Pesoa and Juárez, from Platense, hanging on the wire in the Atlanta court
The faint sun, more of spring than of the winter that the calendar denounced, resisted leaving. Just like the public of Platense that he had not left a free space in the popular visitor of the court of Chacarita. Surely few of those who jumped and celebrated, would have knowledge of the legends of the magnificent Houdini, who more than half a century before, had points of coincidence with the club of his loves. Because that was the great escapist. And Platense was also. A specialist in drifting downhill, even in the most extreme and unfavorable situations. And on that afternoon of August 26, 1979, did it one more time.
The Argentine soccer calendar of 1978 had been very particular, with the indisputable milestone of the organization and obtaining the World Championship. Beyond that commotion, the dates of dispute of the two local competitions (Metropolitan and National) were very compressed, so that in most cases there were dates during the week. To this was added the fact that on several Sundays it rained heavily, so the parties to be held there were passed on Mondays, leading to an unstoppable whirlwind.
As something similar (or even worse) had happened in 1977, with the common denominator that on both occasions the competitions ended in January of the following year, for 1979 the AFA decided to shorten the Metro. He divided the 20 teams into two zones so that they all faced each other on two wheels. The first two of each group would play for the title, while the two worst in each section would contest a home run for permanence, where only the winner would be in the top category.. The demand would be tremendous, with the quota of anguish and sports drama that cannot be ignored when it comes to these circumstances. For this reason it was baptized for all time as « The homer of death » integrated to Chacarita Juniors, Atlanta, Gymnastics and Fencing La Plata and Platense, the worst-performing, with just six points collected in 18 games.
The situation was complicated for everyone from the start. In the case of Chacarita, for example, he had the weakest start in his history: in the first two dates he had received 11 goals, (Central in Rosario 6-0 and then San Lorenzo in San Martín 5-0). This was followed by four other defeats (Boca, Ferro, Estudiantes and Colón) that placed him in a position from which he could not escape. He used four coaches in the championship: Mario Rodríguez, Raúl Rodríguez Seone, José Nápoli and Aníbal Tarabini.
Celebrations of the fans of Platense in the popular of the field of Chacarita the afternoon of salvation
Atlanta, his classic rival and with whom he shared zone A, did not win any of the 18 matches, and only scored 10 goals. Rodolfo Bettinotti, the legendary Victorio Spinetto and Luis Artime passed through the technical direction, in one of his first experiences, once retired after his brilliant campaign as an implacable scorer.
Gymnastics and Fencing La Plata was, perhaps, the most surprising participant of that homer. In the previous years, he had not suffered more pressure with the last positions in the table and when he averaged the tournament in ’79, he had an irregular performance, with chances to overcome the uncomfortable position. A cataract of six successive defeats (Newell´s, Huracán, River, Quilmes, Velez and Unión) deposited him in the fight for survival.
Platense was disappointing from the start, with six falls in the first seven days. In the 8th he assumed the technical direction Vladislao Cap, who could not avoid that marked destiny of having to go to the mini tournament, but he was creating a mystique, to the point that more than 40 years later, he is remembered as one of the best coaches in « squid » history. On the last day of the group stage, being out of chances, he visited Quilmes with a substitute team and was beaten 7-0. The prospects were not the best.
Carlos Picerni He was one of the most outstanding footballers in that campaign and he remembers it this way: “I came to Platense in that 1979 along with many other players. The technician was the Muggione Egg, who had kept me at the Institute. The logic was given, as usually happens in these cases with so many new ones. We took time to get to know each other and there was never really a team, a fact that was reflected in the campaign numbers. Currently I teach in Rosario in the technical course and I always tell the boys that in football you get used to winning and losing. The latter happened to us at that time: We were all beaten (laughs). When the Polish Cap arrived as coach, he had the intelligence to detect a group of 18 players and tell us that he was going to face the homer with us, when it was already a fact that we were going to play it. ”
Celebrations of the Platense players after beating Charita and saving themselves
On Sunday, July 22, the tournament started with an outstanding situation in each match. In San Martín the classic that Chacarita beat Atlanta and in Vicente López, Platense inaugurated his stadium, in the zero draw against Gymnastics: “It was important for the club to have its own home again. I have a recorded image. The day before that game, the President himself, Alfredo Ginnani, was giving the audience the last coat of paint in overalls. That was Platense at that time, a true family, where everyone was pulling to the same side. A mystique that lasted for many years ”, recalls Picerni.
On the second date, Gymnastics beat Chacarita 3-2 in the Forest with a goal from Villarreal in the final minute, while Platense gave the (first) surprise by defeating Atlanta 2-1 as a visitor with two conquests of a man of supreme importance in those days: Miguel Ángel JuárezAs his former teammate evokes: “He was our ace of spades, because we were a team that ran a lot, but when it came to scoring we depended on Mono Petti or him. Black was an extraordinary scorer, who hit him with both legs and who could define just one game. Ideal complement for a painting that was made compact from the middle to the back ”.
A week later, history repeated itself, when the striker returned to double billing against the Funerals, in what was the first success in history in the new house. A 2-1 that remained in history. In La Plata, Gymnastics beat Atlanta 1-0 and at the end of the first round, was next to Platense with five points, followed by Chacarita with two and Atlanta at zero, almost condemned.
