Most Sunday League players dream of a standing ovation at a packed stadium. Henry May has been there and done that – in Argentina.
That is thanks to his unique bond with historic Primera Division side Huracan. May fell in love with the club during a trip to Buenos Aires and named his amateur team after them when he returned to London in 2009.
Huracan FC London were born but that was just the start. The team won an army of fans from the original Huracan on Facebook, their shirt became a collector’s item in Argentina and Huracan supporters even made the 7,000-mile trip to Clapham Common to see them in action.
Henry May named his Sunday League side after historic Argentine club Huracan in 2009
Huracan FC London gained fans from the original Huracan and even toured Argentina twice
May and his friends flew out to Buenos Aires at Huracan fans’ request – twice. They received a hero’s welcome at their 48,000-capacity home ground, played at the stadium and took on the club’s reserves. At one point, it looked like they might visit the Falklands to ease diplomatic tensions.
‘Huracan means everything to me,’ May tells Sportsmail. ‘I can’t really explain it.
‘The first game I went to in 2008 was a life-changing moment, a before and after.
‘I love that club, I love those people. I’ll do anything for them, I’m in for life now. I’ve got a Huracan tattoo on my leg!’
May’s love affair with Huracan began in November 2008 when he was studying Spanish in Buenos Aires and soaking up the city’s football culture. The 22-year-old had been to the likes of Boca Juniors and River Plate, but the glamour of the traditional giants didn’t appeal to the Fulham season-ticket holder.
Taxi drivers warned him he would be killed if he went to Huracan’s derby with fierce rivals San Lorenzo. He ignored them to go to the match and was instantly taken with the ‘quirky’ club with a ‘proud history’, much like his own Cottagers.
A year later, May returned to London as an adopted Huracan fan. He and his friends decided to set up a Sunday League side, and May suggested they name themselves after his Argentine club.
‘We were sat in a pub in Clapham and we couldn’t think of a name for the team,’ he says.
‘I told the stories of my time in Argentina and suggested, “Why don’t we name ourselves after Huracan?” It sounded a bit different, and my friends said fine.
‘I was the manager of the team so had the final say. We wrote it down on the back of a beer mat and sent it off to the Southern Sunday League and became Huracan FC London.’
Argentine fans turned up to watch May and his friends play on the pitches of south London
The story might not have gone much further without the help of Huracan supporter and sports journalist Ariel Schvartzbard. Back at his first derby, May had been approached by an Argentine man. He thought he was going to be robbed; it turned out Schvartzbard just wanted to practise his English.
They stayed in touch through a mutual friend in Buenos Aires, who told Schvartzbard about the Sunday League side named after Huracan. Schvartzbard urged May to set up a Facebook page and then spread the word among the club’s fans on a local radio show.
Soon the Sunday League side had 2,500 ‘likes’ from Argentina. Huracan fans used the page to discuss the side’s tactics, abuse opposition teams and cheer on their favourite players. Some went even further – quite literally.
‘People would write to me saying, “I’m on holiday in Europe, I’ve changed my plans so I can be in London on Sunday for your game against Melfort Eagles”,’ May explains.
‘I’d say, “Okay, you do know we just play in the park?” And they’d reply, “Yeah, absolutely fine. We love you anyway. We’re coming”.’
Boosted by Argentine support, May and his friends won their league. So it was only fair they made the return trip to Buenos Aires for a ‘pre-season tour’ in 2011.
The Sunday League side received a hero’s welcome at Huracan’s Tomas Adolfo Duco stadium
They could not have anticipated the welcome they received on arrival in Argentina.
‘It was ridiculous,’ May recalls. ‘We were treated like professional footballers.
‘It was two weeks of signing autographs everywhere we went, everyone wanted a photo with us. We got a standing ovation in the stadium.
‘Huracan fans were so grateful and excited that there was a team with their name in London, the home of football.
