Argentine club named for Pope Francis opens play

VICENTE L. PANETTA
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Soccer players from the new team "Papa Francisco," or Pope Francis, get ready for a game in their locker room decorated with an image of Our Lady of Lujan, Argentina's Patron Saint in Lujan, Argentina, Saturday, April 12, 2014. The new semiprofessional team named their team in honor of the pontiff from Argentina. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

LUJAN, Argentina (AP) — A new Argentine football team named after Pope Francis and meant to promote nonviolence has played it first official match in a regional league — a 2-2 draw that saw four players sent off.

The Papa Francisco team was founded by Jorge Ramirez, an admirer of the pope. It has 47 members and was set up in meetings at Ramirez's house, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Buenos Aires, shortly after the archbishop of the city, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was named pope.

Pope Francis is an avid football fan and a supporter of Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo. He has no official connection to the Papa Francisco club.

The semi-professional team plays in the lower regions of the Argentine league system, and chose the nickname: "The Saint of the South." The behavior on the pitch in the first game against Trefules wasn't particularly saintly, though, as two players from each team were sent off.

"Our motto is no hooligans, no violence and no insults," said Ramirez, the club president.

The club could serve as a much-needed antidote for Argentine football, which is plagued at all levels by violence and hooligan groups known in Spanish as "barras bravas." Violence is endemic in the Argentine game, and the Argentine Football Association has been criticized for doing little to stamp it out.

The club was almost named Real Buenos Aires, in honor of the famous Spanish club Real Madrid, but eventually the idea of naming a club to honor the Argentina-born pope prevailed.

The first match was played appropriately in Lujan, a site revered by local Roman Catholics. Its famous Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan could be glimpsed from the playing field.

Several players acknowledged it may be difficult to always be on their best behavior. But's is clear they will try.

"It will be a complicated thing if we insult others," midfielder Fabian Gaddi said. "But the pope is Argentine and he knows and understands us."