A separate paragraph deserves the four technicians who led the homer, because they recorded their names in the history of Argentine football. They were Antonio Rattín (Gymnastics and Fencing), Aníbal Tarabini (Chacarita), Luis Artime (Atlanta) and Vladislao Cap (Platense). The first common denominator is that all were present in World Cups defending the Argentine shirt: Rattín (1962 and 1966), Tarabini (1966), Artime (1966) and Cap (1962 and he was the Argentine DT in 1974). Another coincidence is that they were champions in local tournaments wearing big team jerseys: Rattín in Boca Juniors, where he is one of the greatest idols, Cap in Racing Club and Artime and Tarabini in Independiente.
On Sunday, August 12, the rematches began, with the attention well distributed. Atlanta had to beat Chacarita at home to avoid going downhill, right at home and against his classic rival, while in La Plata there was a duel of pointers and he could start to set a trend. At Villa Crespo, the 3-0 in favor of the Funebreros was excessive, within an even match, with the last two goals scored in the final minutes. Chacarita gave himself one more life in the competitions while the Bohemians left the highest category after several decades.
On the gymnastics court there was a final climate, with the tension at its maximum as Picerni evokes: “We went with an immense security operation, as is done now in the World Cups to protect a team. Two motorcycles were ahead of the bus and a patrol car escorted us behind, in something unusual for the time. We arrived at quarter to three, with 45 minutes to go and we could not enter, because the gate leading to the changing rooms was closed with a very large padlock. They wanted us to go all the way around, passing under the gymnastics fans. If we did that, no one would come alive (laughs). No decision was made, until one of the policemen guarding us, a fat big man, took out a revolver and, addressing the guy at the gate, said: ‘If you don’t open me now, I shoot the padlock and open it in 10 seconds. ‘ Obviously the key appeared right away and we could enter«
Goal from Miguel Juárez to Chacarita
Platense had well studied the plan to set foot in a stadium as crowded as hostile: “We knew that they were going to be nervous because they had more responsibility to their people. After 15 minutes we scored the first goal and it was a blow for Gymnastics that became desperate, allowing us to be calm to control the ball and define it with ease. We won 2-0 with goals from Petti and Juárez ”.
Vicente López’s painting had taken a gigantic step towards salvation. There were only two dates left and he had 7 points, against 5 for Gymnastics and 4 for Chacarita, who had to play among themselves in San Martín. « We were sweet. After how badly it had gone in the championship, now we had won three games in a row and we knew that Atlanta, already relegated, could not bring us problems at home. It was 1-0, but we could not celebrate the final salvation, because Gimnasia sent Chacarita to the B, beating him 2-1 in San Martín and was still two points behind, « Picerni recalls with satisfaction.
Precisely in that comparison a particular situation occurred, since Chacarita acted in protest because he had had to yield to the leading Osvaldo Escudero to the youth team that was going to become world champion in Tokyo with the shining star of Diego Maradona and the scoring power by Ramón Díaz. The leaders argued that they were at a sporting disadvantage, but the presentation was dismissed by AFA.
Such a distressing tournament could not have an advance definition, it had to be on the final date, played on Sunday, August 26. Gymnastics was playing his luck in Villa Crespo with his mind set on San Martín, where he needed the fall of Platense to dream. Those led by Cap had everything served, since a draw reached them, but they had the noticeable loss of the scorer Juárez, sent off the previous day. This is how Picerni recalls it: “During the week the comment was‘ oops, what is going to be the Chacarita court, is going to be a crazy climate ‘. But none of that happened, perhaps because they were already descended. It was a quiet afternoon on and off the court. I have a clear memory that we were winning 2-0 without any problems and the Polish Cap decided to take me out because I crashed with 10 minutes to go. I went to the locker room and I started to tremble with nerves, even though I had no reason because everything was ready. He was desperate and wished it would end as soon as possible. I think it was because I realized how close we were to achieving something that a month before seemed impossible. That mini tournament is what I remember most about my career and that I was champion with Newell’s on Central court in ’74, but this was different. He had come from two very bad years in Institute, just married, my wife could not get pregnant and I had found a malignant tumor in a nodule in the thyroid area. Going to Platense changed my life, to the point that in the middle of the homer, one day she came to the concentration to tell me that we were going to have a son. Something extraordinary. «
In ’77 he was saved in a film tiebreaker against Lanús, with a definition for penalties that lasted until midnight. In ’78 he was almost condemned and he was resurrected, winning the decisive game for Banfield on the second to last date. And he repeated the story a year later: “It was a very big fight and we were saved because, when we got so bad to the home run, that took pressure off us. There was the key. Confidence was low and began to rise. We said to ourselves: ‘Well, at least we didn’t lose the first game ‘, when we tied with Gymnastics. Later, when we beat Atlanta we said ‘at least we won one, ‘and so on. Little by little, it was achieved. With effort, a la Platense ”.
Those final words of Carlos Picerni synthesize a way of being. That neighborhood club, fighter and proletarian, gave himself an immense joy. A custom that was to continue for the next two decades. Suffer and enjoy survival, escaping like a specialist, a la Houdini. Although the legendary character must have never heard from Platense, that one afternoon in 1979, he was still dressing Sunday to feel First.
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