If Estudiantes de La Plata is a school, María Elena Martínez is a student who graduated with honors: with her prodigious memory, she traces the history of Pincha between cabalas and hugs.
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She is known as Mari, but it is not a saying: there is no one who does not know who she is. She goes further than any press card and she has more information than all the journalists: the players love her and the city respects her.
Before the match between Estudiantes and Racing, Mari called TN in the parking lot of the UNO Jorge Luis Hirschi Stadium; She got out of a taxi driven by Pepe, who always takes the same route to get to her and helped her sit in her motorized wheelchair, to share her passion.
She went towards the entrance to the stalls, greeted by all “the boys in blue shirts”, as she calls the workers, she signed in with her card and turned around: “I have been coming to the field for more than 50 years; When I was 15 I asked for them to bring me and I never let go again. My whole life dedicated to Estudiantes: I do all the preparations, the rituals and since the beginning of the '90s I receive the players.”
It's true: Mari has more than 20 cabals on match days. She dresses in the same clothes (she has one outfit for winter and one for summer), she eats the same amount of candy, she greets everyone the same way. Even after advancing along the Paseo de los Professores, she left the entrance to the stadium, turned around on its axis and entered giving kisses: all the men in bibs approached her, but one denied her a hug: “No, dear. “After the game, not before.” And she left laughing, with that very puny complicity.
Mari, the most famous Estudiantes fan. (Video: TN/Nicolás González)
Mari and welcome to the Estudiantes de La Plata players
Mari has received Estudiantes players for almost 35 years. She doesn't miss a game for anything in the world and there isn't a footballer who doesn't greet her. With an impeccable memory, she remembers each player who passed through Pincha and she celebrates having seen many of those who today are emblems of the club grow up.
Although his idol is Juan Ramón Verón, he has a soft spot for other kids in the house: “I was very excited about the return of the Little Prince Sosa, because I have known him since I was very young. He who does not know the inferiors of Estudiantes, he does not know what it means; I even had Mariano Merli, a boy from Azul, my town, living in my house.”
There, at the gate where the bus enters, he admitted a cabal and a special affection: “I love Fede Fernández. I have given him lollipops since he was in the youth team and every time we play at home I bring him a pair.”
When the protagonists got off the bus, something that Mari had said minutes ago was confirmed: “The players are looking for me and there is no one who hasn't given me their shirt.”
Mari, the Estudiantes fan who has been going to the field for 50 years. (Photo: TN/Nicolás González)
Mari and her cabal shared with Carlos Salvador Bilardo
Just as he has known Enzo Pérez since he arrived at the club (he was very happy to see her on her return), he was “witness of the courtship with Flor” who is now his wife and saw “the entire pregnancy”, he also shared a lot of time with Carlos Salvador Bilardo.
The Doctor, the undisputed emblem of Estudiantes de La Plata, had many things in common with Mari during his time as coach. This is how she decides to define it, laughing, with a single anecdote: “She never greeted me when she got off the bus, walked past me and said: 'Cabals do not exist, ma'am.' Kabbalahs do not exist.' Just him! Later, on the way out, he obviously gave me a kiss.”
Mari is the best student at the Estudiantes de La Plata school. (Photo: TN/Nicolás González)
Mari and her love for the Barros Schelotto twins
“The Wolf team are my enemies during the games, not afterward. Just don't touch the Schelotto twins, eh,” Mari says.
She worked for many years on the street, selling candy at the traffic lights at 7th and 32nd, when the highway was not yet there. Since her first year of life she has been paralyzed and since 1996 she has been in a wheelchair.
It is striking that a fan of such caliber feels love for rival idols, but Mari always prioritized the person: “The Schlotto were playing in Boca when my mother died. One day Guillermo passed by the roundabout, he didn't see me and asked a window cleaner about me; “He found out about my loss, found out my address from a newsstand and came to my house to offer me help: no one can speak ill of me about the twins.”
It is not the only anecdote he has with them: “I knew a little boy with a disability; He did sailing and lacked $2,500 to travel to compete. When we played against Boca – they were the coaches – I asked a manager to tell the twins that Mari was looking for them. Gustavo came out right away, gave me his phone number and Guillermo's new number. The next day I called him and in four days he came to my house with the money for the baby.”
“In 2001, Guillermo gave me the Boca shirt with which he played in the Copa Libertadores semifinal; It was a gift for my mother, who was a Xeneize fan. How will life be, that she did the Olympic lap in the street with his shirt and a few days later he died.”
Humanity transcends colors and Mari is a great example: “When it was cold and I was at the traffic light, Troglio invited me to have coffee with croissants at the service station. Facundo Sava, Claudio Enría and Juan Carlos Olave are gentlemen, they always behaved very well with me. In fact, I don't know many people who have hugged me with the affection that Olave did.” Although not everyone behaved well: “The one I can't see is Brahian Alemán: he is a sor***, after a classic he spit on me and hit me in the wheelchair, that is unforgivable.”
Despite her fanaticism for Estudiantes, Mari loves the Barros Schelotto twins. (Photo: Courtesy of María Elena Martínez)
Students of La Plata, like every school, is their second home. Or maybe the first. On 1 and 57 Mari remembers her mother and the old court: “There was no ramp to go to the covered stalls, so the players who were outside the bench would pull me up and take me up.”
In a club with so much glory and with such identified idols, the most beautiful moment he experienced was not a First Division championship: “The 1995 promotion was unforgettable. I still walked with sticks, I went to all the home and away games; That day I went onto the field to do the Olympic lap, but people turned around and started going the other way, I fell to the floor and they passed me over. “I ate grass, but I was never so happy.”
Her mother was faithful to Boca, her brother was a fan of Gimnasia and she “luckily” was sick with Estudiantes. Mari is, without a doubt, the best-known Pincha fan. And the best student in school.