Editor’s note: This is overdue and long. I am sorry. I love sports and this was an amazing experience.
|Off the bus and into the wild...|
Last Sunday Lindsay and I witnessed one of the most spectacular sporting events in the world. The Superclasico, the bi-annual, ultimate rival game between River Plate and Boca Juniors, is unparalleled to anything I have ever seen. I have seen a football team waltz into the Superbowl, some of the greatest pitchers of our generation to palm a ball pitch gems, one of the greatest home run hitters ever stroke homers like slicing butter, and magicians on the hardwood. All these are well and good, but the Superclasico is on a plane all its own.
|Walking up Brandsen.|
We got off the bus at a non-descript place, but quickly found ourselves among a hoard of Boca fans being corralled up Brandsen (the street) like a cattle. The atmosphere, four hours before game time, was already electric. The chanting started, sidewalk asado filled the streets with a heavenly aroma serving as a pre-curser to a delicious game, and banderas (flags) of the Boca Juniors rose high in the air as people swore allegiance to their precious club.
|La Policia separating Boca fans from River fans|
As we neared the first of three security checkpoints, we looked to the south towards the next street. Police in riot gear were standing guard on our end of the street with another line of them on the other side of the block. We quickly learned the other side is where the River fans stream into the stadium and avoid pre-game unpleasentries, Boca fans and River fans are separated.
INTERLUDE: A quick history of the rivalry. Both teams used to play in the barrio of La Boca. In the 1930s, River purchased land and subsequently built a stadium in the north part of town, Nunez, a richer area. River, who had more money, now created a rivalry that not only included soccer as its main theme, but a classic clash of class, the poor (Boca) vs. the rich (River).
As we approached La Bombonera (named for its likeness to a box of bon-bons), you could spot River fans in the upper reaches of the stadium. Insults poured from Boca fans from below and echoed right back by River fans, who accompanied their insults with dirty water balloons and spit. Police patted us down as we went through the turnstile, thus officially becoming part of the thousands of Boca supporters.
|One of huge banderas|
Inside, the scene bordered on ballistic. Chants and songs that both razzed Las Gallinas (the chickens- Boca’s nickname for River) and reminded fans of the proud glory Boca had, filled the stadium like a cold glass of the bartender’s finest brew. And the bellows of the crowd grew deeper and louder and stronger with each soul that poured in and surrounded the pitch, as their frenzy, dare I say in lieu of the beer reference, was quickly coming to a head as game time drew closer. Then the band across from us struck up to lead the songs with a fuller resonance, amping up the excitement another notch. Then the players came out. Chants of crowd favorites like, Requelme, who dons the hallowed number 10 kit, and Palermo, the savvy veteran forward, ranking fifth all-time in scored goals in the rivalry and playing in his final Superclasico, rang out as each syllable of their names were called out in unison by 45,000 fans. The chants grew, the concrete stands began to sway, the ref put the ball down, blew his whistle and…
The game was awesome! Honestly, pretty sloppy play, but this didn’t damper the passion and excitement from the crowd. Boca fans relentlessly shouted vulgar names (which I shall not repeat) at the players who could not hear them, groaned for every non-call that was not made, and waited with bated breath every time a goal seemed even close to imminent. And then paydirt. The ball was crossed on a corner kick and as the keeper fell back, it went off the heel of his left hand, and bounced across his body into the goal. 1-0 Boca. Five minutes later, who else, but the man of the hour, the hero in the hearts of all Boca fans, and a man even River fans respect, Palermo, found the back of the net with a gorgeous header. 2-0 Boca. Palermo’s name sang out as Boca took a commanding 2-0 first half lead. And the place. Went. NUTS. To say they cheered loudly is a vast understatement. It was pandemonium. It was impossible not to get swept up in the moment. It was hard to keep your balance, but the surge of energy kept everyone in their place, cushioned by the power of moment. Awesome.
|A view of the pitch|
Throughout the game, the chants never died, HUGE flags that spanned the entire height of the stadium were unveiled, and La 12 (the 12th Man) were raucous. You couldn’t look up though as we sat right below the visiting River fans and right at the edge of their ledge, so spit, Coke and anything else liquid (use your imagination here) that could be “released” fell from above. It wasn’t constant, but we all had a loogi or two land on us (Lindsay had one on her face, poor girl). Now, Lindsay and I went into this game a neutral party, deciding to cheer for the team that endeared themselves to us the most. Needless to say, if the atmosphere didn’t absorb us into Boca allegiance (which it did), then the spitting made the choice of whom to root for even easier. Boca all the way, baby!
The game ended with the 2-0 holding on to be the final score. We then stood for 45 minutes as the River fans left first. They didn’t leave quietly though. They threw bags filled with soda, big plastic wrapped up streamers, and eventually hunks of concrete at the Boca fans taunting them from below. No love lost. And no one appeared hurt.
Our night concluded with pizza and beer at a local Boca tavern with our tour group. We drank, chanted, laughed, sang, and ate. They unfurled a large banner that engulfed the bar. It was a joyous time.
A true spectacle of sport that will be hard to match in my lifetime.