Iain Pearce brings his South American tour to a close with a Buenos Aires double header, step forward El Monumental and La Bombonera!..
River Plate 1 v 0 Rosario Central (10.08.2013)
Boca Juniors 2 v 1 Atlético Rafaela (18.08.2013)
The more giant football clubs often feel like celebrities. Barca and Real are the dualling Brad and Jen of things. Juventus are Madonna, the Old Lady forever reveling in all the triumph and scandal coming her way. Nouveau upstarts Man City bumbled along recklessly for decades as Ozzy Osbourne before rapidly morphing into Justin Bieber and achieving phenomenal success which we all know will splat into the fan soon enough.
I try not to be too engulfed in the Hollywood stars and clubs, but it’s always hard not to have a prolonged glance at a magazine front splashed with Kim Kardashian’s new baby or AC Milan’s new striker.
What’s more, if you are in Beverley Hills you’re bound to do the houses of the stars tour and if you instead find yourself in Buenos Aires you simply have to try and see Boca Juniors and River Plate. So it was that I tailored my time in the Argentinean capital around opportunities to see the big two.
With ticketing the way it currently is in Argentina – and Buenos Aires, where most of the trouble seems to arise, is especially strict- then the only real option to get to games at present is with the dreaded tourist agencies. The tours are marketed as being as essential as any others in the city and they take the ordeal out of getting hold of a ticket, finding the ground and giving you an introduction to the match you’re going to. In other words they take all the fun out of it, and you also have to pay through the nose for spots on them. For lower profile games at El Monumental or La Bombonera you’ll do well to get in for under sixty pounds, and tickets for other grounds to see other household name teams tend not to run much cheaper either. Hmmm, the spirit of adventure is lost but you have a ticket, and in the end that’s the all important thing.
First up, a Friday night trip to see River Plate in their first home game of the season – hosting my latest crush, Rosario Central. Three hours before kick-off I was on a minibus trawling around Greater Buenos Aires pick up points. Graciously the 21:30 start time seemed to have put off the American soccerettes and the other fifteen in my group were fine enough, but I doubt they would still go along to watch on a cold wet Tuesday night in Grimsby.
Friday night and outside the El Monumental…
An hour before the game and we were walking up to El Monumental. The huge concrete edifice rises up like an impenetrable fortress cowering over its smaller surroundings. There was no time to stand and stare or wishfully wander however; we were straight up and into the broad top band of the stadium. Fantastic seats (non-assigned, but we had arrived in good time) across a majestic stadium, but it had felt like gulping down a fine Argentinean Malbec when taking the time to appreciate it should have been an essential part of the experience.
As proceedings got underway the stadium was mostly full but for the sparsely populated away end (away fans were banned, but River socio members were allowed into their section). The exact spot where the unforgettable supporter scenes from 1978 took place, but didn’t tonight, as the home supporters had a barely veiled smugness about them. Turning up to see their side swat away a newly promoted team hardly seemed worth the effort and actually cheering their team on was altogether too much to ask. A pocket of ultras in the away end banged away but the rest of us rarely considered joining in.
The match was one my tour group whinged about on the trip home, but for me was engrossing. Goal less until the closing stages, the chances were fleeting but the pressure was rising. Put simply (perhaps also with a little bias), Rosario were the better team. River gave the ball away constantly and became more nervous the further they moved up the pitch while their opponents worked hard, chased everything and forced themselves the clearer openings. It was a travesty when River won the game with a bundled home corner ten minutes from time.
So it goes, the River fans rumbled away hardly happier than when they had arrived and we were back on the minibus pick up pointing our way slowly back into the city.
River Plate are Mel Gibson. They have an impressive CV full of successful blockbusters but ultimately come across as arrogant and unlikable.
They are also outnumbered. I had expected the big two’s heralded rivalry to spread to the city’s streets, but Buenos Aires is Boca’s town. They are the team of the people, River the pampered minority, with the capital’s numerous teams other scooping up the rest.
Even the tour groups had no more tickets going for the Tuesday night match with Newell’s Old Boys that I had hoped to attend. I had however, planned my journey before the fixtures came out to ensure I would also be in Buenos Aires the following weekend to double my chances of Boca seeing success. My luck was in, I was off to Uruguay earlier than expected and set for a return for to La Bombonera the following Sunday.
On my first stint in Buenos Aires I had made sure I had a proper look at one of the world’s most iconic stadiums, which only further raised anticipation levels. Boca is the working class (read dodgy) port area of the town, but also where the much-photographed painted houses are, on a street full of tourists quite incongruous with its otherwise shifty surrounds.
A short walk away lies La Bombonera, straddling the must-see tourist spot with the untourist spot to be avoided. Hemmed in by the streets the ends behind the goal rise steeply, three tiers almost on top of one other and there is even less space for the small flat-pack looking side. It rises almost vertically but, what you can’t see from inside, its backside still hangs back well over the street, held up by diagonal supports (see photo below). Taking a step back to take it in, the scope of rising concrete painted in Boca’s yellow and blue stripes make it a true football cathedral.
A week later and I arrived back on the ferry from Uruguay as anticipated, had a four empanada (small Cornish pasty things, but considerably better) and beer lunch and joined up with the tour.
Some further minibus riding and heavy turnstile frisking later and we were up in the top tier behind one of the goals, the quieter end, looking over at the three tiers of rapidly filling terraces from our slightly less packed in seats.
The opponents for the Sunday evening clash were Atlético Rafaela, not a big draw but a team looking to avoid the drop and gain a sizable scalp. Being some way from the Superclásico with River the atmosphere was fairly modest, as was the game, one a piece at the break. However, there was one thing impossible to ignore.
La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors…
I had read before that La Bombonera doesn’t shake, it beats. Such a phrase means nothing until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Three steep decks of stand up, jump and shout thousands make the entire stadium rock. The tier trajectory require metal supporter bars in front of each seat and such is the near unfathomable sway of the whole stadium that if standing up you do genuinely need to hold on. The movement is comparable to some sort of simulator but is self-created by tens of thousands of people all moving together, absolutely remarkable.
Steep enough for you?!….a birds eye view from the 3rd tier!…
Boca, without looking overly impressive, especially at the back (almost as shaky as the stadium), managed to pull out a second half winner and comfortably hold on, as we too were to the rails in the back rows.
Boca are Mick Jagger. Huge and hyped but still easily able to carry you off with their unmatched rhythms and trademark swagger.
Argentina isn’t making going to the football easy these days, though it’s likely to get easier as time passes and regulations become lax, but crikey it’s worth the effort.