El Superclasico – A Buenos Aires Football Classic

Utter chaos in a rainy Bombonero Stadium

On par with the greatest rivalries in sports, including Army-Navy, the Celtics-Lakers, and Real Madrid-Barcelona, there exists an inter-city clash of football clubs in Buenos Aires that causes more feuds than any other.  The Superclasico, an annual match between the Boca Juniors and River Plate is so intense that it tops the English newspaper The Observer’s list of the “50 sporting things you must do before you die.” (click here)

I had wanted to see just one football game before I left Argentina, and by chance I arrived to Buenos Aires 26 hours before the start of the Clasico.  Que suerte!  Signs in the tourism office and hostels were advertising tickets for 150 – 250 dollars, which included transport, pizza, and a guide.  Pizza and a transport would be nice, but what the hell does one need a guide for at a football match?  “To take care of you,” they said.  “I would never recommend a foreigner go to this barrio or inside the stadium by himself.”   What a joke.

I was told not to go because it was too dangerous, which for ten-year-old stubborn me, made it pretty much mandatory.  General tickets were sold out months ago, so I figured I’d test out my scalping skills outside of La Bombonero, the home stadium of Boca Juniors.  I arrived five minutes before the game started, in an all-out downpour and what seemed to be a good market for a buyer.  Within minutes I found a dealer.  He wanted sixty dollars for nosebleed seats.  I moved on and soon found a guy who was selling for twelve.  The only hitch was that it was on the visitor’s side.  I was told to root for the home squad, Boca Juniors, but a cheaper ticket would easily sway me in favor of River.

The Bombonero was in absolute chaos.  You could hear chants and classic Argentine songs modified to cheer on Maradona’s old squad from more than a kilometer away.  The rain was pouring down, and I was going in.  Because I had a visitor’s ticket, security told me I had to enter the stadium some ten blocks away.  As I walked through a gated corridor for ten blocks, I realized I had made a major mistake.  I was wearing my blue Boston Marathon shirt under my yellow raingear.  These were the Boca colors, and I was sitting in the River section.  Bad news.  I had made this same mistake at a UCLA – Oregon State Football game, but this was a whole new level of risk.  I had no other clothes to change into, so I devised a new strategy.  I ran to the nearest bakery, and bought a dozen brownies. Brownies!  These were the first brownies I had seen in South America.  I figured I could ease any potential hostility of the River fans surrounding me by sharing my pastries.

I walked up to the fourth level of the stadium to see the start of the match.  Truthfully, I didn’t care much to watch football.  It was the ambiance I was there for.  In fact, amid the downpour and puddles, the match was more a comedy act than it was a display of skilled footwork.  The players slipped, slid, and collided on a drench field, and it looked more like a youth rec match than a battle between two of the world’s most storied clubs.

But as for the fans, they weren’t about to let the weather nor the poor play deprive them of their standard mischievous activity.  Across the stadium, tens of thousands of Boca fans were covered in an enormous team banner, singing their chants when the home team took the field.  When River came out, there was harassment unlike any I had ever seen.  A fifteen-meter high fence stood between the field and the fans, as to keep the players protected from these caged animals.  The Boca fans climbed the fence, and shook it like monkeys, screaming obscenities at their rivals across the stadium.  The River fans surrounding me retaliated by pissing into water balloons, and dropping hundreds of urine bombs on the Boca fan section below.  The stadium is nicknamed The Bombonero, or “Chocolate Box” because it has several spectator areas that are boxed off from the rest of the stadium.  It was no coincidence that we were in one of these boxes, isolated from the rest of the rival spectators.

Boca has the reputation of a working-class fan base while River, dubbed “Los Millonarios” was once a more “elitist’s” squad.  But as I gazed at the 50,000 spectators across the stadium, they all appeared to be just a bunch of football punks to me.  In the “elite” River section, I was sandwiched between hordes of drunk, disrespecting, street kids, and across the way it was just the same.  By the match’s start it was no matter that I was wearing the wrong colors because I was helplessly enveloped in the madness off it all.  There were no seats, just cement steps, and the the section was so dense with River fans, that just to see the field I had to forcefully create a tunnel of vision with my arms.

Within eleven minutes the match was called on account of the wet conditions.  This was followed by unsurprising amount of boos and trash thrown on the field.  I rode the masses out of the stadium.  Drunk river fans harassed the police officers outside, as if it was their fault that the field was drenched.  As visitors, we had a ten block guarded escort out of the stadium.  As I munched on crushed brownies, a die-hard River fan and his daughter chatted me up.  “This is such a shitty organization,” he said, “and a shitty field.  If this game were at River’s stadium, none of this mess would have ever happened.  And what a shitty neighborhood we are in here!”

The gate corridor emptied out to a fleet of buses that took us all back north, minimizing any contact between rival fans.  Full-on riots between fans had taken place here in the past, and security knew much better now.  As we rode out, kids threw rocks at the bus, threats were exchanged out the windows, and I was enveloped by a scent of marijuana.

I got off somewhere downtown, oriented my map, and walked through the puddles of Avenida Corrientes to my hostel.  In my room, I stripped off my soaking clothes, and exhausted, I fell asleep within minutes.  Eleven minutes of El Superclasico was plenty enough for me.

To be continued…The Superclasico will now be played this Thursday, March 25 at 15:00 local time.

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