Futbol: Superclásico

Mar 26th 2010: Travel

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, rivalries between Argentine soccer teams is the one between Boca Juniors and River Plate. Both teams are based in Buenos Aires and originally even from the same Bario (neighborhood). When these two teams meet, the fans go crazy and everyone leaves work early to catch the game that is broadcasted on every television set in the city. The game between these two teams is so important, so charged, so exciting that it has its own name: Superclásico. And a dedicated wikipedia article about it:ásico. Ticket prizes go up to $400 per person. Yes, that is four hundred US Dollars. Not Pesos. And we are talking seats, not boxes with Champagne and caviar. This past Sunday a friend of mine got three tickets for the game at a fraction of the price, though still not cheap, by knowing someone who knows someone! An opportunity not to be missed.

Part 1: Sunday 3/21

The game was scheduled to start at 3pm and we were advised to show up at the stadium at least two hours before to get decent places. We had planned to meet at 12:30pm and take a cab.

Our tickets allowed us to decide with which team’s fans we wanted to sit: Boca or River. This game is known not as much for the soccer skills of the players, although the quality is high, just as with most professional clubs and Argentina’s hero Diego Maradona got his start in Boca and still shows up to support his team at the Superclasico. What this semiannual game is really famous for is the passion of the fans. This is what we went to see.

When I woke up that morning I realized something wasn’t right. The street noises, clearly audible from my room, were … different. It only took a moment to figure out why: it was raining cats and dogs and other animals. After a quick call it was confirmed that the game was still on and I went to meet my friends. We headed over to the Boca stadium and arrived about two hours early. Now you might expect the turn out to be lower because of the rain, maybe only the hardcore fans would show up, but no. It was packed. Fans wherever you looked. A see of blue and yellow Boca fans clashing with the white and red River fans. Thousands. With flags, shirts, team tattoos, and toddlers, also dressed in blue or white. All heading to the stadium. In the rain.

We decided to be fans of Boca today, got in the corresponding line, and after getting shuffled back and forth for a while we finally arrived on the terrace, soaking wet to the bones. The terrace is one of a kind: its angle is at an insane 50 degrees. Most stadium terraces are around 30 degrees. The steep slope made for a great view, but you are worried that if someone pushes hard enough in the back everyone will tumble down like dominos. But I guess as long as it is so packed as to prohibit any movement in any direction anyway, voluntary or involuntary, there is no danger of falling over. And it was packed. Everyone in the terrace was squeezed together like in an overcrowded subway, sweaty and wet from the rain. Fortunately there was another terrace above us, so at least we didn’t get any wetter. Not like that would have really been possible anyway. Not having had any food that day, I grabbed a burger from the local stand. It was the greasiest thing I have ever eaten. And so good. I would say it gave In ‘n Out a run for its money. Though you probably wouldn’t survive as long on this one, with your arteries all clogged up and stuff.

And then the chanting began. And the drums. And the hand-waving. And the singing. And the jumping. An hour before the kick-off the Boca fans erupted and continuously ”supported” their team for the next hour. Eventually the players came out on the field and the place went nuts. I took a few videos, so I’ll let them do the talking (you can’t see it but it’s still pouring):

The game lasted for 10 minutes. The players were sliding around on the soaked grass, constantly losing the ball. The lines on the field, freshly painted as we came in, had already started to vanish again. After a few nasty slide tackles and involuntary ball losses, the head referee cancelled the game. The conditions were just too bad to play in. We were worried that we might now be stuck, literally, in between a few thousand upset fans. And we were indeed stuck in them. For another two hours! To avoid fights, they probably empty the stadium fan section by fan section. We must have been in the last section. We were stuck standing, wet-skin-on-wet-skin close, waiting for the guards to let us out. Nevertheless, the singing, jumping, and drumming continued for another hour or so after the players had left the field (and probably the stadium). The fans were in the mood and a cancelled game couldn’t stop them.

After we got out we headed to a bar to get a beer and warm up a little. Of course we happened to pick the favorite bar of the Barrabravas, the Argentinian hooligans. Once the waitress pointed this out, we left very quickly again, fortunately avoiding any further complications. After a meal and beer closer to the center of the city we called it a day and went our ways. A lukewarm shower (my apartment is having some minor water heating problems) never felt so good.

What really amazed me about the whole experience was how civilized the whole thing went by. We were in the midst of the most loyal of the fans, clearly from lower income classes, some without teeth and/or shower, but all with season tickets. If shit went down, it went down here. Yet there were women with their infants and little children. On the way out they squeezed through the masses to exit first and there were no complaints and everyone tried to make space to let them through. In the end it felt like they were all here to have a good time, to see the game, to support their team, but not to look for trouble. And that is probably true for most of the fans. There are still regular fights between the different fan groups, especially between Boca and River enthusiasts, and their respective Barrabravas are known to get quite physical. I heard statistics that 10-20 people get killed in fan fights every year. But as long as you stick to the thick of a fan base, jump along with them, you are probably quite save. Oh, and another pointer: don’t speak English. Or any foreign language for that matter. As a foreigner you get immediately approached with “Gimme some money!” And that’s probably the best case scenario. We kept quiet and blended in and that worked, mostly. We heard that another guy, who was with a whole group of foreigners in one of the fancier, seated sections, was mugged at knife-point in the same game. Shit happens. There is no guarantee. But I’d say we did good, stayed smart, and I surely had a great time.

Part 2: Thursday 3/25

The match had been rescheduled for the following Thursday. It was a bright day and we headed over to the stadium again. Well, we didn’t make it into the stadium, but we did make it on national (or local?) television. Turns out we should have exchanged our tickets from Sunday for new tickets for this game earlier in the week. The old tickets wouldn’t get us into the stadium. I don’t know how that was communicated – the website had no information. Were you just supposed to know when and where to go? As we started discussing this with the oversized security guard, who had taken a quick look at our tickets, confiscated them, and told us they were “no good” before moving on, the camera from some TV station started to take interest and the news reporter stuck his microphone close to the conversation. In the meanwhile more fans had been taken aside with no-good-Sunday tickets and the arguments became quite heated. It was my first exposure to the famous Argentinian manners of the not so civilized debate, including various hand signs, rapid speech, and raised voices.

In the end we admitted defeat. There was no getting into the stadium. Not for the Superclasico. Not without paying top dollars for new, last minute tickets. We headed to Palermo and enjoyed the game in a sports bar, surrounded by other Boca fans. Which was the next best thing – at least this way we were able to drink plenty of beer throughout the game. And we got to see Diego Maradona on TV, who had come to see his team play. It must have helped. Boca won 2:0.

(Some more photos from the game posted at this gallery. They, unsuccessfully, tried to clear the field of the fan confetti with leaf blowers. In the end they played on a confetti covered field)

Posted in Travel by Ernst Bruening on March 26th, 2010 at 9:20 pm.

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