Pride of Ushuaia: Los Cuervos del Fin del Mundo
Ushuaia is a city on the edge, located at the very tip of South America on Tierra del Fuego seventy-thousand people now reside here, surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks. The most southerly city in the world (I'll argue with anyone who considers the Chilean settlement of Peurto Williams a city) is rapidly expanding thanks primarily to tourism and also the massive cruise ships that take wealthy holidaymakers south to Antarctica - a relatively short hop over the Drake Passage.
As has been seen throughout football's short history the game prospers and flourishes in tandem with the community that surrounds it. Football at the End of the World is no exception and Ushuaia has recently been accepted into the AFA fold. Ushuaian league champions Los Cuervos del Fin del Mundo and runners-up Mutual Banco made history this year by being the first teams from the city to take part in an AFA administered competition. These pioneers took part in the Torneo del Interior or Argentino C, a mammoth tournament that encompassed 264 teams from all over the country which are divided on a regional basis. The prize is a place in Argentino B, the fourth tier of Argentine football including teams other than those from Greater Buenos Aires.
Being a mere 1200km from the Antarctic peninsula inevitably causes some logistical and weather related problems for the teams. I spoke with Esteban Parovel a sports journalist for the Ushuaian newspaper 'El Fin del Mundo' to gain an insight into how this years tournament has been embraced by the locals and about football in general in the region: 'the season starts in March although there is a winter break at the end of June/beginning of July, it reconvenes in September'. As it's impossible to play outdoors in the depths of winter Esteban explained that the football fan gets his fix from Futsal or Fútbol de Salon (versions of indoor 5-a-side): 'In
order to be affiliated with the AFA a condition was that we developed a Futsal league'. Each game consists of two twenty minute halves.
Certain aspects of Torneo C resemble English non-league football particularly the lives of the players: 'All of the players are amateur and they fit in playing and training around their jobs. We have taxi drivers, civil servants, PE teachers, factory workers and dockers - there's even a local councillor Damián de Marco who plays for El Duende'. The teams all play at Ushuaia's municipal stadium - Hugo Lumbreras. In this year's competition the support was first and foremost Ushuaiaense in nature as opposed to split along individual team lines. In the case of the champions Los Cuervos: 'when they played in Argentino C the stands were pretty much full and they also took some fans to away fixtures'.
The emergence of Los Cuervos has also attracted attention from Buenos Aires, 2400km away. At the end of June they signed an agreement with Primera A giants San Lorenzo. El Ciclón will provide expertise in the field of sports medicine/injury management, they will supply kit and training materials, there's also the opportunity for Los Cuervos to train in the capital with the pros. Squad players from San Lorenzo will travel south to join Los Cuervos and gain valuable experience.
Football is pursued as enthusiastically and passionately as elsewhere in Argentina - have local players moved away to play at a higher level? 'Seventeen year old midfielder Franco Mendoza is a bright prospect, he played for Argentina Under-15's at the 2007 South American Championship in Brazil and this year he's joined River Plate'. There are other young players located at leading clubs throughout the country including Independiente, Gimnasia y Esgrima de la Plata and San Lorenzo. 'The Temporetti brothers, Francisco and Fernando played for Rosario Puerto Belgrano (Punta Alta) during the club's golden era all the way to Argentino A - they've since returned to Ushuaia with Los Cuervos'. The city's most famous son is to be found in Futsal - Alamiro Vaporaki has represented Argentina at senior level, his skill and achievements have also been acknowledged by the Argentine Sport Journalists Association.
Football in many forms is surviving and thriving at the End of the World - perhaps the AFA should have played the recent Brazil World Cup Qualifier in Ushuaia.....
Many thanks to Esteban Parovel from El Fin del Mundo (http://www.ushuaia-deportes.com.ar/) for answering my questions. Thanks also to Fernando from Argentinesoccer.com (http://www.argentinesoccer.com/indexen.cfm?CFID=15719458&CFTOKEN=43656519) who explained the complexities of the Argentine league system to me.