Fontanarrosa’s hilarious football stories or how to love a ball above all else | Culture


Argentina, football and literature. A holy trinity that has had for its faithful the writer Roberto Fontanarrosa as one of its most luminous apostles. Cartoonist, publicist, creative advisor to Les Luthiers, short story writer, novelist and, above all things, fan of Rosario Central, the popular Argentine soccer club that was born in 1889 from a group of employees of the Central Railway. Fontanarrosa died in 2007, at age 61, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); his literature remained, which now returns, luckily for football fans, with the book Pure football (geoPlaneta), which brings together 24 of his stories about this sport, published between 1977 and 2007 in several books and in the press. In the prologue, journalist Enric González makes it clear when he elevates him as “the greatest and funniest football writer.”

Former soccer player Jorge Valdano, who enjoyed their friendship, agrees with this assessment and highlights, in a telephone conversation, that “the most interesting thing about his stories is that he took the symbolic to the real, he knew how to dig and extract every last sensation from a player.” or from an amateur.” El Negro, as he was known, got with great ease into the skin of the forward who was going to take a penalty or a free kick that could give victory in the last minute, not to mention that of the fan who was suffering or enjoying the steps.

What Fontanarrosa undoubtedly achieves is laughter. It was truly what interested him and not literary glories. “I do not aspire to the Nobel Prize in Literature. I consider myself very well paid when someone comes up to me and says: ‘I laughed my ass off at your book,’ he said. The stories now collected show a crazy and delirious world of football, shaped with the language of the street, of fans, of sports journalists, of conversations in a bowling alley. “He was an extraordinary person inside an ordinary container who turned everything into laughter,” says Valdano.

His most famous story and, perhaps, the most hilarious, is ‘December 19, 1971’, also known as ‘El Viejo Casale’, in which a group of Central fans, before the Rosario’s greatest rivalry match against the most inimitable Newell’s Old Boys (of which Valdano is a fan and in which he played) decide to repeat all kinds of rituals that on previous occasions brought them luck and thus scare away the mufa, the jinx.

The Argentine writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, in 2001.
The Argentine writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, in 2001.Gorka Lejarcegi

However, to exorcise the everlasting humiliation that a hypothetical defeat would entail, they discover a certainty that will make them invincible. One of the boys remembers meeting an old man with a heart condition who claims to have never seen Los Canallas, as he is nicknamed, Rosario Central, lose in the stadium. What can be done to force him to go to the countryside, even though he doesn’t want to because of his fragile health? “That was when we decided to kidnap,” says the narrator. What happens in the following pages are nerves, joy, ecstasy…

If ‘El Viejo Casale’ is at the top of the podium, there are several stories that touch the bar of the sublime. Like ‘The Names’, in which, as if he were a radio operator in charge of broadcasting the games, the author shows the great importance of the players’ names when he is holding onto a microphone. Euphonious names that “have to fill the mouth, so that they can be chewed,” he writes. For example, Marrapodi, perfect for a flying goalkeeper, or Camaratta. “But how can there be a García goalkeeper? If there is that numb sensation in the mouth that comes from when one eats peppermints; García flew, what the hell is that idiot going to fly.”

Or the one titled ‘The Pigeon of Christ‘, in which a mysterious goalkeeper arrived at the last moment saves his team with miraculous saves. In the locker room, a teammate notices that the Pigeon has some strange wounds on his hands and “a scratch on his ribs.” Also, the masterful ‘Something Falero says to Saliadarré’, in which the discussion between a veteran and a young man from Independiente de Avellaneda about which of the two should take a direct free kick in the last minute, which could lead to a tie against River Plate in the Monumental stadium, unleashes a cascade of reproaches and contempt… until the final fireworks.

Rosario Central players celebrate their victory in the Argentine championship against River Plate at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, in October 2022.
Rosario Central players celebrate their victory in the Argentine championship against River Plate at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, in October 2022.Rodrigo Valle (Getty Images)

Fontanarrosa loves to get mud on himself, that’s when he places his stories in those little street games, among kids who don’t know if there will be 11 of them to be able to play, they don’t know if the goalkeeper will come, if the one who is yet to arrive will bring the ball, if the ball will be deflated… He also played them, but it never amounted to anything serious because, as Enric González remembers, Fontanarrosa said that he had two small defects: “One is the right leg and the other is the left leg.”

This did not prevent him, however, from scoring two goals in a friendly between veterans that he and Valdano played in the latter’s town, Las Parejas. “El Negro scored two goals, one with a header, despite his osteoarthritis. Later, he wrote a letter to his friend, the Colombian writer Daniel Samper Pizano, in which he told her about the epic game. When the letter started there were a few people watching the match and when it ended there were already 30,000,” recalls the former coach of Real Madrid, among other teams.

The last story, old man with treewith a taste of farewell, published in Clarion the year he died, details the different arts—music, dance, theater—that a fan can appreciate in a soccer match, even if it is among kids on a modest field… It is above all a song of love for a game that, as he said in an interview in EL PAÍS in 2005, “it is very well thought out, it is very fun and it is also very capricious: why do we have to handle the ball with our foot, when we do everything with our hand?”

The volume is missing, however, a good glossary of Argentinianisms, of soccer jargon, to understand each other, because of pan-Hispanism, as the experts say. And, above all, so that it does not happen like that Argentine soccer player who, recently arrived in the Spanish league, snapped at the referee when faced with a decision that he considered unfair: “But what did you get paid?” (What did you whistle?), to which the referee, surprised that that guy insulted him in his face insinuating that he was anointed (bought), showed him the red card and sent him to the booth.

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