in Settling in South America

The Superclásico, River Plate vs. Boca Juniors

A note to readers: I forgot to bring two memory cards, so I had to share one card between my camera and my video camera. Once the match started, I used only the video camera, and the footage is too large to upload on the internet here. I will update this with the footage once I get home.

I had always intended on making it to a Boca Juniors game, given their status as one of the biggest/most successful football clubs in the world, but when I found out that Buenos Aires’ biggest derby – the Superclásico – was being played, I had to be there. It was completely sold-out, but a guy at our hostel had 10 tickets for sale, each costing 750 pesos ($150).

Not cheap, but this was the first Superclásico Buenos Aires had witnessed in 17 months, after River were relegated to the “B” competition. By all reports, this was the game that stops the nation. We had to do it.

In the end, we had a group of about 10. The game was up in the affluent North, at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, the homeground of River Plate, the Millionarios. We caught the Subte to Belgrano, and followed the flow of fans from there to the stadium.

The streets we walked through were a world-apart from the dirty, messy, damaged streets surrounded by old buildings in a state of disrepair where we live. In this part of the city, they are paved with cobblestone, and are surrounded by upmarket cafes and restaurants, and stores selling fancy furniture.

Once we arrived at the stadium, we realised we would had to split into two groups, as our tickets weren’t all together.

Arriving at the stadium. Plenty of River fans – all the Boca fans were let in early.

The men were separated from the women for security screening, which was very thorough. After this, all men were sent to the booth below for fingerprinting. No idea why.

We were casually pointed in the direction of this marquee, where we had to present our thumbs for fingerprinting – I have no idea why. I saw a lot of men bypass it completely.

We all met-up again, and Jess, Ellie and I made our way to our door. It was right next to the Boca supporters bay, and the fans surrounding us were yelling up at some Boca fans who were hanging over the edge throwing rubbish at us as we entered.

The Boca fans who were throwing rubbish at us are visible to the right of the BBVAfrance sign, on the top level.

As we made our way to the seating bowl, we were approached by some men who wanted to see if our tickets had been properly “punched” as they would buy our tickets from us if not. We found some free seats about 20 metres from the Boca “away” area.

The Boca Juniors fans are held back by a 5 metre fence, topped with barbed-wire. Still, if you look closely, you can see fans who have climbed the fence, and some sitting on top of the pillars at the back of the seating bowl, right on the edge.

It took a really long time to fill, but as we watched two curtain-raising games, we started to see the rivalry build, the volume of the chanting increase, and we had the perfect location to see the River fans – stadium wide – passionately sing chants at the Boca fans, who retaliated by climbing the fence and throwing bottles over, or baring their arses, and singing counter-chants.

Unfortunately, despite already pledging allegiance to Boca (I am working in La Boca) I had to sit in the River fan’s area. The spectacle was amazing nonetheless.

At 3:30 when the teams came out, ticker tape, confetti, toilet paper and flares were simultaneously projected all over the stadium and on the field. It was such a magnificent sight. Because it got so crazy, everything I captured was on the video camera, so I’ll have to explain everything from here on, unfortunately (until I can upload the videos – and trust me, you’ll want to see those).

Both teams had a pretty extensive percussion group, but Boca’s was definitely more tribal and exciting. The whole stadium felt electric, with coloured smoke, paper and confetti flying absolutely everywhere in the moderate wind. This is what I came for!

River scored in the first 2 minutes from a free kick about 25 metres out, surprising fans on both sides. Because they were one goal ahead, the River fans mostly turned their attention from the field, to the Boca fans, singing chants at them relentlessly until half time.

At half time, we watched as a gigantic pig in Boca colours was inflated by River fans, from the ground level, and floated up on a string so that the Boca fans on the top tier could do nothing but look at it. This continued for the entire duration of half time, before it was passed from fan to fan, along the bottom level – eventually delaying the second half by at least 10 minutes – before it was deflated.

When the Boca players were about to re-enter the field, River fans tossed red and white flares onto the roof above them, blocking the view for the Boca fans on top, and thus preventing them from knowing when their players came on, so they couldn’t cheer.

The whole spectacle of these ‘warring’ fans was a delight to witness.

River had many more shots on goal in the second half, before scoring again at about the 70th minute, silencing the Boca chants and drums. The River fans were over the moon, giving everything they had in the direction of Boca, who had resorted to pulling chairs from the stadium and throwing them over the fence onto the crowd below, and, shortly after, at one injured River player who came off the field and was driven off the pitch. The game looked like it was over, and both teams’ fans knew it.

Barely 5 minutes later, however – not that the River fans noticed – Boca was gifted a penalty, which they converted, reigniting the passion of the Boca fans, who were now jumping in synchronisation and chanting beautiful songs to a more upbeat and excited drum beat.

The game still looked over, with Boca hardly attacking and even-still barely holding off River’s harassment  As the game drew to a close, the River fans around us started laughing off the Boca fans, motioning them to go home, but to my surprise – and unlike the supporters at an AFL game – the Boca fans not only stayed, but excitedly cheered their team on.

And, amazingly, in the 92nd minute, they were rewarded with an electric attack from deep in their defence, on the back of what appeared to be a River corner that wasn’t awarded – resulting in a goal to Boca. 2-2.

The sound of the silence from the River fans around us was more deafening than the loudest chants throughout the game, and was followed by the Boca fans exploding into dance, embrace and – eventually – chaos, as they had just equalised a game they had no chance of winning.

The River fans were all seated, and just to our right, the Boca fans were climbing over the barbed wire – don’t ask me how – and onto the concrete roof, tearing seats from River’s proud stadium and throwing them into the heads of River fans below.

When the siren sounded, you would think that Boca had won. There were horns and trumpets to accompany the drums, and the fans were chanting as loud as ever, directing it at the good 50 to 60 thousand River fans who just sat there, looking utterly dejected.

I take AFL seriously, and I have seen countless games. Never in my life have I seen so many completely depressed fans, many crying, speckled with totally outraged fans here-and-there – mainly upset with the decision on the corner that wasn’t paid. What a surreal feeling.

We had to wait as Argentine law (rightly) locks the home team fans inside the stadium until all of the away team supporters have been ushered out of the area.

45 minutes later, we were released and we walked back to the station, we saw scenes of destruction – as Boca fans had graffitied the letter “B” all over the pretty surrounding suburbs; on shop windows, walls, advertisement billboards – everywhere. They had smashed windows and just left a huge trail of destruction for the River fans to enjoy as they walked home – already depressed from a demoralising game.

My favourite slogan pasted on the walls and windows of the upmarket stores was “RIBER” – a reference to River being relegated to the “B” competition for the previous season.

Sadly, once we got home, we heard that shortly after River went up 2-0, Boca fans attacked some ushers in the stadium, and when other fans went to intervene, a brawl erupted, injuring 35. There were reports of one death, but there is no credible confirmation on that. We were the only people with any energy walking out of the stadium with the River fans, so the trip home was uneventful.

As I said to the others on my way home, I’m completely sold.

Next, a group of us are off to Iguazu Falls!

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  1. You should find a plane magazine… they would love to publish that. Think of the people who would then love to go to a match…. BUT maybe they are always a sellout. Love reading your BLOGS. Keep up the good work..