Monday, June 27, 2011

You're not an East Fife fan because you like the glory. Underachievements and relegations have been commonplace in my 28 years of watching the team I love.

I can't imagine what it must have been like as a fan of the Fife in the late 40's and early 50's, when going out at the semi final stage of a major Cup competition was a disappointing result.

It's those glory days that give us belief, hope and expectations and when any success does come along, like the Division Three Championship in 2007/08, it makes those days all the more special.

That's why I love my team and that's why I'll always support them. Those footballing highs and lows have made me the supporter I am today.

If you're a fan of the famous Argentinian club River Plate today, you're experiencing some emotions and despair that are shockingly new to you.

I've never taken much interest in South American club football save for You Tube clips of insane riots and spectacular goals. Several clubs are familiar names but I've never grown up watching any of the games and have no interest in any of the teams.

River Plate's plight this season certainly caught my attention though and yesterday they were relegated to the second tier of Argentinian football for the first time in their 110 year history.

The phrase "how the mighty have fallen" doesn't even begin to do justice to what has happened to one of Argentina's top and most famous of clubs.

Club Atletico River Plate were formed in 1901 and have won a record 33 Argentinian Primera Division League titles (the last of which was just in 2008) and five international titles, including two Copa Libertadores.

Just what went wrong to cause this fall of a true South American giant?

That's the question the fans want the answer to. For neutrals looking in, it all seems so improbable.

To make things worse for the River Plate fans, there may be no easy answers.

River Plate are Argentinian football through and through. Of their 36 man squad, only two were from outside of Argentina. They hit a slump at the wrong time and the team failed to record a win in their last seven Primera Division games.

That run saw them fall into the relegation/promotion playoff place and facing a two legged match with Club Atletico Belgrano.

Belgrano had finished 4th in the National B Division and were looking to play in the top tier for only the fourth spell in their 106 year history.

River Plate were still expected to get themselves out of the hole they had dug themselves in to but were stunned by a 2-0 defeat in the first leg in Cordoba.

With over 50,000 expected in Buenos Aires when they hosted the second leg, there was still more concern than panic stations, as the giants were expected to get at least the two goals they needed to preserve their top tier safety.

I watched the game at 'El Monumental' unfold yesterday and it was an intense and nervy atmosphere from the off. It was also electric for the neutral at home.

When Mariano Pavone opened the scoring for River Plate just six minutes in, it looked like Belgrano would fold in the red hot atmosphere and things would play out as expected.

Despite pressure from the home side, the game remained 1-0 as it reach half-time, but the home crowd were stunned into a mix of silence and tears in the 62nd minute when Belgrano's Guillermo Farre equalised, sending their travelling support into ecstatic scenes.

Pavone then went from hero to villain for River Plate as he had a penalty brilliantly saved in the 70th minute.

With River Plate's fate almost sealed, things within the stadium turned nasty. I would expect nothing less to be honest from what I've seen in the past.

Fans invaded the pitch, police fired back with water cannons and the match was abandoned in the 89th minute.

As the Belgrano players couldn't even get to celebrate with their brave travelling support and had to be ushered off the pitch under a hail of missiles, the River Plate players were reduced to tears as the realisation sank in.

We, as fans, often decry players for not showing passion for our club. The River Plate players certainly showed that they were hurting. I'm sure wondering what the fans were going to do to them also added to those emotions!

The violence continued outside of the stadium after the game, with fans clashing with riot police and several injuries being reported.

As a fan of the underdog, it was great to see Belgrano pull off the shock.

Everyone will be talking about River Plate today but we should also be talking about Belgrano as what they achieved was truly tremendous.

With River Plate rumoured to be around $19 million in debt, the quick return the fans demand may not be forthcoming, as top players will most likely need to be sold.

Aren't you glad that East Fife haven't had 109 years of glory and top flight football?! Must get boring.

The River Plate fans might enjoy their spell in the second tier. Although judging by the post game riots, maybe not.

I'd still rather be an East Fife supporter!


Here's some videos of the day...


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