By Leandro Grecco
[email protected] – Instagram: @leandro.grecco – Twitter: @leandrogrecco
The figure of the territory is one of the many edges that have been blurred with the passing of time. Part of the aftermath of a globalized world where emotional memory is the property of those who do not accept that times have changed. The public space, particularly that which is farthest from the center of a city like Bahía Blanca, lost preponderance as a sector with its own roots.
Some time ago, it is not necessary to go back much further than the last century, the neighborhoods were a kind of talent factory, where the street used to be the healthy school full of values in which, just to mention, talents in the world of entertainment emerged. sport that they found in its streets, generally dirt, the opportunity to develop their skills and dream of the distant possibility of achieving glory, despite the distance from a country with little federal.
Juan Carlos Zapata meets both conditions. His love for Tiro Federal, the place where he was born and grew up, and the football that first made him known as a player by achieving what few others achieved, which is to shine at the national level, being one of the first Bahians to reach the AFA First Division. But there are other aspects of his life that are reflected in this note, thanks to his kindness to The Compass 24. So great is it that the filmmaker Raúl Papalardo produced a unique documentary about “Tato”.
“I was born in Tiro Federal, on Newton, a few meters from the club. I stayed there until I was four years old, when I moved to what used to be my family’s house, on Calle Liniers, where my father bought some land and built it. I always lived in that sector of the city, except when I played in Buenos Aires and now that I settled in my current home in the San Cayetano neighborhood, ”he said, while lowering the volume of the television in the living room.
And he recalled that “most of us boys played ball in the lower divisions, a childhood absolutely different from that of today’s childhood in which urbanization has gained ground, beyond the fact that on the periphery there are still these spaces where they can find a place to relax.
“Back then, we had huge vacant lots, for example in the sector where the monoblocks are now, that’s where we played. My friends were the brothers ‘Lacho’ and ‘Chiche’ Nieto, José Arenas, Cinquegrani, Guerrieri, a whole bar in which there used to be boys a little older than me, ”he recalled, in another segment at the beginning of the talk.
However, there was a turning point that marked him forever: “When I was ten years old I had to play on Saturdays in the paddock with the boys who played in the First Division the next day and that helped me to develop as a person and an athlete. I went to School No. 9, on Corrientes Street, I did up to sixth grade and I was a normal student who never repeated”.
“I am an only child and, contrary to what usually happens, my father was not a soccer stick, beyond the fact that he always accompanied me. I started in the baby, I was a defender and my mother didn’t like me very much, so the following year I became a striker at his suggestion, ”he finished, with the mischief of knowing that it is an unusual case.
The meteoric rise of his career had no brakes: “I did the lower ones in Tire, I made my debut in the main team, because later Olimpo bought me. I was seen by a man with the last name Pérez Squiorla who trained boxers and at the same time directed football. I went on loan in 1962, when I was 18 years old, we became champions and I had to be the top scorer in the Southern League, in my first year playing as a 9, because I had always been a hooker”.
“It was Barral who put me in that position, a squad that had Perrichón who later went to Benfica in Portugal, Cejas who had come from Sporting and although he was a center attacker he became 8, ‘Chiche’ Torices who came from Libertad and the late Roberto Leobono, a surname popularly known in Tire and who had played in Boca”, emphasized Zapata.
Contrary to what usually happens, he had the luxury of being idle for a while: “In 1963 I didn’t play anywhere because they wanted to buy Estudiantes de La Plata after a trial, Tiro asked for a lot of money and I was inactive for a year. By 1964, since I didn’t need the pass, I went to Peñarol de Pigüé and after that Olimpo bought me definitively. In ’65 and ’66 we were champions, sharing a team with ‘Laucha Recio who came from Bella Vista’.
“In 1967, San Lorenzo de Almagro came to look for me, a club that paid for my tickets and I went to play a friendly at the Defensores del Chaco stadium against the Paraguayan National Team. Barreiro was the technical director and that team had, among others, ‘Toscano’ Rendo, ‘Bambino’ Veira and ‘Oveja’ Telch. It was the first time I had left the country, we won 3-0 and, when we returned to Buenos Aires, the DT told me that the leaders of San Lorenzo were going to buy my pass to Olimpo”, “Tato” emphasized about the genesis of his leap to popularity.
And he brought up an anecdote: “Since I couldn’t go back to Bahia immediately and I had a return ticket three days later, I got on a bus, I went to Constitución, I boarded another bus called the Cañuelas and it was yellow. I was going to get off at Lanús, but I ended up at Banfield, I asked where the court was, I introduced myself with my mother’s last name, Bottoni, because I wanted to try myself”.
“All this hidden from San Lorenzo and Olimpo. The practice was directed by a man named Zurlo, after ten minutes he stopped the practice and asked me where I played, to which I replied that I only did it in the paddocks, I never told him that I was from Bahía Blanca. He asked me to wait for José D’Amico, who was the coach of the First Division, to arrive,” he added.
Asked why he made that decision, he clarified: “My only intention was to distract myself a bit, what was I going to do until I returned home, that’s why they initially put me on the Reserve side, those who played in my position were Julio San Lorenzo who was sold and ‘Nano’ Areán, until in that training session I played on the side of the starters”.
