While most barras bravas attempt to stay on their guard as much as possible, on Tuesday Marcelo Aravena found no reason to doubt who was knocking on his door. ‘El Manco,’ as he is known on the terraces of La Bombonera, was told through that a judicial notice had arrived, in order to confirm the address at which he would be fulfilling the conditions of the house arrest granted to him just under three months ago.
When Aravena answered, however, he found himself face-to-face with a pistol aimed at his chest. The would-be hitman, who had given extra weight to his cover story by carrying an official-looking file with him to the Lomas de Zamora property, squeezed the trigger three times in plain daylight: miraculously, on the first pull the bullet jammed in the chamber, while a second and third attempt also failed from point-blank range. Such was the aggressor's subsequent haste to escape that he crashed his motorbike less than a block from Aravena's home, before scrambling into a white car believed to belong to an accomplice. His crash helmet and the phoney file were left in the street – evidence that hooligan violence does not even stop when football comes to a halt.
El Manco, who is also known in the world of Boca's infamous La Doce hooligans as Marcelo de Lomas, is no angel himself, of course. In 1997 he was one of five Boca barras who were given 20-year prison sentences for the murders of River Plate fans Ángel Luis Delgado and Walter Darío Vallejos three years previous. The pair were travelling back from the Bombonera inside a truck following a Superclásico when it was ambushed close to the Xeneize stadium and peppered with bullets: witness statements from the time affirm that the perpetrators yelled “Dale Boca (“Let's go Boca”) as they discharged their weapons.
Aravena served 12 years for that crime before his 2006 release, and was then later implicated in a 2013 shooting outside San Lorenzo's stadium that claimed the lives of two Boca supporters; that episode, an internal battle between rival factions of La Doce, was one of the driving forces behind the decision to make what had been up to that point the temporary suspension of away fans a permanent aspect of Argentine football. His latest stint in prison is due to charges relating to the sprawling 'La Salada' market in Lomas de Zamora – he faced accusations of being involved in an illicit association that committed extortion, robberies and the sale of drugs.
One can only speculate on the motives behind the attempted murder of the barra, who was released in March after three years behind bars, as he awaits trial on the La Salada case. Most concerning of all the potential hypotheses is a resumption of the internal battle in La Doce that has proved a bloody affair in recent years. Shortly after Aravena was imprisoned in 2017, another senior member of the hooligan group, Gustavo 'Oso' Pereyra, was shot seven times in his apartment in Claypole, on the outskirts of Greater Buenos Aires, again from point-blank range. “This is for Marcelo”, a neighbour reported hearing shortly before the gunfire began; whether he really ordered the killing or was used as a convenient scapegoat for the murder of Pereyra, who was said to have fallen out with fellow Doce heavyweight Rafael Di Zeo prior to his death, is still to be determined. What is certain is that Aravena retains close links with the Xeneize: during his time inside he and other prisoners received a visit from three Boca players, Mauro Zárate, Julio Buffarini and Emanuel Reynoso, accompanied by Di Zeo, for what was alleged to be a “football clinic” event with motivational speakers.
On the very same day El Manco was granted a lucky escape another alleged Doce member, Daniel Laluz Fernández – son of yet another former high-ranker, 'El Uruguayo,' who in 2011 was left in a wheelchair after being shot three time at the cabaret club Cocodrilo during Di Zeo's birthday party – was arrested on charges of hiring hitmen from within the barra and extorting Chinese supermarkets.
The lack of football does not seem to put a damper on the criminal activities so often linked to the barras – indeed, even when the ball is rolling very little of what they do holds even a tenuous link to the game, and often appears more apt for a Hollywood gangster script.