Don Pepe

In a very special date, @VelezinEnglish travels back in time and take a look at how the life of José Amalfitani is tied to Vélez' history.

The reputation of the people in charge of football has never been at a lower point. That's something that was said in past times, can be said now and we are likely to say in the future as the rulers of football find increasingly absurd ways to ridicule themselves. But like any profession in Argentina, Sport Club Directors have their day every May 14th as way of paying homage to Vélez long time leader, José Amalfitani. Given this year marks the 50th anniversary of his passing, there's no better time to look back and see how he built the legacy he left.

Born to a couple of italian inmigrants, Amalfitani joined Vélez as a member at the age of 16, at a time where the club had only three years of existence. A Racing fan who also tried to get involved in San Lorenzo (Historic records show that Vélez and San Lorenzo were close and many people people were involved in both clubs), Amalfitani got into Vélez through his close friendship with the Marín Moreno brothers, who were among the group of kids that founded Argentinos de Vélez Sarsfield in the Vélez Sarsfield train station. The young Amalfitani quickly got his hands on the club: Aside form helping with anything he could do, he represented the club in the federation, edited a magazine (The first for any club in Argentina) until 1923 where he became president for the first time. During that stint Vélez moved to the original Fortín, which became one of the top venues in Argentina and first stadium to have a roofed stand and to host a nocturnal game. Despite leaving the club to take over the business inherited from his father, Amalfitani was never really far from it. He left on bad terms in 1933 after one of his closest friends was accused of wrongdoings and then the club underwent a phase of constant internal strife that ended hurting the club badly. In 1940 he was begged to come back and unite it again.

The club was going through a dismal phase in every aspect: Off the pitch it was penniless, with lots of factions with strong ideas on how to run the club but nobody willing to actually take control and facing eviction from the Old Fortín of the Basualdo and Ulrico Schmidl streets. On the pitch the team was relegated (albeit on scandalous fashion) and faced a year on the second division wilderness. Vélez was basically fighting for its own existence. Until Amalfitani came back. His rallying call was the stuff of legends: "I'm not here to assist to Vélez Sarsfield funeral. As long as there are 10 socios, it will go on. The Club Vélez Sarsfield will not die. I will carry its flag. Those willing to work to save it, follow me". Amalfitani worked hard to save the club, knocking door by door asking people to join the club as socios and even went as far as mortgaging his house. Finally the club couldn't avoid eviction, but Amalfitani's determination and motto of "Vision, faith, work, honesty and sacrifice" would usher Vélez into a new era elsewhere despite the setbacks.

Still in second division, Amalfitani managed to get a massive discount from a railway company on some land deemed irrecoverable that sat on the western fringes of the city. Actually it wasn't technically land, it was called "el Pantano del Maldonado" or "the Maldonado's Swamp" owing it's name to a nearby stream. The swamp had to be filled with unused or obsolete train carriages in the first place and then with dirt or soil. So much of it was needed that Amalfitani went as far as intercepting trucks and bribing the drivers to take its content to the new stadium instead of going elsewhere (It took almost 200.000 mts. of dirt). Also, there was the issue of moving the structures of the old stadium to the new ground and replacing the useless ones. Thanks to deal with the railway's railroad workshop it was done for next to nothing. The hard work paid off: in 1943 the stadium hosted its first game in a friendly against River and a week later sealed its promotion to the first division under Victorio Spinetto's guidance.

Under Amalfitani's tutelage, the club found on-pitch success hard to come by. It wasn't a priority for Don Pepe neither: When asked for trophies by a fan he told him to go support Boca or River (One of them was future chairman Raúl Gámez); when a coach asked him for players he asked a construction worker next to him if could play football, when the worker said yes, Amalfitani told the coach that there was his new player. His mission was to build a club that would become a point of reference for the blue and white collar workers that were settling in the rapidly growing nearby neighbourhoods. Quotes like "Concrete is silent, but eloquent", "Every kid won to the streets it's a championship in itself" reflected his ethos. When invited to a tribute for 25 years a president he refused saying "Don't want any tribute. There isn't better tribute than looking at all the work done", when asked for an interview said that he preferred to remain silent because those who talk do nothing. He was that kind of person. And he would anything to make the club bigger: He would charge for autographs and then give the money to the club, he visited personally every commerce in the neighborhood to see what they could do for the club (his presence commanded respect) and once challenged the Buenos Aires Mayor to a game of truco in which if Amalfitani won, the city would build the club a sidewalk for free: Don Pepe won and the Mayor duly obliged. Everybody would help him anyway, because knew that Amalfitani would get that job done. Former Argentinan president Juan Domingo Perón told a group club presidents "Why I would give you more money? Go to Liniers and see how Amalfitani does it there".

In 1949, Vélez bought the lands where the stadium was built and started the works to replace the Old Fortín structures and replaced them with concrete stands (with the exception of the north stand) and in 1951 a new Fortín was inaugurated. The club expanded taking advantage of a governamental decree annexing further lands and adding multiple sporting facilities that the people of western Buenos Aires came in droves to make use of. During the sixties, the club had more than 60.000 members and Amalfitani's lifetime work had widespread recognition by then. Clarin's Diego Lucero wrote in occasion of the new concrete north stand in 1968 and the naming of the stadium after him "... inaugurated its new stadium making justice to the titan that forged it, to the man that started when there was nothing and built its own monument. The 'Duce Pepe' (sic) receives that way, in front of his contemporaries and history the award to his unlimited faith, endless nights, unbreakable will...". As he became older and his health more fragile gradually, he remained very involved with the club but started to delegate more tasks on younger board members, in order to have an easier transition when wouldn't be around the club. He got the chance to see Vélez win their first championship and he also got time to complain about the costs of playing international competition. That was classic Don Pepe.

Amalfitani passed away in the home he built in the neighborhood he helped to build. The same place he mortgaged to resurrect the club he built. The house is still there. The club is still there (Although he would surely disagree with many things about how the argentinian football is run). And the neighborhood is still there , with plans that would dramatically change it and undergoing a process of gentrification in some of its areas, with the houses of blue collar workers giving place to tall buildings, posh businesses and craft breweries with those uncomfortable stools. The club may have gone another way in some aspects, but it has grown. We must never forget that the club we have today is Don Pepe's legacy. Although that times changed, there are lessons to be learned in old-fashioned values to move forward.

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fecha 13 · Superliga 2019-2020

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