Myself and Michael Creane, as many of you reading this will know, have had the great fortune of being sent to a few countries in South America to sample a bit of the football culture and talk with fans, journalists and ex-players about just what makes the game we love so special over here.

Our first port of call was Buenos Aires and it has been spectacular. The people we’ve met and spoke with could not have been more welcoming and have given us so much for nothing in return. Everyone we’ve spoken to has had positive things to say about Newcastle United. Names like Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Speed and, of course, Jonas Gutierrez have been mentioned and spoken of with great fondness and admiration. The name Bobby Robson has cropped up, not only because of his time at United but also because he was the man in charge during that incredible World Cup game in 1986. The treatment of El Galgo Jonas Gutierrez by the Club hierarchy whilst he was suffering from cancer is something that’s not been forgotten by every single person with whom we’ve spoken. I contacted Jonas and asked him if he’d mind speaking to us and he replied with ‘Hi, how are you’? That’s as far as it got so unfortunately not quite the insight I was after.

The 13 hours flight over was absolutely sound and we arrived in BA at 0800 Argentine time (-4 hours BST), checking into our hostel around 1030. The hostel itself is basically the cheapest one I could find and the room certainly had the appearance and feel of a spartan military barracks circa 1960. The people running it were bang on though, the WiFi worked and the shower minus a cold tap meant that not only could we get exceptionally clean we could also have a daily free chemical peel.

The bulk of the first day was spent trying to arrange meetings with various people and we struck pretty lucky in managing to record a podcast for Patreons on Friday night with Manu Fanizza, Independiente fan and football journalist who presents the Siempre Rojo (Always a Red) radio show on Radio FMQ 93.5. Manu (pictured with Mike and Norman above), assisted by his translator Victoria, spoke to us at length about Argentine domestic and international football. Lionel Messi was discussed alongside Maradona and Manu gave us the lowdown on Jonas, and his perception of English football.

The following day, Saturday the 6thof July, saw us take a ride some 20 kilometres away from where we were staying in San Telmo to CD UAI Urquiza’s stadium. It was there that we recorded a chat with former Newcastle midfielder Cristián Bassedas (pictured with Norman below) who spoke fondly about his time on Tyneside, despite it not working out how anyone hoped, and who also told us the best player he played against in England. You might be surprised. The club he’s in charge of is in the Argentine equivalent of League One, the division in which a team located slightly south of Newcastle currently plays, and we got to watch Bassedas put his lads through their paces during their first training session of pre-season. We also got the chance to talk with Romina Sacher, a football journalist, publisher and press secretary who told us about the achievements of the female team at Urquiza. They’re the current Libertadores champions and provided 6 of the players that went to the World Cup in France. There’s more from Romina below.

Sunday the 7thwas a day that will live long in the memory. Thanks to Fede Colman, press secretary at Miguel Almirón’s former club Lanus, we got to spend a full 7 hours with superfan Topo Fernandez and his mates. Incredibly we were given a tour of the stadium, we were allowed on the pitch and invited to an asado (barbecue) afterwards with these extremely kind, knowledgeable and warm people. All things Argentine football were discussed and we learned that Lanus is the very definition of more than a club. The institution is embedded in the social fabric of the community in which it’s located and for me is everything I wish we were as a club. 100% fan owned, democratically run and involved positively in every aspect of the life of the area. The lads kindly allowed us to record a 7 minute film based solely on the question of ‘how important was Miguel Almirón to the Championship winning Lanus side in 2016’? Once the lads got going a thing of genuine beauty was produced. This’ll be available for TF followers once we return to the UK and get it subtitled. It’s truly special.

The Sunday ended with me being shown a picture of Jason Statham by a member of the bar staff in a little pub we finished the day in. This then convinced all in attendance I was Jason Statham and I was asked for my autograph. There was disappointment all round when I managed to convince people I was ‘El Transportador’ but middle-aged Norman from Leam Lane.

Monday saw a trip to La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, and we got the opportunity to visit the Stadium alongside the multi-talented Argentine football journalist, radio presenter and Boca Juniors fan Romina Sacher (pictured with Norman and Mike below). The popularity of Boca as an Argentine sporting institution was clear to see as we arrived on a bank holiday to thousands of fans simply visiting the Stadium and its museum.

The inside of the stadium is pretty spectacular with statues of former legends such as Maradona, Riquelme, Rattin and Palermo and marble staircases leading to a museum littered with the trophies won by the various sides over the years. It’s smaller capacity-wise than I thought at 49000 but the vertical design, coupled with the raised terracing, gives it the impression of being huge. It’s easy to see why it looks so bastard intimidating on a match day. We also had the opportunity to step on to the pitch and pose for photos with the 6 Copa Libertadores that Boca have won. A surreal experience.

We recorded a video in the stands with Romina about her support for the side, and her love for her team since childhood came across perfectly. We were then taken for some of the best beers I’ve ever had at a place called Margal by our host and we recorded an inspiring 30 minute podcast on Argentine women’s football, how it is to be a female football journalist and fan in a very macho world, and how things might be changjng for the better for women in the sport in the country. Romina’s passion for the women’s game and how it’s a channel for changing aspects of the machismo which still exists in Argentine culture.

We then jumped in a taxi and headed 10 kilometres west to the barrio of La Paternal, home of Argentinos Juniors. Our interest in the Club was down to the fact that it’s been a conveyor belt for a load of outstanding Argentine talent. The Club has produced amongst others Esteban Cambiasso, Juan Pablo Sorin, Juan Riquelme, Fernando Redondo and, of course, one of the greatest of all time, Fabricio Coloccini……sorry, Diego Armando Maradona.

We were taken to a cafe next to the Stadium that acts as a meeting point for fans pre-match. the place is covered in the flags of other clubs and is visually spectacular. We got to record a video and podcast over a beer with Guido Mascione, an Argentinos Juniors fanatic who gave us the lowdown on his club, why it’s able and has to produce the players it produces, and how Maradona ended-up playing at the Club. The graffiti/murals that adorn the whole of the outside of the Stadium are testament to just how important Maradona is to the history and identity of the Club.

I am finishing off this article sat on a ferry crossing the River Plate as we head to Uruguay where we’ve a couple of days to spend chatting and recording with journalists about all things Uruguayan football. Argentina has been incredible. We’ve been made to feel so welcome that words can’t do justice to how warm the people we’ve encountered have been. The amount of help and love we’ve received has been truly mind-blowing and I hope that what we produce from this trip is able to convey the passion and power that football has in this magnificent country.

Norman Riley.