buenos Aires. When they discovered I was Scottish they gave me the nickname El Johnny, from Johnny Walker. (Argentine humour….)
Rather curiously, their club allegiances covered four of the big five Argentine teams. Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing and Independiente. (San Lorenzo is considered the fifth.)
They were jokers and after I expressed a soft spot for Racing, Independiente’s arch rival from the Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda, I became the target of good natured banter.
Racing have a rich history and are considered Argentina’s third biggest team. (Current President Nestor Kirchner is a fan, as was dictator Juan Peron, for whom Racing’s Juan Domingo Peron stadium is named.)
They are nicknamed the Academy because they were one of the first teams in Argentine to abandon the English long ball game and play the short toco e me voy (give and go) style, as well as for all the great players they have produced.
But times have been tough for Racing in recent years with only one league triumph in four decades. Although their fans are among the most committed in the country they are also considered sofredores, ones who suffer for their cause.
My new friends never let me forget it…