“There are two stories,” a leader of the Rat Stabbers told me. We were filing through police lines toward the cylinder, the stadium of a powerful Buenos Aires soccer team called Racing. Inside, about 60,000 enemy fans waited to crucify us.
His name was Jorge Celestre—Georgie Blueskies—but he was explaining the name of his fan club, the Rat Stabbers. They were the diehard supporters of Estudiantes, a pro soccer team southeast of Buenos Aires.
The first story was about some medical students—owing to their lab work, “rat stabbers”—who founded Estudiantes more than a century ago. It was a nice story about a studious, successful Argentina, a country that started the 20th century with futuristic dreams and progressive ambitions.
“But the second story is more probable,” Celestre explained as we jostled our way toward lines of police. The original fans were some unemployed men who sat around parks killing rats for fun. That squalid image evoked another Argentina, the one that ended the 20th century with riots and a currency crash, a backstabbing society where life is, as one Argentine put it to me, “a war of all against all.”
I had met the Rat Stabbers by physically pushing into their red-and-white-clad column as they marched toward the Cylinder, a high-fascist coliseum built in the 1940s by dictator Juan Perón—a Racing fan—with public funds. The swooping concrete is still dominated by Perón’s swan-necked tower, its omniscient eye now filled with the cameras of Copresede—a police surveillance agency called the Provincial Committee on Sports Safety—who are charged with stopping the most violent soccer fans in the world.
We squeezed through funnels of policemen watched by lines of horsemen and backstopped by rows of cop infantry in full riot gear. Specialists in nitrile gloves patted down the males in our cohort. Behind them were plainclothes Copresede agents holding mug shots of some of the 400 Rat Stabbers banned from their own team’s games.
The Rat Stabbers started up their brass band, for courage, and with a hard push about 2,000 of us were swept up the stairs and jammed into the visitors’ terrace. Here, penned by metal fences and more police, we were pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, immobile, for two hours, a single screaming entity heaving up and down.
Problem: we had 2,000, but the Cylinder seats 64,000. It wasn’t absolutely full, but I’ll stick with my guess that we were outnumbered by 60,000. They were dancing in great waves, a sea of blue and white, their noise drowning out even the Rat Stabbers’ band.