One club's promotion to the Argentine top flight also means the return of an infamous hooligan gang, as Sam Kelly writes

It was, perhaps, fitting that when Mariano Echeverría scored the only goal of the match away to Platense, which confirmed Chacarita Juniors’ promotion back to Argentina’s top flight, he celebrated in front of empty stands. The match was played behind closed doors – and in La Plata, well away from Platense’s stadium in the north of Buenos Aires – because of security fears surrounding the Chacarita barra brava (hooligans).

They’re unlikely to be the last such measures taken. Chacarita play in Partido de General San Martín in the north-west of Greater Buenos Aires. They only narrowly missed out on promotion 12 months ago, but with the return to the top flight of one of the 15 clubs to have won a first division title in Argentina, the never-ending struggle on the part of the Argentine authorities to combat crowd trouble is going to get even more serious.

When Chacarita were last in the Primera División (they were relegated in 2004), their barra, called La Banda de San Martín, had high-profile clashes with some of the country’s biggest barras, including those of both River Plate and Boca Juniors, and have since earned a reputation as one of the gangs most likely to clash with the police. After the identity card plans reported in WSC 268 and other schemes (the lower divisions, including the second-flight B Nacional, where Chacarita have been until now, haven’t allowed away fans into the stadiums for the last year), it’s the promotion of Chacarita as much as anything which will test the security forces’ mettle.

Argentina has its own semi-acknowledged “big four” in hooliganism terms; the barras of River, Boca, and the two Rosario clubs Central and Newell’s Old Boys are widely considered the most dangerous. There are a number of others which cause considerable security concerns wherever they travel, however, and for a club of their size Chacarita’s gang have developed quite a reputation. Chacarita barras were a significant part of the gang who fought with English hooligans prior to the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between the countries at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, and the problem has not gone away in the intervening years.

In 1999, then-Chacarita president Luis Barrionuevo gave an interview to leading national newspaper Clarín in which he admitted to giving money, as well as free tickets and transport to games, to the club’s hooligan gang. He claimed at the time that this allowed him to keep the violent element under control, but it’s since become common practice in Argentina, with the result that gangs have massive influence over the way clubs are run (River Plate’s barra brava are suspected of having taken a slice of the transfer fee when Gonzalo Higuaín moved to Real Madrid in 2006, for instance).

The same year as Barrionuevo’s interview, Chacarita’s hooligans were been involved in what has become an infamous battle with their Boca Juniors counterparts, which saw Boca’s gang breaking into the Chacarita stand after being angered by chanting. In August 2003, a pre-arranged “revenge” battle (the Chacarita section for that pre-season friendly in 1999 had been largely populated by children and elderly fans) saw over 60 injured. In spite of police intervention, not a single arrest was made. Rafael Di Zeo, then the head of Boca’s gang La Doce, was eventually jailed in 2007 for his parts in both incidents along with a number of associates.

Considering this history, the response from the Argentine FA and the security forces to Chacarita’s promotion has been predictable. Predictable, that is, to anyone who’s aware of how the AFA deal with such matters. Nothing’s been said at all. The Argentine media haven’t made much of a fuss either, but that’s no great surprise – while fan violence is met with outrage after the event, the press seems remarkably incapable of spotting potential trouble in advance.

When the fixture list for the new season was released, it should not have come as a surprise that Chacarita’s visit to Boca was set on a weekend otherwise free of major rivalries for the authorities in Buenos Aires to police. If it becomes apparent that there’s a big chance of trouble, their response will be interesting. Pushing Platense out to La Plata is one thing, asking a club with the influence of Boca Juniors to play behind closed doors – even for fan safety – is another matter entirely.

From WSC 271 September 2009

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