Friday 18 December 2020, 06:52

A first-hand World Cup experience

  • Osvaldo Santander is a member of the #FIFA Fan Movement

  • Argentinian talks about his relationship with football and the World Cup

  • "Only a few take away the glory, but everyone can take away the celebrations!"

The passion of the Argentinian fan has been well documented, not least at the last two FIFA World Cups™. In both Brazil and Russia, Albiceleste supporters took their devotion to new levels, attending games in huge numbers while winning admirers with their catchy songs and characteristic colour.

Who better then than an Argentinian member of the FIFA Fan Movement to tell us first-hand about the sport closest to his heart, as well as his experience sharing that passion with other fans from all over the globe at the last two FIFA World Cups:

My name is Osvaldo Santander and I’m 55 years old. I have a degree in advertising and, above all, I’m Argentinian. I underline this because it relates directly to my passion for and devotion to football, and my unconditional love for the round ball.

I've been attending football games since the age of three, when my father first took me to see my beloved San Lorenzo de Almagro. That gave rise to something inside me that is still growing and has made me part of a large football family that enjoys games, delights in goals, suffers with defeats and experiences many emotions.

The 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany will forever have a place in my heart. I was nine years old and obsessed with filling my sticker album, which proved impossible but nonetheless led me to watch all the games on a black and white TV. That edition, along with the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, ensured my love of football would endure forever.

My life story constantly references the World Cups: if I want to remember what I was doing at 25, I think of Italia ‘90; if I’m wondering about 2006, then I trace it back to the World Cup in Germany. It’s always been like that.

I’ve also been a collector of football memorabilia for more than 30 years, especially World Cup items. Football brings me joy and lets me dream. It’s a love that never asks anything of you in return.

My World Cup obsession led me to spend two weeks in Brazil for the 2014 edition. I experienced some fantastic shared moments there. A full-on party, swapping football shirts, scarves, flags... I even attended the Algeria-Korea Republic game with low expectations and witnessed an absolute cracker (4-2)... That’s when I first realised that I had to go to Russia 2018!

FIFA Fan Movement Osvaldo Santander

I came back very happy from Porto Alegre but then it dawned on me how difficult it would be: getting tickets, travel and accommodation costs, etc... My friends told me I was crazy, but nothing could deflect me from my goal.

The first positive sign came from FIFA, who granted me tickets for the seven matches I’d applied for, all in Moscow. There was also the chance of seeing Argentina there, but there were still two matchdays left in South American qualifying and we were struggling to secure our place.

Luckily, we qualified and I could breathe again. Those tickets were not only for me, but also for my son Julian – my companion on a thousand football adventures – my sister Maria Mercedes and a friend who was committed to our cause from the beginning.

Then we bought our flights. Eight months ahead of the World Cup, we already had the most important thing!

The months leading up to it were exciting. There were meetings with other fans who were joining us, and lots of plans to meet people whom I’m in contact with in other countries. Many of them are also collectors, and they too contributed to making this trip so wonderful.

As we were going to be 18 days in Moscow, we rented an apartment near the Luzhniki stadium, behind Moscow University.

FIFA Fan Movement Osvaldo Santander

En route to Russia, we had an eight-hour stopover in Frankfurt, and so to pass the time, we spread out all the flags we had with us on the floor. Other fans followed suit, and soon we’d created a magical global confraternity.

Russia 2018 was pure joy and excitement; everything was incredibly well organised. The authorities were cordial but strict, which helped us enjoy an event of great emotion in a controlled way, without fights or anything like that. That's remarkable.

If I were to recommend one thing, it’d be to arrive a few days before the start of the tournament. We got there four days early and met loads of fans in a state of complete bliss. None of us had had results to celebrate or be down about, that was all still to come.

With no tickets to the Opening Ceremony, we left early for Fan Fest. To say it was fabulous is an understatement. We'd seen it in Brazil, but this was on another scale. During half-time in Russia-Saudi Arabia, we approached the stadium on the hunt for memorabilia for our own museum: plastic cups that had been binned, credentials, merchandising... anything and everything!

Two days later, it was our turn to see our beloved Argentina against Iceland at the Spartak Stadium. We went with our football shirts, hats and flags, as well as stickers and 300 coasters, which we handed out to anyone we came across.

Hearing our national anthem was very emotional. My son and I were crying because, just a few months previously, the person who’d nurtured my love of football – my father (his grandfather Paco) – had passed away, and we felt that he was accompanying us. The result was not as important as the joy of having cheered on our national team so far from home. That was unforgettable.

After that we attended the Germany-Mexico, Poland-Senegal, Portugal-Morocco, Belgium-Tunisia and Denmark-France games before we ended our adventure with Brazil-Serbia. Those games were fantastic for acquiring content for for our museum: we got shirts, inflatables, tickets, glasses and many other things.

Safely through to the last 16, we began the journey back to Argentina with a host of unforgettable experiences. And all because football is unpredictable: win or lose, you always take away stories and moments that stay with you for the rest of your life.

You meet at a huge amount of diverse and inclusive people at a World Cup. You jump for joy and find yourself hugging and singing with other fans, and when you look closely, you see one is German, one Ecuadorian, another Senegalese, another Romanian... we even met someone from Nepal! It's magnificent!

A World Cup is not just about players, officials and coaching staff trying to win the Trophy. It is the coming-together of the world’s people, all pulsating with the same passion, the same feeling. Only a few take away the glory, but everyone can take away the celebrations! Long live football!"