Diego’s first step in football at the club Estrella Roja, from Villa Fiorito.
Diego’s first step in football at the club Estrella Roja, from Villa Fiorito.

For football and community

The Argentinian "club de barrio"

Agustín De Julio
Agustín De Julio FMH Contributor

At Football Makes History we love football in all of its expressions: from epic, star-studded World Cup finals to just kicking a ball around your backyard with friends. That being said, when you get a group of historians who love football to write stories for your page, a bias tends to develop towards pieces about those enormous, historically significant matches. In the past, we have written about local initiatives, and also developed lesson plans for informal football/citizenship teaching.

Here’s our newest effort to highlight the importance of amateur, community-based sport: this article zooms into the famous Argentinian clubes de barrio, and what they mean for football and their communities.

For football and community: the Argentinian club de barrio

The clubes de barrio are independent, not-for-profit organisations deeply rooted in Argentinean society. They are owned and run by their members, who decide on their policy through democratic participation. The clubes de barrio offer leisure, sports and educational activities to their neighbourhood. Despite their wide offer of activities, these clubs all share a focus on football. In football-obsessed Argentina, this is no surprise. Other sports/activities offered typically include martial arts, volleyball, swimming, boules and chess.

Societally, the clubes de barrio take on a number of roles. They help socialise children, share social norms, create a sense of community and take kids off the streets. Additionally they help the scouting efforts from professional teams looking for new talent. The social functions of the clubes are often supported by the state. They must be signed up in provincial registries for sporting institutions in order to get access to subsidies and other governmental support schemes. In times of crisis, the club de barrio functions as a societal foothold, where people can gather and support each other – a phenomenon especially important during the dark years of the military dictatorship, and the recurrent economic crises that plague Argentina.

A matter of scale

Some clubes consist of a single community-maintained football pitch. Some others evolve over time to host multi-sports complexes and professional teams competing in different leagues. Big names in Argentinian football are also considered by some to be clubes de barrio because of their origins, their close relationship with their neighbourhood and the wide array of activities they offer. Barracas Central and Arsenal de Sarandí (from the first and second divisions respectively) are good examples of such clubes.

The clubes and migration

The CDB have an intimate relationship with migration during the (late) 19th and 20th centuries. Migrants often formed social clubs in order to meet each other, speak their own languages and observe their own traditions in their new cities. Some of these clubs offered schooling, medical assistance, meals, and naturally, sports. Most of these clubs either died out as the new generations of Argentinians assimilated, or turned into other kinds of clubs, including clubes de barrio. Some of these still preserve the link to their migration legacy, e.g: Sportivo Italiano from Ciudad Evita and Deportivo Español from Parque Avellaneda. 

The clubes through the ages

The history of the club de barrio can be roughly divided into three chapters, according to Cáneva and Mendoza. The first chapter took place between the years 1880-1990, and in it, the first clubes were established. In this period, Argentinian cities underwent massive changes, as European immigrants arrived massively in the country. These new residents spearheaded the formation of all sorts of  new associations like public ‘popular’ libraries, migrants’ groups, and the first clubes de barrio

The heyday of the club de barrio took place between the 30s and the 60s. European migrants were joined by internal migrants looking for better opportunities in the rapidly industrialising cities. Cities grow even bigger, and migrants’ social clubs lose their place to the club de barrio. These grow in importance and size, and set up efficient governance structures. 

The decline of the club de barrio began in the 70s. This had to do with the rapid liberalisation of the national economy during the dictatorship, that changed society and also the way clubes are funded. 

During the 90s, neoliberalism deepened in Argentina, an ideology that does not go too well with the collectivist spirit of the club de barrio. Despite the passing of time and the changes in society, the club de barrio remains. But what does the future have in store for it? How can they survive and thrive under constantly changing societal conditions?

Thinking points

For many demographics (especially age groups, geographical locations and social classes), the club de barrio is an essential part of one’s youth. On the other hand, groups like the younger people who grew up in the neoliberal Argentinian age, or the wealthy, have other group allegiances and less to do with the clubes. Critics see them as a nostalgic relic from another time, and point towards their reliance on public funds, insolvency and their waning popularity within Argentinian society. Even if their societal goals are as relevant as ever, the clubes’ role in society is no longer self-evident. Are the clubes a thing of the past or are they still a place where the community can gather, learn, share and help each other? How can clubes adapt to be future-proof and continue their important community work?

Learn more 

Two academic takes on the functions of the club de barrio:

Check out Juan José Campanella’s film Luna de Avellaneda (2004) about a declining CDB that receives an offer from a multinational to buy their lands to develop and build a casino.

City of Buenos Aires club de barrio page: https://buenosaires.gob.ar/jefaturadegabinete/deportes/clubes-de-barrio-y-federaciones-deportivas/clubes-de-barrio

In-depth article on the club de barrio

https://www.relatores.com.ar/los-clubes-de-barrio-y-su-importancia-en-la-sociedad-argentina.html

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Diego’s first step in football at the club Estrella Roja, from Villa Fiorito.
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