Last Sunday, a few friends and I donned blue and yellow jerseys and headed over to La Bombonera for the Boca Juniors vs. River Plate football (as in soccer) game. I’d heard from Argentinians and foreigners alike that the intensity of football culture in Argentina is unlike any other place in the world, and that, given the two teams’ epic rivalry, the Boca-River games in particular (which even have their own name, the Superclásico) should be on everyone’s bucket list. Check! It was indeed an unbelievable experience – and an educational one. Here are some of the things I learned at the Superclásico:
1. Forget all other sports rivalries.
Seriously, I would walk alone through South Boston in a New York Yankees bikini and a “fuck the Red Sox” cape before I would enter the Boca section in River colors. Football is like religion here – literally. They have Boca-themed coffins so that fans can take their passion to the grave, and the Parque Iraola cemetery is just for Boca fans. Given the fans’ rather extreme sentiments, Boca and River fans are systematically separated before, during, and after the game to prevent dangerous (and on occasion, deadly) fan fights. They have their own entrances on opposite sides of the stadium and bleacher sections on different levels. In fact, I don’t think I saw a single River Plate fan up close the entire afternoon, inside or outside the stadium. And at the end of the game, we had to wait thirty minutes for the River section to clear out before we could take to the streets.
2. How to cheer like a true hooligan
Or rather, a true barra brava, as the die-hard Argentinian fans are called. In an truly impressive feat, the tens of thousands of Boca fans in the stadium sing cheer after cheer, perfectly synchronized and without fail, for the entire game. Including all the stoppage time, plus all the singing that goes on before and after, that’s hours of constant shouting and fist pumping. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised that I woke up Monday morning with a sore throat and no voice.
From my very own camera, here are some of the chants I learned:
And the sheer madness that ensued when Boca first entered the stadium:
3. The true meaning of quilombo
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, getting into the stadium was hellish. In Argentinian slang, quilombo signifies a complete and total mess; a disaster. And the beginning of our experience, my friends, was the grandest of quilombos.
After a lot of waiting around and some sketchy-looking dealings to secure our tickets, we got in line for security – a line that wrapped around at least seven blocks and was more closely packed than the subte at rush hour. The line wouldn’t move for ten or so minutes at a time, and then all of a sudden a flood gate somewhere would open and everyone would quite literally stampede forward until there was no space left to move and we would be still again. My friends and I were pressed against a wall and there were times I literally thought I might be trampled or squeezed to death – in all seriousness, I finally understand how these things happen at concerts.
Finally, we were let out to a more open area where the police were searching bags right before the turnstiles to enter the stadium. So close we could taste it. And then, suddenly, the police gestured to the thirty or so people in our section of the line and said, “everybody out.” Nobody knew what happened. But just like that, we were no longer in line, wandering around outside the stadium where we had started. (We still don’t know what happened, but I’m pretty sure the police did it just because they could. Corruption and power-tripping in the police force is far from uncommon here). Defeated and confused, I prepared myself once more for the hell of the line we had come from. But my Argentinean friend, who comes to games often, was adamant that waiting in the line again wasn’t necessary. But how do we get in without waiting on line? I wondered. Turns out, it’s all about who you know. We waited around some more for a mysterious and authoritative Boca barra brava to work some magic on his cell phone… and sure enough, half an hour later, we were at the club entrance, cutting lines and ducking under turnstiles. We were in.
So I guess that’s another thing I’ve learned – and am always learning – here in Argentina: how to wait. We don’t do a whole lot of waiting in New York, and the New York me might have crossed her arms, put on a frown, and lamented at the money I had lost on a ticket I would never get to use as I stomped away in frustration. But the Argentina me? Nah – I leaned on the wall of the cancha and waited, soaking up the sun and laughing to myself about what a goddamn quilombo this all was.
4. That going to a football game in Argentina feels like the Quidditch World Cup.
Minus the broomsticks.