My First Experience with the Boca Juniors

18 Apr

Inside La Bombanera

I’ve been trying to get down to see the Boca Juniors for over a year and a half, but it’s always been one excuse after another to keep me from going. At first, I lived six blocks or so from the stadium and kept telling myself that I’d get there eventually. No rush. Then it became difficult to actually find available tickets, or the price was too high, or finding someone to go with was impossible, and on and on. I came to the conclusion just a few weeks ago that I would never actually make it to a game—that was until Friday, when I saw that Félix from MixUp had tickets for $150 pesos. While it’s still more expensive than most games, for a Boca Juniors game, $150 is about as cheap as you’ll ever find it from a legitimate source.

I thought I’d go alone but then I remembered that Nima, a newcomer to Buenos Aires who contacted me through my blog, was interested in going to a game as well. Nima said that he and a few friends would definitely want to go, so we arranged for six tickets. We all jumped down to La Boca on the 152 and got off right in front of the stadium, and in just a moment’s time we helped ourselves to some choripan (which you’ll remember is a spicy sausage sandwich.) I was told long ago that the choriby the Boca stadium is the best in the city, and it was definitely a higher quality sausage. If it was the best I’ve had, I’m not sure, but I’d eat there again. There are tons of food stands around which pretty much only sell choripan or hamburgers, or maybe a bondiola (pork) sandwich if you’re lucky.

An hincha, or fan

As we headed towards the long line going into the blue and yellow stadium (the colors come from the Swedish flag), we had to wait as the freight train of soccer hooligans came through. Everyone backed away as they passed proudly, and clearly the hooligans were in control of the area. The last thing anyone would ever want to do is step on one of their shoelaces. Once in the line we went through periods of stopping and starting. Moving ahead a few yards and then stopping and waiting again. It was at the first bottleneck where we ran into some problems. One of the kids in the group held up his ticket to show a guard, and the guard pulled him out of the line. We later found out that he was told his ticket was fake and was sent home. The line pushed us all ahead so that we couldn’t go back, and what I assume happened is he broke protocol by showing his ticket, marking him as a foreigner, and he was simply pulled out. Maybe the guard went on to sell his ticket to someone else. Who knows?

It’s a shame that he couldn’t get in, but he didn’t seem to mind too much according to texts during the game. We continued as people shoved past, reaching two police checkpoints where they patted us down, and finally we reached the gate after about 40 minutes. Suddenly at the turnstile my ticket didn’t work, and I was told to leave the gate and find some guy in a blue shirt, who would give me a new one. It sounded incredibly sketchy, but the guy by chance came up to the gate and said to wait for him. He came back and we went over to someone else, who called in the ticket number and gave me another out of a large stack. Nothing smelled right about it, but I got in, though I was now separated from the others who had already gone in.

I was pretty aggravated because part of the experience for me would be sharing it with other people, and it ruined the mood of the start of the game. Alone, I kept looking around trying to sight the other guys, and to check on my own safety, rather than entirely focus on the match. I snapped a few photos even though I had been warned to have nothing of value on me, and eventually I eased into accepting that I could try to meet up at halftime. Our tickets were in the Popular, or General section, meaning we were right in there with the hinchas, or hooligans and die hard fans. As the game started you could feel the stadium shake, and the hinchas jumped and yelled profanities at the top of their lungs. Far away from an office or worksite, these loyal fans let it all out on game day. I tried to blend in as best as I could, with my Argentina national team hat on (mostly to cover up my blond hair), a simple black jacket and old Boca jersey underneath. Every once in a while I would wave my hand in a gesture that all the fans do periodically, though I can’t really figure out what it represents.

Neverending chanting

And though I’d been warned by everyone about my safety, I never really felt unsafe. It’s true—if a Boca Juniors game in the Popular section was your first experience with Latin American soccer, you might freak out. But I’d been to a few games before, and even in a laid back game in Cuenca, Ecuador, they lit off road flares inside as the game started. The fact that Tigre is a traditionally bad team and not much of a rival might have tamed the crowd, or maybe being fluent in Spanish made it less scary, but I personally felt okay. Still, I kept my eyes about just to be safe.

Things went badly quickly for Boca, as Tigre scored two quick goals. Yet every time the other team scores, the fans simply get louder and cheer harder, either to block out the other team’s cries of joy or to show their support for their team. It’s a beautiful concept that you won’t find in American sports. The moment your team starts to play badly you boo and chant to change it up. Fans walk out once a loss is in sight. But the soccer fans here stick it out, even after two lousy years of play. (I might be bad luck, because as soon as I got here Boca started to play badly).

The mood was lifted just when the game seemed lost because Boca scored two quick goals right before the first half ended. Standing right in the hincha section, the crowd went nuts as people jumped on each other, hugging and kissing or grabbing each other by the shoulder and neck and saying, “I can’t believe it!” or something else similar. With the first half over, I spotted the head of Nima down in the crowd and somehow managed to body surf over people who had sat down to get to the guys. I considered that stepping on people would probably get my ass kicked, but I always excused myself, which seemed to clear up that it wasn’t on purpose, and I was given permission to pass.

Now deep in the hincha section, we were right in front of the real crazy guys who stand on narrow metal posts, hanging by banners and yelling the entire game. They don’t even watch the action because their job is to incite the crowd. Throughout the second half only three songs were sung, with the last one going for a good 30 minutes. I don’t know how they didn’t get sick of it, and even I was eventually mumbling along to what I thought the lyrics were, though it was mostly incomprehensible.

After the game, waiting to leave

Another goal by Tigre was followed up by one more from Boca, and at the end it was a tie, 3-3. Better than a loss, right? Because we were in the Popular section, we had to sit down after the game ended and wait for everyone else to clear out of the stadium. After maybe 40 minutes we were given the OK and we cleared out with everyone else. To end the experience in Boca the guys got another choripan as I opted for a burger, and the in the street a firecracker went off just a few feet from my head as the hooligans went by in their beat up old buses. I’m glad that I finally went down to the stadium and saw a game and lived to tell about it. There aren’t too many things left in the city that I haven’t gotten around to doing now.

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