FOOTBALL IN BURLINGTON, VERMONT DURING THE WORLD CUP
Football in the Green Mountain State, that is Vermont, is an enthusiastic event during the World Cup. As I entered Rí Rá Irish Pub on a Saturday morning in Burlington, Vermont, I was surprised to see how many Vermonters were sitting in booths, on stools, and standing as they looked up at the wide, television screen showing the great match between Argentina and France. Rí Rá is located on Church Street in a classical, white stoned building that was completed in 1931. The pub opened for the first time in March 1999, and was extended in 2002 with the addition of the Library area. The interiors were salvaged and restored in Ireland prior to being shipped to Vermont. Rí Rá Irish Pub is one of the few bars or pubs, where the world’s game is shown throughout the year, and in that sense there is a worldliness in Burlington, Vermont to understanding the People’s Game.
What I noticed right away was how quiet the people were in their intense absorption in watching the match between Argentina and France. There were more people wearing Argentina shirts than France shirts. I wore a simple black T-shirt with the emblem or shield of the Argentine national team, although I had no favorite team, I must admit that harbor great feelings for the Uruguay National Football team, because of their combination of artistic and basic working class football skills. I am a former high school “soccer” coach, and I created a football team in Burlington called FC VERMONT-CHAMPLAIN, which was one of the first multi-national team in Vermont. Although the team no longer exist, I learned a lot about class and racism during my years coaching that Vermont team. As I stood watching the Argentine and French footballers on the wide screen, I saw my friend, Hugo Martinez, who was born in Argentina and his close friend, Erhard Mahnke, a Vermonter. Both men are very knowledgeable about Football in general, and we had moments of discussion about the match. After France scored their first goal on a penalty kick, both men yelled out “What an idiot! Sampaoli is an idiot!” They both were referring to the national Argentine coach, and then I said to them “Whomever decided to use the “false nine”, whether it be Sampaoli or Messi, it was a mistake, because it left no great finisher up front should the wide men or wingers cross the ball near or into the box.” Both Hugo and Erhard agreed bitterly, even as the men, women and young people in the pub groaned when France continued to score. When the Argentine team scored there was a rush of applause and cheers, although I sensed that it was also a calm and cool response.
Then Erhard leaned over to me and said “They, the Vermonters, came to watch Messi… where is Sergio Agüero? Where is Agüero, we need him now!” I said quietly “Yes, Agüero should have been brought into the game from the start, because he could have coupled with Messi as a formidable attacking force up front.” Erhard Mahnke is an older man, although as young footballer he played in high school and college, and he laughed telling me that he also smoked during his football playing days.
Then, he asked me about my background, and I told him how the great Argentine Football coach, César Luis Menotti, had influenced my coaching, and that what I admired about Menotti during his time was that he was committed to bringing working class footballers into the Argentine national team, like the young players from the outskirts Rosario, that port city of Argentina, and Mahnke said “Yes, he brought Diego Maradona on to that World Cup team!” I replied in turn “Yes, Menotti brought the Argentine national team forward into the modern era.”
We continued to watch the match together in the Irish pub in Vermont, the crowd concentrating on the World Cup match with all its artistic creativity, and I thought of what Menotti once said “Our football belongs to the working class and has the size, nobility and generosity to allow everyone to enjoy it as a spectacle.” I left the Irish pub in Burlington, thinking that there was a football community among many people in Vermont, in what Menotti advocated for his own country.
Photos by Luis Lazaro Tijerina.