“In that campus were, among others, Ramos Delgado and ‘Nene’ Sanfilippo, who was the one who suggested that when I met with Valentín Suárez, the president of Banfield at the time, I asked them for 60 thousand. It seemed too much to me because in Bahia I earned 4 thousand, however when I sat down to negotiate, it seemed like a lot of money for a new player. So I told them that I was going to settle with San Lorenzo, Suárez told me not to go, that he was going to pay me that amount, ”he established about the negotiation.
Then, it was time to tell the truth: “I had to whitewash in Olimpo that I had arranged on my own with Banfield and San Lorenzo wanted to sue the club that owned my pass, but it came to nothing. D’Amico didn’t believe me when I lied about my last name, he knew it was Zapata because he had people in common who had seen me at an Argentine Championship in San Juan”.
“After a year, Platense bought me because I had had a good campaign and started to earn almost double my salary. Things went wrong there, a little because of me, I didn’t take care of myself and in 1969 I went back to Bahia to wear the Olimpo jersey and in the Liga del Sur team, where I returned because while I was out of the city I hadn’t been able to continue to be a part ”, added the current DT who does not rule out returning to the ring.
On his personal life, away from the ball, he revealed: “I got married in 1971 and had my three children, but at the same time throughout my life I had many jobs despite the fact that I was a soccer player. My first job was in a notary’s office where I entered because it was very fast to write on a typewriter, having graduated from Typing”.
“Later I entered as an administrative in a business called Saima that sold household items in Donado and Brown, then I entered Eseba and, on my return from Buenos Aires, I was a banker for a period of 21 years, where I became sub-treasurer. I was in the Banco del Sud and the one in Río Negro and Neuquén, in between I went through another notary’s office”, Zapata listed.
Returning to his passion, he mentally relived his retirement: “My last official match was at Villa Miter, in 1976, at Sporting’s pitch where if we lost we went down and tied 1-1 with my goal and that’s why he saved the category. That year, with the League team, as a player I faced the Argentine National Team on the Olimpo pitch, who scored the Barrado goal and we won 1-0, but we ended up losing 3-1”.
“Two years later, months before the World Cup, the Argentine National Team returned to Bahia and scored six goals for us, at a time when I had had to assume the technical direction of the South League team. As DT I was champion with the UNS in a national tournament with universities from all over the country, winning the final against the UBA 4 to 0 and the son of José María Muñoz made me the note of the end, minutes after that match that was played in Embalse Río Tercero”, highlighted “Tato”, as one of the happiest moments of his life.
Once again, his career offered him new challenges, although from the lime line outwards: “After directing Tiro, I went to Olimpo back in the early 1980s where I had to lose a final against a team from Junín that had to ‘Pinino’ Más in a round trip to enter the First AFA, after beating the powerful Loma Negra de Olavarría who had strengthened very well”.
“I haven’t had any major problems as a player or as a coach, despite being a very outspoken guy, although I think that was a point in my favor because people like it when you tell them what you think. The people who recognize me on the street greet me cordially because where I was I always gave everything that was within my reach, despite the fact that everyone knows my origins and when I have to die I would like it to be in Tiro Federal”, he was sincere .
The most outstanding achievement as a coach came in 2006: “I had the opportunity to achieve promotion with Villa Miter to the B Nacional, winning nothing less than in Tucumán and directing a tough, warrior squad. The Board of Directors did not accept my continuity because they considered that I had requested a lot of money, but later I found out that they brought in a DT from outside who earned more. I don’t think about that because I always did the same with the players, I put in and take out, each one chooses and unfortunately they couldn’t stay more than a year in the division”.
“My last experience dates back to 2016 with Tiro Federal when we had to play the final with Bella Vista, which was directed by Carlos Mungo, a very close friend of mine. It happens that I am 78 years old, I am fine, but nobody has called me in all this time. It’s like I retired and if someone approached me with a proposal I don’t know what I would do either, but if you surround yourself with a coaching staff with young guys, daily work becomes easier, “he said.
In the midst of all these incursions and, knowing that he needed a fixed income, he leaned towards other simultaneous work activities: “When I received the compensation from the bank, I bought the key to a kiosk in Darregueira and Fitz Roy, it went well and there by the year 98 sales began to falter. I sold it and Oscar Hidalgo (father of the former player) took out a taxi file and I asked him for a job as an employee. He worked at night driving the car, it was the last of my jobs”.
“Currently I like to go for a walk, I ride the stationary bike 10 kilometers every day, I watch television, both news and sports. I have two great-grandchildren who were born this year and I enjoy them very much, thank God in this post-pandemic because during those months of so much uncertainty I took care of myself and, I think, I did not get infected, I am a person who does not take any medication, fortunately I feel healthy and vital”, he warned about the epilogue of the entertaining conversation.
Finally, he analyzed the actuality of the discipline that made him transcend: “I don’t like to criticize today’s football, it’s different, another game, because there is a lot of friction, added to VAR, but we have to recognize that at the time when I was a player, although there was plenty of individual technique, there was also less speed. And that’s what takes away precision, something that doesn’t just happen in football, but in any area of life”.
The back and forth ended, his charisma makes him a man who, at first impression, commands respect and, apparently, a certain distance. But it is just a feeling, after a short time of interacting with “Tato” Zapata it is possible to understand that behind that somewhat stern face, a sensitive, frontal and valued being hides. That is why the affection of the environment of soccer and Federal Shooting in particular and of the entire city in general is immeasurable.