‘It was just an amazing reception, all the way up to the players and the president of the club. I went to a Huracan board meeting: standing ovation from the president and vice-president.
‘I’m thinking, “What the f*** has happened?” Two years ago I was just in a pub with my mates setting up a Sunday League team, and now we’re at the centre of this movement in Argentina.’
There were plenty of other surreal moments – not least May and his friends playing a team of Huracan’s reserves including future Argentina international striker Pity Martinez. The Sunday League side borrowed their rivals’ goalkeeper and only lost 3-0 in what their player-manager describes as ‘the most heroic performance of our lives’.
More gutting was the match they played at Huracan’s home ground, the Estadio Tomas Adolfo Duco. Bizarrely, they were pitted against Argentina’s National Magistrates’ Association thanks to their chairman being a well-connected Huracan fan. They drew 1-1, but the south Londoners lost on penalties.
May became a dedicated Huracan fan (left) and has a tattoo of the club’s logo on his leg
Then there was the time they were welcomed into the hardcore section of Huracan’s support, jumping up and down with the barra brava – the notorious organised fan groups at Argentine clubs. Later they had to pay a small ‘tax’ to the group in the form of 10 of their shirts left outside the club’s ticket office.
They appeared on Argentine TV, turned heads in Buenos Aires nightclubs and drank champagne with the British ambassador.
May says: ‘We were invited into the amazing residence at the British embassy and toasted as an example of how British and Argentine people can come together and use our partnership to do great things.
‘There was talk of sending us to the Falklands to do a game and we were like, “Okay, not sure we should become political envoys”. But it was discussed.’
It wasn’t just a case of ‘lads on tour’ either. May realised they were onto something when their shirts started selling out and asked himself how the money could be best used.
The result was the Huracan Foundation, a charity he founded which looks to improve children’s lives through football. They have since helped fund football education projects in countries from Uganda to Nepal.
In 2013, the Englishman returned to Huracan’s stadium to be presented with a plaque by then-president Alejandro Nadur for his services to the club. Fans chanted his name and gave him a standing ovation.
Huracan FC London returned for another tour of Argentina in 2015 – and lost 8-1 to the reserves
He got a similar reception when he made a speech to 10,000 supporters in the city centre on the annual day celebrating Huracan fans.
Two years later the amateur outfit came back for a ‘proper football tour’. A hungover side lost 8-1 against the reserves this time, but they got their revenge against the National Magistrates’ Association with a 3-0 win at the Tomas Adolfo Duco.
May and his friends also played another namesake in seventh-division Huracan de Areco, travelling to the gaucho capital of Buenos Aires province.
‘That was about as good as it’s ever got,’ he says. ‘Running out to play in a tiny stadium with 500 people, with my mates on a balmy spring evening and people just going wild and applauding us.’
So why does May think the Sunday League side attracted so many fans in Argentina?
‘I’m certain it wouldn’t have worked with Boca or River or one of the big teams, they wouldn’t have cared about us,’ he adds.
‘For Huracan it was great because they’re humble, have slightly lower expectations, and they’re not used to foreigners coming to see them and being in the public eye.
‘To have a bunch of guys from England wearing their shirt was special to the fans.’
May has since founded the Huracan Foundation, which helps fund football education projects
May now lives in Colombia, but his old team-mates keep the spirit of Huracan alive in south London by meeting up for the occasional kick-about. Their influence is still felt at the Tomas Adolfo Duco stadium, where you can spot Huracan fans wearing their shirt on matchdays.
The 34-year-old wants to repay that support when he comes to the end of his career.
‘I have this somewhat crazy idea of running to be Huracan president in 20 years’ time,’ he says. ‘Because that to me is how the story ends, that’s how it goes full circle.
‘What better way could there be for me to end my professional career than to go back and serve the Huracan people as president, and give all my energy and focus into how we can make this club an even bigger and better thing?’
Given the regard May is held in by Huracan fans, you expect he would be welcomed back with open arms.