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Football and Buenos Aires go together hand in hand. The city lives and breathes the sport. To its passionate inhabitants, the game is a way of life, steeped in culture, tradition and memories.
We’re all familiar with the Argentine capital’s two biggest footballing teams. River Plate and Boca Juniors are two of South America’s finest clubs, both globally renowned and creators of some of the sport’s biggest names over the years.
Other large, instantly recognisable footballing institutions such as Racing Club, Independiente and San Lorenzo are dotted around the football-crazy nation, their accomplishments and successes well documented with football followers everywhere.
One team less fashionable and well-known though, is Club Atlético Banfield. Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Drill’ and situated on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires, Banfield have led a largely unremarkable existence on the whole – but they do have a story (and a notable record) to be told.
Founded in 1896 by British (and some Irish) settlers who worked in the area, Club Atlético Banfield has always been looked upon as the ugly duckling when compared to the aforementioned footballing superpowers Boca and River, who reside nearby.
Across their 124-year history, Banfield have been Argentine Second Division champions no fewer than 10 times, but making their mark in the top flight has been a much tougher task for them, with just one First Division Apertura success (2009) along with the collection of one Honor Cup title (1920), achievements recognised by two stars on the current club badge.
The ‘Green and Whites’ are also responsible for the development and progression of some players of high pedigree and reputation.
Most notably, the likes of Javier Zanetti, Julio Cruz, Mauro Camorenesi and James Rodríguez – amongst many others – have represented the club, while recently appointed manager Javier Sanguinetti is a club legend – having played over 450 games for the club in his playing days. However, ‘the Drill’ are always looked upon as a stepping stone on a footballer’s career path rather than one where trophies and medals are expected.
Arguably, however, their most noteworthy feat came halfway through last century and, somewhat surprisingly, did not lead to the club winning any silverware or tangible success.
Between 1950 and 1953, and in the middle of a 30-year spell of complete dominance by Argentina’s previously mentioned ‘big five’ clubs, unfancied Banfield went a total of 49 matches unbeaten at their Estadio Florencio Sola home stadium, an incredible record that remains to this day.
Their home ground, named after popular club president Florencio Sola, became an unbreakable fortress, a notoriously difficult place to go with its compact, open-topped terraces allowing the passionate supporters to be right on top of the action as they cheered on their side and pressurised much more fancied sides with unerring regularity.
Though individual match results are hard to come by, this was certainly somewhat of a halcyon period for the club. The bigger clubs feared their trips to the capital’s southern district – even in their era of absolute dominance – as Banfield finished seventh and fifth either side of agonisingly missing out on Argentine football’s biggest prize in 1951.
Despite ending the season top of the league standings, above Racing Club on both goal difference and games won, the fact that the teams had finished level on points meant a two-legged play-off would take place to decide who would be crowned champions.
Both legs would take place at San Lorenzo’s former stadium, known as El Gasómetro, in the country’s Santa Fe province to the north of Buenos Aires.
In two tightly contested encounters, Racing Club came out on top, winning the second leg – and ultimately the tie as a whole – 1-0 to deny Banfield their moment of glory.
A huge disappointment for a Banfield side that had accomplished so much but had so little to show for it. So close to no longer being the metaphoric ‘ugly duckling’ of Buenos Aires football. A whisker away from, perhaps, being seen as more than a stepping stone in a player’s career.
Over the following years, key figures such as president Florencio Sola and defensive stalwart Eliseo Mouriño would move on from the club, and their short era of competing regularly at the top end of Argentine football would slowly fade too.
Barring their ‘out of the blue’ Apertura victory in 2009, Banfield have rarely troubled the higher echelons of Argentine football since, but there was a time when this unfashionable club from the capital’s south had the nation’s footballing elite more than a little concerned.