Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa, Los Búhos and lyrics with Reverend and the Makers: A life supporting Sheffield Wednesday from Buenos Aires
“I’m not happy to say this,” Joaquin Villanueva says in exceptional English from his home in Buenos Aires. “But in the last couple of years, Leeds has been growing a lot here because of Marcelo Bielsa. It’s unfortunate.”
He’s discussing which English football shirts are worn on the streets of his home city, which clubs are most widely supported and the fact that only a few die hard football fans instantly recognise the blue and white one he wears most proudly.
“It always depends on how well the teams are doing,” he says. “When I was growing up there was the Cristiano Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney era and Manchester United was huge. In the last couple of years there’s been support for Manchester City and Liverpool, obviously.
“My friends who don’t support Sheffield Wednesday think I am a little crazy, but what can I do? I love the club.”
Fresh home from work and brow sweaty from a high-20s commute across Argentina’s capital city, the 25-year-old engineer speaks to The Star as the main man in what is quite probably the most far-flung group of Wednesday supporters on the planet.
Some 7,000 miles separate Joaquin and another dozen or so Wednesday-supporting friends from Hillsborough and a passion that started nearly 10 years ago.
Most would assume it was sparked by the signing of Argentina-born Fernando Forestieri two years earlier, but most would be wrong. Wednesday’s Argentinian supporter base was sparked not by stepovers, but by soundwaves, when Joaquin was in his mid-teens.
“My family love British rock music,” he explained with a smile. “My parents are maybe into more of the older stuff but I found bands that I like, Reverend and the Makers, Milburn and the Arctic Monkeys and so on. I was reading about them and found out about Sheffield Wednesday, so I picked them to play with on FIFA.
“My friends and I started investigating more about Wednesday, we learned about the history of the club and watched videos that showed us that the fans are very passionate. We are passionate as well.
“The history of the club had such highs and lows, we really liked that, this mix of suffering and glory but continuously supporting the club. We liked that.
“The year after we started following it was 2012 and we got the promotion into the Championship. When we saw that pitch invasion it was wild and that was it, we were definitely in this club!”
It’s been what Joaquin describes as a ‘wild ride’ since. A decade on, the group meet up to watch the few the Wednesday matches that are televised in Argentina, but are forced otherwise to follow the club’s progress on social media or via highlights services provided an hour after matches.
It was a frustration that persuaded four of the group to schedule a 2017 UK trip around Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-0 home win over Huddersfield in January 2017, a match during which their countryman Forestieri bagged an injury time goal to seal an important win for the Owls en route to playoff qualification that season.
It’s a journey they look forward to repeating once circumstances allow.
Joaquin said: “It’s not always easy to watch here, only the more important games. Usually when we play against Sheffield United or Leeds, we always gather together and watch the game. We met and watched together for Wembley of course. It is a bond we share.
“We’d spoken to some people on Twitter before we came over in 2017 and Fernando’s neighbour contacted us to say he’d let him know that we were coming. So we met him at the ground and he was excited that we were there. He said to wait outside the player area after the game so he could give us his shirt, which was great.
“We were in the programme the next week, so someone bought it for us and sent it to us in Argentina. The people are so cool.
“From day one, everyone has been great. When we went there, people saw that we were the guys from Argentina. We were surprised by how people have been, but it has been ever since. People are so welcoming and we do feel the love.
“We would like to do it again as only four of us were able to go last time, but we will see when that might be possible.”
A year earlier the group had attracted inquisitive looks when they entered a high-stakes five-a-side football tournament in a modified Argentina shirt and went by the name ‘Los Búhos’; Spanish for ‘The Owls’.
And in an ironic moment, a couple of years ago Joaquin found himself in conversation with Jon McClure, the Reverend and the Makers frontman who’s love for Wednesday had first inspired the Argentine to research the club.
Where McClure had effectively put Joaquin onto Wednesday, it was the Argentine’s presence on Wednesday Twitter that put him onto one of his heroes in return. Things had come full circle.
Joaquin said: “He was writing a song, Te Quiero Pero, and he asked on Twitter if there was anyone that could help him translate his lyrics into Spanish. So that was through Wednesday and it was very cool.
“I think he was surprised that some crazy guys from Argentina were supporting Sheffield Wednesday,” he smiled.
“But we love it. I feel the club is a part of me now. I support Racing Club over here at home, but Sheffield Wednesday is a passion I share with people in Sheffield.
“Hillsborough is such a special place for so many reasons. I don’t mind that there aren’t many Sheffield Wednesday fans in Argentina. It is fine for them, but I don’t see the joy in supporting one of the Premier League teams. It makes it more special for us, I think.
“Sheffield Wednesday is special.”