I’ll be looking to write up a few of my experiences at various sporting occasions over the years, and this is the first, my trip to a Buenos Aires derby in October 2010.
Since the first moment I’d had the idea to go to South America I knew that I’d have to go to Buenos Aires and that I’d have to go to see Boca Juniors play. The flights were booked six months in advance, direct in to Buenos Aires and purposely timed to arrive on a Saturday morning so I’d have enough time to get to the stadium for a game. At the time the fixtures for the Apertura hadn’t been announced, but fast forward a few months and I found out Boca would be away the weekend I was in Buenos Aires. By a stroke of luck (!) it turned out that Boca were away, but had a Buenos Aires derby against Independiente from Avellaneda just south of BA. It probably wasn’t that much of a stroke of luck given that only six of the other nineteen teams in the Primera Division aren’t from Greater BA, but either way I was happy.
Next step was to research getting tickets and how to get to the match. In an actual stroke of luck I found a highly rated hostel near the Argentinian National Congress that would not only sort my lodging needs out, but also offered trips to all the local football matches - result. So more or less as soon as I arrived at the hostel, completely shot after the long flight, I’d booked myself on to the trip for the next day (Sunday).
A brightly decorated colectivo turned up the next morning to collect us and I found myself sat next to a sound French lad from Toulouse who worked for Airbus, who was to be my companion for the day. A half hour journey south from central BA saw us arrive in a scruffy, apparently derelict street in Avellaneda, via a short stop at a petrol station to collect the tickets. Our group numbered around 15, and included a mix of nervous middle aged American tourists, an incredibly chirpy Scottish lad, unexplicably two hot girls from somewhere unknown, and a mix of young European lads like myself from various places. We took to the street and were invited to join a street barbecue, with traditional choripan on offer and what seemed to be a limitless supply of Quilmes (which at about 50p a bottle, was considerably better value than the £4 a bottle I’ve paid in London …). The hygiene standards probably wouldn’t even pass muster in the cheapest British kebab shop, which may have explained why the Yanks didn’t partake, but everyone else enjoyed the grub and the locals seemed amused to have some unusual (foreign) company. We were called together and given a briefing about safety, which boiled down to: stay with the group, make sure you’ve drunk your beer before we get to the stadium, and always stay within eyesight of this guy (at which point the guide pointed to a guy who could most accurately be described as a brick shithouse). To add to the fearsome look he didn’t once speak, and even with a beer in hand couldn’t crack a smile. We set off for the stadium.
As we got near the recently redeveloped Doble Visera stadium, still the best part of two hours to kick off, we bumped in to the Independiente barras bravas Los Diablos Rojos (ultras/hooligans), easily recognisable by the presence of their scrawny leader Bebote who was interviewed by Danny Dyer for his TV series International Football Factories. All did not seem well in paradise as there was clearly a large argument going on, but there was no violence and the several hundred heavily armed Police stood nearby saw fit not to intervene. We headed for the gates.
Predictably given the fact we’d been given three simple rules to follow, one idiot in our group was unable to follow all three of these simple rules. The smart amongst you will have already guessed that that idiot was me, and that the rule broken was to finish your beer before getting to the stadium. In my defence I hadn’t really noticed as I was so busy watching what was going on around me, but it was soon brought to my attention by a fist to the face from a member of the Buenos Aires Police Force. The guide quickly translated between me and the officer in question (ie. to him: he’s a gormless foreigner, to me: sling the can) and, can slung, I was allowed to proceed in to the ground via two (very thorough) body searches and a ticket check.
Having not thought to ask previously I was very happily surprised to learn we were going to be stood in the home end amongst the Independiente barras bravas. This was going to be a great experience and I was now even more excited. The crowd was still thin but rapidly expanding, and those already in the ground were making an impressive amount of noise for a few hundred people. We grouped under the stand and took in the atmosphere. As the crowd dripped in I noticed that our brick shithouse seemed to have a lot of friends amongst the locals and was constantly having his hand shook in a very “Godfather” like manner. I enquired as to his status with the guide and it transpired that he was a senior barra brava and was being paid by the company to make sure we were treated well. This completely unsettled the already nervous Yanks. I also discovered that our guide was a Boca fan, which explained the nervousness he’d been exhibiting since we got to the ground. He also explained how unfortunately they didn’t offer trips to Boca home games with the barra bravas as it’s simply too dangerous and they can’t ensure the safety of foreigners. Instead, they buy tickets for an over-priced but safe ‘tourist section’.
A group of school age local lads seemed most curious about our presence and asked our guide who we were. They were keen to have a few pictures taken with the foreigners and the group were happy to oblige. By this time a number of drums had appeared under the stand, and the atmosphere quickly clicked up a notch as songs were being sung, drums banged and hands clapped. In Argentina it’s customary for the fans to carry umbrellas in their team colours (red and white in this case) and I was soon handed an umbrella and encouraged to wave it around and generally get involved. The Yanks had clearly never seen anything like it but the rest of the group was buzzing. We headed up in to the stand behind the goal and were greeted by a sea of red and white and a fire cracker atmosphere. A spot was selected for us to stand and we took up our position to enjoy the show in the stands. A few minutes before kick off a giant stand covering banner was unfurled over our heads.
Boca Juniors hail from one of the poorer parts of the city, La Boca, and it’s famous for being an immigrant area. Originally settled by Italians in the 1800s, the area is mainly European in heritage but has a lot of Bolivians and Paraguayans living there. The Independiente fans had decided to reference this, and as Boca ran out to defend the goal in front of where we were they were greeted by the very bizarre sight of a hail of several thousand bread rolls on to the pitch, specifically ‘bolitas’ and ‘paraguayas’ rolls which are both also racist terms for Bolivians and Paraguayans. It took several minutes to clear the pitch before the game could start and the Boca keeper was periodically pelted with more rolls for the entire first half.
The game itself was dull to say the least, and was played out as a poor nil-nil draw. Few shots on target and with neither side looking even remotely like they could score meant the entertainment was confined to what was going on in the stands. The Scot in our group had managed to make friends with a local and score some weed and the Yanks were on the verge of a complete breakdown by half time but everyone else was having a great time taking in an amazing atmosphere. The Boca fans in the upper tier of the far end were doing their bit as well, and the 5,000 strong contingent were making a real racket.
When the game finished, in a departure from normal British practice, we were kept in the stadium in order to allow the away fans to be escorted out and put on buses back to La Boca. As their top tier emptied it became clear it was kicking off outside as the Independiente fans at that end of the stadium ran to look over the back of the stands to see what was happening. We could hear the situation rapidly getting out of control even from the other end of the stadium and it wasn’t long before we could hear the Police firing (rubber bullets) at the Boca fans to try to bring the situation under control. And you thought Celtic - Rangers was rough. An hour later the Boca fans had been herded to back towards La Boca and we were finally allowed to leave. It wasn’t long before I was back near the hostel enjoying a large Quilmes and some empanadas to round off a belting day.