River Around the World – IsraelBy: Christian | March 10th, 2008
Far from the terraces of the Monumental, River fans from across the globe continue to show their support for la banda roja. This is the first in an ongoing series.
For Martín Jona (6th from left, front row), growing up in his native Argentina must have been difficult. “Half of my family is Racing, the other half Boca,” recalls the now 36 year old River Plate fan, talking by telephone from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he has lived for the past 18 years. Recalling his childhood growing up in the Lanús barrio of Buenos Aires, he goes on to explain, “In kindergarten, during the time of the Tri-Campeon, everyone was for River. By the time I was five I was already a fan.”
Today, Martín is the President of the Filial Israel Daniel Alberto Passarella, an independent supporters club he established in 2006. Filiales are fan-run organizations created by socios, or members, who support the team from abroad. They were originally formed as an outlet for those living outside Buenos Aires to meet with other fans, and over time began to appear across Argentina. Now, they can be found around the globe, in countries as far-reaching as Spain, Germany, Australia, and even the United States. The club’s official website claims that today there are over 160 River filiales worldwide.
More than just a way for fans living abroad to follow the team’s on-field performance, filiales also seek to promote River’s work in the community. The Filial “Javier Saviola” Florencio Varela in Argentina sponsors hospital trips to deliver books and toys to children. In Lomas de Zamora, filial members offered relief support to residents of the Sante Fe Province after severe flooding hit the area. In Australia and Detroit, football academies were created with the hopes of attracting local youth players to one day play professionally in Argentina. As Martín describes it, it is that combination of club and community that strikes at the heart of the filial experience. “It’s the satisfaction of finding yourself with those who feel the same as you, to share history. All done for our love for River and nothing else.”
When he was 18, Martín and his family moved to Israel where he has lived since with his wife and two children. Remaining ever loyal to the club, he made several attempts at forming a filial with other River fans in the country. Yet despite the sizable Argentinean community within Israel, nothing was able to materialize. An opportunity came from an unlikely source when in May of 2006, Boca Juniors, River’s most hated and eternal rivals, came to Israel to play a friendly against local side, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Martín was able to organize dozens of River fans who converged upon the stadium, not to root for Maccabi, but wearing the familiar red-striped kit, to proclaim that, “Tel Aviv belongs to El Millo!” The supporters waved flags, chanted songs (”El que no salta es un bostero!“), and the event was such an overall success that the process of forming a filial at last began to take shape.
Not long after, the appropriate paperwork was put together; to be officially recognized as a filial, a minimum of 20 socios are required, with positions delegated for President, Vice-President, and Treasurer. As River is an athletic club owned by its supporters, socios residing outside of Buenos Aires can still continue being members, called socios internacionales, provided they pay their yearly dues. With Martín as President and a group of 30 others, the Filial Israel Daniel Alberto Passarella officially came into being on August 10th, 2006, with the members adopting the name of the great River player and coaching legend as part of the official title.
The filial could not have gotten off to a stronger start. Its first meeting on October 8th, 2006 would be an historic day for River fans worldwide, when los millonarios demolished Boca Juniors 3-1 in the Superclásico. The filial gathered in a restaurant at 9PM local time, crowding in front of a large screen TV to watch the incredible victory. A local television news crew was on hand to capture the joyous reaction on the fans faces, all of whom cheered well into the early hours of the morning.
After such a successful beginning, the filial only grew from there. More reunions were organized, attracting fans from as far as Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Haifa. The group’s second meeting featured over 50 participants, held at an outdoor park with football pitches for the kids. This past New Years, the filial met at a restaurant where a traditional Argentine asado was prepared, which in the words of Martín, is “as it should be,” and featured not only such staples as chorizo and empanadas, but hummus and kababs as well. Mini football tournaments were arranged with other local filiales belonging to such Argentine teams as San Lorenzo and Boca.
For Martín, the chance to see parents pass down their own love for River to their children despite living abroad is one of his great joys. “It’s very beautiful to see. The people who came to Israel from Argentina brought their love for River and passed it down to their children. They speak Hebrew and no Spanish, but they do know River, the players, and the songs.” In regards to his own children, he recalls a particular instance when it came to naming his youngest son. “He was born and of course he already had his River jersey. It took some days to decide what to name him, but we knew what his team was. Later we named him Ariel, in part because it’s Hebrew, but also for Ariel Ortega.”
Such passion on behalf of River does come at a price. Filiales for the most part receive no financial assistance from club back in Argentina, and all of the costs associated with the groups outings are paid for out of pocket. Added to that, filial members must remain up to date with their membership dues if they are to retain their active status, an additional expense that can cost over $100 per year per person. To create the funds necessary to keep the filial financially stable, contests are held in which official River merchandise such as shorts and jerseys are raffled off. “Of course this is all voluntary,” says Martín. “No one makes any money from this.”
Yet despite that, Martín speaks proudly about the filial, and remains positive about the future. “We’re a young filial and for what we’ve accomplished, I’m very happy.” He says that the site’s weekly mailing list has expanded to over 200 email addresses from across Israel, and he expects that number to grow even more. He talks of one day creating a football academy for the children of the filial. But his main desire is to see the team return to its winning form. “My hope is that River start to win championships, so that our reunions be for celebrating. Although the team isn’t playing well, the people still come.”
Listening to him speak now, it’s clear that kid who defied his family so long ago to support los millonarios still feels as passionately today as he did when he was 5. When asked if he has learned to support any of the Israeli football teams since living in Tel Aviv, he laughs before quickly responding, “There are some here who do, but not me. The love that one has for River cannot be shared. There’s no room, none at all. You just can’t.”
You can read more about the Israel Filial at their official site (in Spanish). The filial also has a Flickr page with photos from various outings. Also, see this video shot during the filial’s first meeting during the Superclásico; it’s in Hebrew, but you’ll get the idea.