The Match Box
Boca Junior fans take up positions behind the goal. Long blue and gold banners are unfurled and spread across the crowd as fireworks crackle and fizzle in the sky above. Thousands of flags flap in the Buenos Aires breeze, red smoke from flares streams across the stadium, and a tangle of ticker tape covers the green grass of the football pitch below. The fans burst into song just as the whistle is blown and kick-off begins. They have come to cheer and jeer at the Superclasico, one of the fiercest and most important sporting rivalries in the world between two Argentine teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate. The venue is Boca’s intimidating and claustrophobic home ground known as La Bombonera (the chocolate box), a 60,000 capacity stadium located in a poor, working class district south of the city center. This entire country of soccer fanatics shuts down to catch the game, and even the nearby tourist tango street known as El Caminito is shuttered up and empty as people crowd in front of TVs in cafes, bars, and restaurants. That’s how important football (soccer) is here. The excitement that builds during a match is enough to keep your adrenaline rushing all day long.
Up in the stands the match seems to have little impact on the crowd. The pitch can barely be seen from under all the flags, banners, armpits, and elbows. The fans keep up a continuous song amazingly to the accompaniment of a four-piece brass band and a troupe of drummers in the middle of all this surging chaos. Suddenly Boca score and the entire crowd squashes itself into a tight space by the fence as they rush down and scream with joy. It’s utter mayhem. This goal leads to an even more intense continued chant and song until River Plate score and suddenly the Boca section is very quiet. It is the turn of the opposition fans to jump and gesticulate and shout obscenities.
Shortly into the second half Boca score again and the fans, known as Barrio Bravos, are stage diving off the top steps and climbing the razor wire fence. The second half passes in a burr of noise and surging bodies. Then the whistle goes and the place goes absolutely berserk. The riot squad moves in on the other side of the fence to prevent a pitch invasion. Sometimes the pitch is overrun and it is not uncommon to see the manager whirled around in the air. In championship finals the players throw their clothes into the crowd and run around the pitch in their underwear. People climb all over the goal posts. The net is torn down and dissected and disappears into a thousand pockets. People are lying in prostrate star shapes on the pitch. Grown men are crying. The stadium literally bounces as the multitude jump up and down in pure jubilation. Eventually the pitch simply can’t contain all this excitement and the crowd bursts out onto the streets. The fans have taken over a bridge across a 14-lane highway. It’s covered in flags and banners and human beings. A breakaway mob has stopped the cars and a tail snakes back for miles with hundreds of blaring horns and youth hanging from car windows waving flags.
Meanwhile, the opposing fans are shuffled quickly out the back, cursing bitterly and swearing revenge the next time around.
Boca Juniors (www.bocajuniors.com.ar); River Plate (www.cariverplate.com.ar).
When to go: Year-round.
$$$ Tailor Made Hotel, Arce 385 ( 54/11/4774/9620; www.tailormadehotels.com). $$ Miravida Soho Hotel and Wine Bar, Darregueyra 2050 ( 54/11/4774-6433; www.miravidasoho.com).