At the age of 82, Carlos Pascal, –or ‘El Tula’, as he is better known to Argentine hinchadas (fanbase)– made his way to Paris to represent Argentina supporters at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony on February 27.
Fans of La Scaloneta won the FIFA Fan prize at its The Best awards for drawing impressive numbers in Qatar and providing “incredible support for their team’s ultimately victorious FIFA World Cup campaign”. FIFA also acknowledged the millions of fans who “welcomed their heroes home to Buenos Aires and across the country.”
Born in a working-class neighborhood of Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, in 1941, ‘El Tula’ and his trademark bass drum have become an essential part of Argentine popular culture throughout the last thirteen World Cup tournaments. Despite his humble roots, El Tula has attended every single tournament since Germany 1974.
Ever since, whenever the Argentine team played a World Cup match, Tula would be there, banging his bass drum. “I am part of World Cup history,” he said in his acceptance speech.
El Tula says his drum was a present from Juan Domingo Perón himself, which he got after crossing the Atlantic by ship as a third-class passenger to visit the Peronist leader during his exile in Spain in 1971. He was welcomed in Perón’s house by his infamous secretary José López Rega –who would later become a minister and leader of state-terrorism organization Triple A– and was introduced to Perón by trade union leader José Ignacio Rucci.
“Rucci came to the door and took me to meet him. When I saw Peron my legs faltered, I was dumbstruck,” he said recently in a radio interview with Radio con Vos. He told reporters he also met Eva Perón, Juan Domingo’s wife and a heroine to Argentines, back in 1954, when he was a kid and his mother took him to see her in a eucharistic conference. “I gave her a letter I wrote, and she sent me a bicycle afterwards,” he said.
A master rabble-rouser, Tula has also been a regular in Peronist demonstrations and campaign events, especially during the administrations of former presidents Carlos Menem, Eduardo Duhalde, and Néstor Kirchner, all throughout the 1990s and 2000s. “I am not political, but I am a peronist because peronism is a feeling, and I am a Peronist like the millions of Argentines who are Peronists because of the social achievements the General and Evita gave us,” he said, referring to the former presidential pair. “I am not a member of the party. I get the minimum social security pay. I owe nothing to no one,” he claims.
A long-winded, verbose character, Tula nevertheless always dodges the question about how he pays for his trips. He claims neither the Argentine Football Association nor any politician has ever paid for his fare, and simply answers: “I have friends with money who invite me”.
Traveling in a wheelchair with no money or cellphone, and unable to speak any language other than his rambling Spanish, Tula’s accommodation and transport experiences in distant countries are never easy. Still, he always seems to manage. “There’s always someone to give me a hand,” he says.
The latest beat on his beloved drum was heard all over the world: Tula walked on stage to receive the award and gave an amusingly random speech, celebrating Argentina had won in every category –he was so happy he forgot Messi hadn’t been awarded yet! His speech ended as it should be: Tula banged his drum at the sound of “Vamos, Vamos Argentina”.
Before that, he provided an emotional touch for Argentine audiences when he addressed his muchachos Lionel Messi, Emiliano Martínez and Lionel Scaloni, the other three big winners at the Best awards: “Argentina was a little sad, and you, boys, brought back the joy to Argentine people.”
Following a recent debate sparked by mid-field Rodrigo DePaul about what was the best Argentine team in history, he stated that he believes the latest world champions are the best there ever was. “Mostly thanks to the coach. He has managed to turn the team into a family,” he said.
“This team plays for you – it plays for the people,” said Lionel Scaloni, who won the Best Coach award. “The dream of all Argentines came true. I’m eternally grateful and excited to see you [the fans] happy. You were player number 12,” he added.