Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No mas violencia

That's the sign they paraded around the stadium before the Super Clasico - River Plate versus Boca Juniors. Rated as one of the greatest derbies in the world, the fans have a history of getting out of control. Which would explain the battalion of riot police, firemen, and leaf blowers.

I first heard about the big game last week while in Uruguay. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, the hostel had tickets (via the tourist bureau) for $AR180 (about $US60), which was a little pricey. After some consideration, I decided to head to the stadium and try my luck buying a ticket off the street. I took the the Subte (subway), and it was easy to follow the crowd making their way to the stadium. Getting closer, I could begin to hear the roar of the crowd (and this was still an hour a way from kickoff). As the stadium came into view, the streets became a maze, as the police were blocking off most of the routes. Eventually, I found my way into the shadow of the stadium and eye the scalper´s row. The first guy I make contact with has a ticket for $AR50. Weary about a fake ticket (they forge currency like crazy here), I was a little hesitent at first, but soon decided to buy it - bargaining and shopping around - or the failure to do so - has always been one of my downfalls (anyone interested in a Mao watch?). Not even sure where my seat was, I headed into the den.

Entering the stadium, I was faced with nearly full stands - and this is still almost one hour before the game. On the field are the youth teams playing. The stands are filled with River red - banners and signs lining the railings, and red bedecked fans all over. In the left endzone (okay, I'm not sure what it's called in football parlance - goalzones??) are most fervent River fans, with huge banners, flags, and the ceaseless songs and chants. To the right, in the upper deck endzone, covered in blue, are the Boca fans, literally caged in. They are surrounded by a 15 foot high fence, topped by barbed wire and ringer by police. On either side they've kept the seats completely empty, like a lion's cage at the zoo. These are the cheap seats, kind of like the bleacher's, where the most ardent fans (and most ardent hooligans) sit.

As the game approached kick off, the fans started getting louder and louder. When they began announcing the teams, streams of toilet paper and an onslaught of confetti came raining down out of the sky (bring on the army of leaf blowers). River unfurled a gigantic banner across the upper deck - it most have been about 100 by 150 feet. A few firecrackers popped off, but I didn't see any fires or very many flares. The fans got louder and louder, with all the River fans around me chanting at the Boca fans. The Boca fans - more renowned for their violence, where definitely the more fervent, nearly holding their own vocally while being out numbered probably 10 to 1. The game itself (almost a side show to the activities in the stands) was back and forth, with not very many good shots on goal the first half.

At half time, they had a demonstration of blind soccer. Which, would tend to require some peace and quiet. Which they got, from everyone but the Boca fans. They kept up with the pep band, the singing, and chanting all throughout. I don't think the upper crust River fans appreciated that, and I don't think the working class Boca fans cared. If there was going to be violence today, this could be the tipping point. But we escapted unscathed.

The second half saw a little more pressing from both sides, but neither squad was able to push the ball into the net. The last 5-10 minutes saw River getting quite lazy, and they were probably lucky to escape with the point against the division leading Boca team. At the end of the game, All the River fans had to stay in stands until the Boca fans cleared out of the stadium and got a head start out of the neighborhood (I'm not sure if this was for the protection of the Boca fans or the River fans). This took about 20 minutes as the Boca fans kept up their cheers and songs and had to be goaded out of the stadium by the police.

I think I'm beginning to become to addicted to football games. I've now seen a club game in Uzbekistan, a Uruguay-Argentina World Cup qualifying game in Montevideo, and River-Boca. I'm almost ready to start planning trips around football games - so when's the next Celtic-Rangers game anyways?

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