“Salpicon of ideas” – Spring – 2021
by Pablo Álvarez
Thank God I’m an atheist; although every four years, when the soccer World Cup is played, I seem like a polytheist. For periods of ninety minutes, I am convinced of the divine connection between the TV screen, my screams and pleas, and the gods of Argentine soccer who look at me from the ceiling.
According to the religious sociologist, Fortunato Mallianci, the number of atheists is on the rise in Argentina. However, another study carried out by the multinational P&G revealed that Argentines are the ones who follow cabbalas the most in Latin America. It is from this relationship between the sacred and the pagan that cabbalas are born; and for those who are not familiar with this word, according to the Royal Spanish Academy, it is the set of theosophical doctrines based on the Bible, which, through an esoteric method of interpretation and transmitted by way of initiation, aims to reveal to the initiates hidden doctrines about God and the world. In short, they are the usual curious practices (madness, my grandmother would say) to bring luck to our team.
I say our team because I am one of those “crazy” about soccer. I don’t say Argentina plays today; I say we play today, although the phrase needs more context living outside the country. I am one of those who does not wash his jersey until the end of the World Cup, who does not shave if we win the first game, who crosses his fingers when we kick a penalty and makes horns when we have to stop them, who never celebrates or gives up until the game is officially over, even if it goes against all logic.
It’s not about logic, it’s about influencing luck. Not only the viewer participates in these rituals, it is something that the entire team takes seriously. From those who drive the players, repeating the same route, stopping at the same traffic lights (even if they are green,) listening to the same music on the way to the field; to even the players who kiss with the same devotion both crosses and lucky charms. Insanity, in this context, would be not respecting the rituals.
This divine-pagan relationship is not an Argentine exclusive, but it is deeply rooted in the culture of the country. Perhaps its greatest exponent is found in the lyrics of “Cambalache,” a tango by Enrique Santos Discépolo that immortalized the phrase “you see the Bible cry next to the boiler”, referring to the custom of hanging a bible under the boiler (which used to be in the bathrooms at that time) and use its pages as toilet paper.
But going back to soccer, where in Argentina the cabbalas become mystical, it is worth noting the innumerable parallels with religion. On Sundays, my grandmother used to go to church and my grandfather to the soccer stadium. The two gathered with a crowd of fans to worship their idols, sing along, and pray for a miracle. Sometimes they even cried with joy, hugged strangers, and made a pilgrimage back home, thinking of coming back the following week. It is no coincidence that Argentina’s first goal against England in the 1986 World Cup is known as the hand of God.
Like many folk customs, cabbalas are passed from generation to generation without following formal rules; that is to say, everyone has their own. Mine has its origin on June 22, 1986, the day of the goal with the hand. Four minutes after Maradona’s most sinful goal, the most miraculous came. It was a glorious play that they baptized the best goal of the century. When the commentator, Víctor Hugo Morales, said: “the genius of world soccer starts from the right,” it was like an omen of what was to come. I looked at my dad looking for an explanation, and I saw him with his mouth opened and a child’s gaze. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he managed to mutter: “Look, Pablito;” I will always thank him. Those ten seconds marked me forever. When the ball reached the back of the net and seemed to bounce off the green FujiFilm sign behind the English goal, at the age of eight I didn’t quite understand everything I was feeling. I felt enormous joy, but also a lump in his throat. My eyes watered and I lowered my head so that no one would see me cry. So, Victor Hugo ended his comment by saying, “Thank you, God. For soccer, for Maradona, for these tears, for this Argentina 2, England 0 “, and I ended up breaking. When I raised my head wiping my face and waiting for the teasing, my dad, looking at me with pride, said, “those are men’s tears.”
The last World Cup we were able to see together was in 2006. Afterwards, he got sick (lung cancer), and although I bought the tickets well in advance to encourage him, he didn’t make it to 2010. On June 22 of that year, before the match against Greece, I locked myself in the bathroom to watch Maradona’s goal from my phone to feel him close, and it worked. We won two to zero. Since then, before important games, I lock myself in the bathroom to cry men’s tears.
Sources links are in Spanish:
Page 12, Article on Atheism
The cabals of Argentine soccer (a history of fortunes)
The most unusual cabals of the Argentines
Royal Spanish Academy
The secrets of ‘La Mano de Dios’ from Maradona to England in the World Cup in Mexico 86 | AS newspaper
My name is Pablo Álvarez and I have the privilege of joining the family of writers for the CNY Latino newspaper in January 2021. My column will try to reflect the same degree of diversity as my academic formation, which is why I decided to call it “Salpicon of ideas”. I will address current issues with a varied approach, that I hope is also of interest to our community. Although it sounds a bit strange, I’m proposing a more or less open relationship. Let’s just say that I don’t promise to be exclusive in my content, since I also write fiction. However, I faithfully commit to you that I will give my best in these monthly meetings. I hope you do the same. Read as much as you can, since knowledge does not take up space, but try to return every month to this corner of the CNY Latino newspaper to continue cultivating this friendship.