Above is a video of my first and possibly last authentic South American game of football in Buenos Aires. The sheer madness that ensued on that sunny Sunday afternoon made it one of my craziest Latin American adventures.
Let me explain: I am not a sports person. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sporting events I have attended in my lifetime. But when someone offers you the possibility to watch a game between the infamous Boca Juniors and Rafael Atletico for the Primera División Argentina, then it’s hard to say no.
Many people may not have heard of the Rafael Atletico team but the Boca Juniors are known far and wide as one of the most successful football teams in Argentina and one of the most successful in the world, having won more the 50 official titles to date. The team also has their own stadium, the Bombonera, located in La Boca.
Our game was originally at La Bombonera but a fatal shooting on the highway caused the game to be postponed and moved to another stadium. It was that day that I learned about the ways in which violent Argentine gangs have seized control over the sport. They are called barra bravas and are organized support groups that orchestrate the supporters, lead the chants, unfold the flags and control any type of business transactions that happens inside the stadium before, during and after game time.
Corruption, drugs, threats, extortion and bribery has consumed the sport. Money talks in Buenos Aires and the barra brava bosses have secured complete control over their respective teams. Those who dare question their authority are paid off or, in some cases, murdered. I might have hated the sport, but I could not refuse the opportunity to delve deep into the belly of corruption and witness the barra bravas in action.
Our guide for the day was a questionable-looking taxi driver who our tour guide had used in previous months for tickets to any Argentine soccer game. The fee for the trip (which included a ride there/back and entrance) was a nice crisp one hundred US dollar bill.
As we parked the car, I noticed the hoards of people making their way to the stadium, decked out in official colors and chanting their favorite Boca Juniors songs. Our taxi driver hands us four different club member passes with someone’s name and face on it. He then instructs us to cover the picture with our thumb when presenting the card to the front gate. My first try is unsuccessful. The person asks me to remove my thumb and shakes their head when they notice that I am not in fact a middle aged balding Argentinian man. I am then instructed to leave. I back away slowly and try to find our taxi-driver tour guide who then tells me to enter at another point in the gate. My second attempt is a success.
Personal space is non existent as we walk into the stadium and there is hardly any space to stand. The match has yet to start, but that doesn’t mean that the crowd lays silent. Thousands of fans jump and dance in a shower of ticker tape. The Boca Juniors fans are allocated almost the full stadium while the other team sits in a small section at the opposite end. Their section is protected by high metal fences in an attempt to dissuade any violence between teams.
The fans shout and chant the words of the songs in perfect unison. To a non-Spanish speaker the songs sound cheerful but if you listen closely they are riddled with words of violence and threats to their rival teams. I glance down and am informed by our taxi driver friend that the barra brava’s have their own section – the best seats of the house. They are the ones that lead the chants; their tight mass of thrashing bodies covered in blue and yellow are always dancing singing and banging drums. Once the match starts there is a surge of bodies that slam against the chain-link fence as if trying to inch that much closer to the players that have just entered the field. Those that do not fear heights, scramble up the fence and sit teetering on the edge. They scream, they chant and the noise can at times be deafening.
Even as a non-sport believer, I found myself singing the songs and partaking in the debauchery while cheering on the Boca Juniors who ultimately won the game 2 -1. We left early, hoping to avoid the massive crowds but we were stopped by a line of police officers that blocked the exit. The rules stated that to avoid rival team violence the away team had to leave the premise before the Boca Junior fans. Twenty police officers stood their ground as more and more angry fans exited the stadium. At one point I felt as if we were seconds away from an all out stampede as some agitated fans started to shove and swear behind us. After an altercation or two, the sea of officers parted and we were quickly whisked away in a taxi cab before any other problems could arise.
The experience was both exhilarating and stressful. Did I love it? Absolutely. Would I go again? Probably not. But at least I can say that I attended a Boca Juniors game in Buenos Aires.
To learn how to get a ticket for a Boca game, please click here.