Experiencing football matches in Buenos Aires is a day trip that most travellers to Argentina don’t think of. Tourists usually jump straight into shopping, stroll through the colourful La Boca district or perhaps visit the lively historic Plaza Dorrego to watch tango in the streets.
However, one lazy day in Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires, a fellow backpacker at the hostel said to me, ‘hey, let’s go and watch a football match’. That’s ‘soccer’ for all you Aussies, South Africans and North Americans! I thought to myself why not. A simple football match would be a relaxing way to pass the time. But I was surprised at what an eventful day I would end up experiencing.
And it can’t be any old football match either. It has to be between the citys’ two biggest rivals – Boca Juniors and River Plate. For a football fanatic, this match is high up on the list of ‘sporting events to watch before you die’. These two teams are the largest and most popular in Buenos Aires. Therefore, there is quite a colourful history between them to put it mildly.
Off we set, to a see regular mid-season match. So we thought! With the way our day panned out, anyone would think we were attending a finals match. This is how our day played out.
Joe and I started making our way to the famous La Bombonera stadium in La Boca. The mecca of football matches in Buenos Aires and Argentina before River Plate build a bigger stadium. So, it didn’t take long for the shenanigans to start.
As backpackers travelling on a budget, we decided to catch the public bus. Lesson one, be selective on which bus you take. Our bus was full of River Plate fans. Such a lovely bunch, all covered in red and white attire and singing their chants.
We were having a great time trying to join in with our broken Spanish speaking skills. So many streamers flying everywhere that we had to check if we were going to a finals match instead. No, they confirmed. It’s just a regular game.
Then suddenly from my right I saw bricks being hurled at our bus. It was coming from the species dressed in blue and yellow, the Boca Junior fans. The River Plate fans didn’t do anything to provoke such behaviour. They were simply wearing the ‘wrong’ colours. They were happily singing away amongst themselves until the first brick made contact. Then words of hostility started.
We were warned to dress in neutral colours but it didn’t stop a Boca Junior fan from hurling a brick straight towards me. My only mistake was that I’m sitting on the ‘wrong’ bus. Thankfully the brick just missed the window, hitting the panel about 10cm below it.
Once we arrived at the ground, we were immediately swept up into a sea of fans. Packed like a can of sardines, we were slowly ebbing our way to the entrance gates.
Police on horseback were constantly hitting the queuing fans with sticks, herding the crowd against the wall. The police ignored our screams and pushed us harder. We were so tightly packed that at times I felt I couldn’t breathe. I thought this is where I’m going to die, without even seeing kick-off.
Eventually, after one hour of being squashed, we squeezed our way through the tiny opening called a gate. And finally, like being revived on the operating table, I could breathe again. I’m still alive!
We continued walking and were ushered to our seats. Up in the ‘nose bleed’ stands but still close enough to see the players.
Most importantly, we also noticed that we were surrounded by the colours of blue and yellow. I guess we better barrack for Boca Juniors unless we want to lose our heads!
The kick-off began with a huge fan fare. Streamers, confetti, firecrackers, flares, smoke bombs and horns all firing. And it remained with the same intensity throughout the game.
The spectators threw all sorts of objects onto the field, not just streamers. Packets of smoke erupted from different parts of the stadium. Luckily, there were powerful water hoses at each end of the stadium that would aim and fire when the spectators became too unruly. Those water hoses were quite handy when a blaze started in the stands at half time.
While I was being entertained by the spectator’s antics, I did watch the game too. At one point River Plate kicked an unbelievable goal and I started clapping. Joe quickly grabbed my arms and said ‘What are you doing? Do you have a death wish?’ I replied ‘But that was a great goal’. But he was right though. I had to curb my enthusiasm while sitting with the Boca Junior fans. They do love to throw bricks!
The game finished in a draw thankfully, 2-2. But that didn’t mean the fans still won’t kill each other. We were not allowed to leave the stands on our free will. There was a strict orderly process to follow.
Firstly, the River Plate fans were ushered out first. I guess they are the guests at this stadium. They were all sitting on the opposite side to us.
Then we had to wait at least 30 minutes to ensure all River Plate fans dispersed from the streets outside. If they are all on their way home, then there will be no attacks on the Boca Junior fans.
Finally, 45 minutes after the final whistle, the Boca Junior fans (plus me and Joe) were allowed to leave. Their departure process worked wonders because there was not a soul of the red and white variety to be seen. The streets were so peaceful and quiet. What a stark contrast compared to what we were greeted with when we arrived.
Suffice to say, we made it back to the hostel safely, in one piece and without any battle scars.
We decided to end the day, and be thankful for surviving, by going to a salsa club. An Argentine couple were laughing at us, especially at me trying to teach Joe how to salsa dance. So the lovely lady grabbed Joe while her husband danced with me to give me some relief. So nice to dance salsa with someone who knows what they are doing.
After about three songs, she handed Joe back to me and I couldn’t believe the difference. We were in sync! The Argentine people might be a bit crazy when it comes to football but are so friendly and helpful in the end.
We danced and talked all night. And finally had a laugh about our day at a football game.
Have you ever experienced football matches in Buenos Aires or Argentina? Would you be game??
AVOID BEING CAUGHT OUT
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A travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.
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