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Caballito is the nucleus where families and friends meet every weekend to watch their team play. No matter at what division, history never disappears.
[This article, written by Iñaki Lorda, was originally published at panenka.org]
It is a normal Sunday in the neighborhood of Caballito. Fathers and sons walk proudly wearing their shirts of Ferro Carril Oeste while they talk about the game that will start in a few minutes. Just like Sunday’s service for the Christians, the family of Ferro, being good parishioners, never miss their games at the Estadio Arquitecto Ricardo Etcheverri. The fathers tell their sons about how Beto Márcico made them champions back in the 80s, and the sons listen with hope, dreaming that someday they will also make their team champions. The tablones (wood stands) are no longer there, the supporters no longer jump on the wood, and the kids no longer play a simultaneous football game under the stands. Times have changed. The oldest ground in Argentina and the second oldest of America changed its stands wood stands for concrete stands and maybe, as the more nostalgic fans point out, some of the essence has been lost. But that yearning goes away as soon as the players of Ferro made their way into the pitch. What never abandons Ferro is its identity.
Ferro Carril Oeste is a neighborhood club, like many others, of the City of Buenos Aires, located in the geographic center of the Argentinian capital city. More than 113 years ago, a group of workers of the railway company Ferrocarril Oeste of Buenos Aires, the first railway network of the country, created the club so that they could do some exercise. They were so relevant in the origins of Argentinian football that in 1931 they were one of the 18 founding members of the country’s league, the Primera División. Although the club currently plays in the Segunda División (second division), it must not be forgotten that Ferro are a historic club and that they have played 63 seasons in the top tier. And they have not only been an important club in football, they have also been successful in other areas such as basketball or volleyball; between the 80s and 90s they were champions over 20 times in those two sports. The merit of this club is significant, as being able to compete with the great sides like Boca Juniors, River Plate or San Lorenzo requires a brilliant effort.
The crisis took it all
What happened to the club verdolaga (that is Ferro Carril’s nickname, which is a tribute to a small vegetables farm that used to be located where their stadium was built) at the beginning of this century is the same story that has already been seen at some many teams from different countries, a never-ending story: the recurrent situation of a club living above its possibilities, then not meeting their objectives and eventually going bankrupt. That was what happened to Ferro. They reduced the budgets of all their other sporting areas and focused on their football team. Despite having had players of great level, such as Roberto Ayala or Mono Burgos, the economic situation was dramatic. In the year 2000, Ferro was relegated following a disastrous season in which they had only won three games, and only two years later they went bankrupt. They would fall even deeper, getting relegated to the third division their first time in their history. Two years later, they returned to the second division, where they still play nowadays. And in 2014, they managed to partially overcome their financial crisis thanks to their supporters.
La máquina de Grigul
No matter how modest, every club has had some days of glory. In the 80s, Ferro had some incredible moments, tales that are still frequently recounted in the streets of Caballito. The father of those great memories was Carlos Timoteo Grigul, who became Ferro’s coach in 1979. Under his management, in 1981 they reached the final of the two main tournaments in Argentinian football: Nacional and Metropolitano. They lost the first one against a River Plate side that included players such as Passarella, Houseman or Kempes, and lost the other one to a Boca team with the likes of Maradona, Brindisi or Perotti. One year later, in 1982, they would finally became champions. They won the Nacional tournament going unbeaten. They defeated Quilmes in the final and their winger Juárez was top scorer with 22 goals in 22 games. After being close to repeat a triumph in 1983, they did so in 1984, when they beat River Plate 3-0 in the decisive game. For many Ferro supporters, that one is considered to be the best match of their history.
That Ferro side was a team without a lot of stars; all the players worked equally, following Griguol’s instructions. But if someone has to be given special credits, it is Beto Márcico. “Mine is a really special happiness. To think that last year my father José Domingo was at both finals and could not see as be champions… Now I no longer have him by my side, but I promised him that I will bring to his grave a medal with Ferro’s badge. I am sure that he will also be with us from heaven,” said Márcico to the magazine El Gráfico just after becoming champions in 1982. There were some other important players like Garré, the captain Saccardi, or Héctor Cúper. It was a really physical and tactical side. Márcico said that their success had a lot to do with the discipline imposed by the manager Griguol: “He made us train twice on Tuesday and Wednesday, and all the other days just once. He mentally prepared you to be strong.” The legend says that during a game between Ferro and Huracán, Ferro was having so much ball possession that the referee stoped the game to give the ball to Huracán.
That team defeated big rivals by working extremely hard and having a lot of faith. The club’s recent history has been less successful, but their fans still go to Caballito, where they have established everlasting friendship, recalled a thousand times those great memories from the 80s and passed on to the younger generations the importance of the neighborhood and its sense of belonging.